Gutenberg: First Impressions

Gutenberg is the future of content in WordPress. It will deliver the elegance of Medium but with far more power and flexibility of layouts and content types
WordPress Gutenberg First Impressions

At WordCamp US 2016, Matt Mullenweg announced that new point releases of WordPress would focus around features of WordPress. He also announced that he wanted WordPress to have a renewed focus on the post writing experience. He acknowledged how content editing has changed and evolved a lot over the years while the WordPress editor has changed relatively little. I listened to that whole announcement with baited breath because I’ve been longing for a totally revamped way to write content for a long time.

  1. First I took a stab at showing highly styled content directly in the editor
  2. I emphasized how the except can (and should) be used as content in posts
  3. Then I collaborated with Kevin Hoffman on displaying theme-based dynamic styles directly in TinyMCE

All these things were tiny efforts to make the backend editing experience more closely emulate the front-end results.

So when the first announcement came out about Gutenberg being about “little blocks” I was excited. This sounded like the right direction for sure.

Gutenberg First Impressions

Now that Mullenweg announced a beta version of Gutenberg, the floodgates of real feedback and global open source collaboration can begin.

Generally speaking, things like this have to be seen, not just read, so here’s me talking through one of my first interactions with the Gutenberg beta plugin:

You should definitely try it for yourself though. It’s on wordpress.org here, and you can install it on your test site just by searching for it by name in “Add new Plugins”.

Here’s the strengths and weaknesses of Gutenberg that I see based on my screencast above:

Strengths

  • Flexible
  • Intuitive
  • Distraction free writing
  • Media implementation is really well executed so far

Weaknesses

  • Aligning blocks makes clicking into content areas problematic
  • Having a whole section for Embeds of only tangential use seems cluttered and clumsy

Hopes/Concerns for Improvement

  • I really hope they move Embeds to one item in the “Common Blocks” section.
  • I’d love to see basic support for columns in one way or another. That would take the content writing experience to a new level for WordPress Core.
  • It should include a basic front-end stylesheet to control layout so theme authors don’t have to do all of that from scratch.
  • What happens when you have 25 plugins that all want to load 25 custom “blocks” into that tiny “Insert” dropdown? Will there be a search? Or will it just scroll forever?
  • How will this be implemented for custom post types? Where will custom fields go? Will custom fields just become “little blocks” too?
  • Markdown support made TinyMCE a much quicker writing experience. I’m expecting that will be implemented in Gutenberg as well though it’s missing currently.
  • Themes should be able to enqueue a Gutenberg stylesheet that will help the writing experience more closely mimic the front-end results. Additionally, like my articles above, dynamic styles and colors that themes support in the Customizer would be able to be reflected in Gutenberg as well.
  • Front-end support. I believe the future of WordPress is at least 75-80% admin-less. Admins should be able to login and stay in the front-end but see Gutenberg live on their site and start editing directly there.

When Will Gutenberg be in Core?

Most likely version 5.0. According to Mullenweg’s post above, he wants the plugin to have more “gestation” time. As you can see in my screencast above, there’s obviously still quite a bit of work to be done immediately. Currently, on the Gutenberg Github repo, there are 31 open issues labeled as “bug”, and only two of them are slated for Beta 2.

What Will this Mean for WordPress and its Future?

Personally, I think this opens up tons of opportunity. WordPress is all about publishing; its the heart and soul of its core purpose. Because of that, its natural for WordPress to lead the way when it comes to the article writing experience.

In recent years we’ve seen Medium become the de facto elegant writing experience. Medium is able to do that though by limiting the formatting and layout options dramatically. Gutenberg has the potential to allow writing to be as elegant as Medium or more so, plus deliver far more flexibility with layouts and content types. This is an exciting development to be sure.

Gutenberg has the potential to be as elegant as Medium but deliver far more power. Click To Tweet

Additionally, plugin and theme authors will — in all likelihood — be able to add custom Content Blocks that will be a far better user experience than shortcodes currently are. Similarly to how the current implementation of the Image and Gallery content block types, I would imagine plugins — like Give — might integrate with Gutenberg to insert a donation form to be dropped into the page. The donation forms options could then be configured directly in the right-hand sidebar. If that form could then be visually rendered directly within the content and floated left or right or made full-bleed that would add some very attractive options that current shortcodes really can’t do very well.

Gutenberg and the Admin-less Future of WordPress

Lastly, I see Gutenberg as another step toward an Admin-less WordPress. Both the REST API and Calypso have been pushing WordPress away from interacting directly with wp-admin. Further, any page builder plugin worth its salt today has a front-end editing feature. Gutenberg moves WordPress even more strongly in that direction.

Imagine just logging into your site and being routed to your homepage, then clicking on an “edit” icon and just begin typing directly on the page. Wouldn’t that be great? While the “Front End Editor” plugin has been stagnating for years now, I think Gutenberg is moving us in that direction and I can hardly wait for it.

UPDATE: Version 0.2 already pushed live this week

See here: https://make.wordpress.org/core/2017/06/23/whats-new-in-gutenberg-june-23rd/

It already addresses several bugs I experienced in the screencast above. Namely:

  • Added a delete icon for easy deletion
  • Can target captions in images even when floated left/right now
  • Added support for Pages and CPTs — CPT authors will need to account for that though, currently the “Gutenberg” link is appearing on ALL CPTs regardless of whether they declare support or not, so that still needs working out.

Overall a lot of good progress already.

Also, I just got off a great WP Water Cooler session where Weston Ruter — one of the Core Contributors and Gutneberg Contributors — was on as well. Take a listen, we went in depth about some great stuff:

Update 2: Follow-up Post

This post was just my personal first impressions of the plugin itself. But the whole concept of Gutenberg is a game changer for WordPress. As you know, WordPress is a HUGE and global ecosystem now. So how will that ecosystem respond, pivot, react to Gutenberg? That required a more in-depth response, so I wrote that up on our WordImpress blog here:

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0Gutenberg: First Impressions by Matt Cromwell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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