Vegard Skjefstad

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Let’s Try Gutenberg

The new Gutenberg editor will be introduced in WordPress 5.0. It has received a lot of bad reviews, so I decided to give it a spin myself.

The new WordPress editor, code named Gutenberg, is introducing the concept of blocks as a way to structure a post. It’s not a revolutionary way of structuring things, really, since everything you see on the internet is made out of blocks, or HTML-elements as they are called.

Gutenberg makes it amazingly easy to get an impressive amount of control of each HTML-element, though. The block you read now, for instance, is an ordinary HTML paragraph element. But the new editor makes it very easy for me to control the content of the element. I can quickly change the font size, text alignment, add a drop cap, change the color of the text, add custom CSS classes, and a myriad of other things.

This is a massive step forward compared to current visual editor in WordPress. I’ve avoided that editor like the plague, and written pure HTML instead.

Themes & Plugins

One of the headaches with the current WordPress editor, is that you have no idea what your post will actually look like on your site until you preview the post. Previewing is done in a separate window, away from the editor. This means context switching, which might pull you out of your creative flow.

With Gutenberg the need to preview your post is eliminated. WordPress themes can provide block styles to the editor so the blocks can be displayed in the editor in exactly the same way as they will be displayed to the end user. That way, writing in WordPress will finally be real WYSIWYG.

For this to happen, however, theme editors will have to make changes to their themes to make them Gutenberg compatible. There are a lot of WordPress sites using old, outdated themes that will never be updated. Because of this, many content editors will not be able to get the most out of Gutenberg.

Content plugins will also have to be rewritten to integrate better with the new. The excellent Easy Footnotes is one example. I can still write footnotes with Gutenberg, but they don’t show up like footnotes in the editor. I have to look at the preview to see how they turn out.

The sooner the need to preview a post disappears, the better.

Gutenberg: A black & white closeup of a typewriter.
To appeal to all the internet hipsters, WordPress should make an internet enable typewriter.

What I Like

  • The blocks concept works very well. Controlling, configuring, and moving blocks around is a breeze.
  • Gutenberg has a lot of keyboard shortcuts, which I love. While writing, it’s much more efficient to use the keyboard to activate features in the editor, than to move your hand over to the mouse.
  • It’s a lot easier now to edit image metadata.
  • I’m using the preview functionality a lot less now than I used to.

What I Don’t Like

  • The blocks concept introduces a lot of Gutenberg-related metadata to the posts. This is necessarily bad, since the metadata is hidden by the editor and never displayed to anyone. But it can make migrating to another blogging platform harder.
  • “Publish immediately” is no longer available as a publishing time option. Instead, the publishing date is set to the date the draft was created. This is a major pain, especially when you’re working on drafts fora long time.
  • There is some minor lag when writing. Gutenberg is written in JavaScript, so how responsive the experience feels depends on the JavaScript engine in the browser you’re using. I’m using Firefox, Gutenberg might be less laggy in other browsers.
  • Gutenberg needs more keyboard shortcuts. I’m still reaching for the mouse from time to time.
  • Some minor bugs I’m sure will be ironed out soon.
Close Up Photo of Gray Hawk Moth on Ground.  Photo by Jonny Lew / Pexels.
There are still some bugs to squash.

Final Thoughts

With Gutenberg, the writing experience in WordPress is moved to the level that we should expect. Other comparable blogging platforms, like Ghost, already features great editors that are light years ahead of the current WordPress editor.

Gutenberg is necessary for WordPress to keep up with the competition.

So why are people so mad? Changes are scary, man! Also, I suspect that many of the people that don’t like Gutenberg are using it on sites with poorly coded themes. Even though it’s not Gutenberg-compatible yet, my current theme, Hoffman by Anders NorĂ©n, works well with the editor.

Another reason why many people struggle with Gutenberg might be the number of plugins people use. There are a lot of really crappy WordPress plugins available, and they tend to screw things up for each other. If you’re having problems with Gutenberg, the first thing you should do is to disable all your plugins and see if that helps.

I for one, will start using Gutenberg permanently from now on. This post, for instance, was written in Gutenberg, and it was a surprisingly pleasant experience1.

Footnotes

  1. I just have to remember to change the publish-date before actually hitting the publish-button…

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