Gutenberg – we can all take part

Gutenberg is the new editor for WordPress (as of version 5) that’s causing a lot of headaches.

I remember the whispers and the rumours, the odd blog post here and there – that change was on its way. Winter is coming.

Okay, maybe that was all a bit dramatic and when you actually read into the implications of the new editor, what it could mean for the future of WordPress, it makes perfect sense.

Blocks

The whole thing revolves around blocks. As I’m writing this post using the Gutenberg editor, every new paragraph becomes it’s own block. The previous paragraph simply said “Blocks” because this was a subheading. What I then did was change the type of block from a “paragraph” to “heading”. You can then move blocks up and down – at the time of writing this is done with arrows at the sides, but the plan as I understand is to drag and drop.

More than just a text editor

The scary thing with Gutenberg is the enormity of this change. This because it isn’t simply a text editor anymore, it’s a content editor, and it plans to bring together different parts of the WordPress admin area to form a more seamless experience for the administrators and editors of WordPress websites. This includes widgets directly accessible when editing a page, and blocks that replace shortcodes.

All of this means that the majority of WordPress plugin developers will want to include block options within future updates. Take contact Form 7 for example that at the time of writing is added to a page through a shortcode like [contact-form-7 id="1" title="Contact"]. The idea is this would now be a block that you select from a pop-up on the content editor.

Teething issues

I installed the Gutenberg plugin on version 4.9.8 of WordPress out of sheer curiosity. I had a play around, got a bit confused, then noticed a plugin that wasn’t working after the install, and then de-activated it.

Later I read through the FAQs on the editor over at wordpress.org here, and then felt a bit guilty I gave up so soon. Especially since they re-iterate how they welcome feedback and testing to help get it right.

I re-activated and then de-activated a bunch of other plugins to find out what the issue was. I soon found the culprit, and send a support request to the developer of that plugin to make them aware of the issue.

At this time (September 2018) I am not encouraging clients to install it, but I am making them aware of its existence and that it’s around the corner. My plan is to activate it on sites in collaboration with the owners so we can check for any issues or clashes with other plugins.

Like a lot of WordPress developers I have clients that regularly update their sites (especially the bloggers) and those that almost never touch it. Obviously my priority is the former. I would advise other developers to take a similar approach, and bear in mind their is a plugin to revert back to the classic editor if need be. The trick is to avoid some sort of D-Day, when you have every client contacting you at the same time asking what the hell has happened to their text editor.

The road ahead

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it’s a sure thing that the Gutenberg editor will have it’s ups and downs while it’s being constantly tweaked, improved and updated.

So what can we do as users of WordPress?

I now believe that as the WordPress community we are all responsible for helping to keep WordPress the No.1 CMS, and the more I read, I truly believe the concept of the Gutenberg editor is the way to go.

I’m not saying that if you’re on a tight deadline and trying to get changes done for a client last minute you should also be playing around with Gutenberg, and hoping it’s not breaking your site. What I’m saying is that when you do have a spare moment, try installing it on a local version of your own site, and get a feel for it – and if there are notable issues, let someone know. This way, once it becomes a default part of the WordPress core, we can be ready and we’ll have given developers a chance to catch up.

We can also then begin to see the true benefits of using blocks and find out why change can be a good thing.

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