*Latest Release info
In 2001, a blogging platform called WordPress was born. Over the last 15+ years, WordPress has grown from a content management system to an open-source platform that is the foundation for over 30% of the websites on the internet. And now, its foundation is about to change.
Sometime soon (the current target release date is TBD, see Latest Release note above which will be updated as we have more info), WordPress 5.0 — aka Gutenberg — will be officially released. Gutenberg represents a major change for WordPress (and Automattic, the company behind the platform). This update is meant to move WordPress from being essentially a content management system to being a more robust web development tool.
So, what is Gutenberg?
Gutenberg is a block-based editor that will function more like the drag-and-drop building experience of common web development tools like Wix and Squarespace, or popular (but deeply flawed) page builder plugins like Visual Composer. Changing WordPress in this way is meant to give users more control over the over the appearance of their pages and posts than previous versions ever did. Additionally, it may allow WordPress and Automattic to compete with website building tools like Wix and Squarespace, whose market share over the last year is significantly larger that of WordPress.
Our initial thoughts on Gutenberg
What’s on our minds regarding Gutenberg is that more power and flexibility can potentially be great, but also means more responsibility and margin for editing errors and confusion. Gutenberg, when used out of the box, puts more of the responsibility on users for layout/appearance of posts and pages and can have a decently significant learning curve.
Most of our current sites are built with Advanced Custom Fields to have a specific structure on each page and are purposely built with a limited set of flexible content blocks in order to give users freedom of page structure without overwhelming them with options. Because our sites are built so specific to the design and layout needs of each website, we’ve been installing and activating the Classic Editor plugin (see more on this below) to avoid conflicts and confusion upon the initial release of 5.0. Additionally, since Gutenberg is still continuously being updated and is not yet stable enough for our liking, we have added basic Gutenberg support to our base theme but (at the time of writing this post) will only fully utilize it if a client specifically requests it.
Once Gutenberg is part of the WordPress core and the rate of updates and changes has slowed, and when we have greater familiarity with the recently released ACF Blocks for Gutenberg, we anticipate starting to move more in the direction of integrating Gutenberg into future builds.
Foreseeable concerns and Mangrove’s approach
Gutenberg is (at the time of writing this post) very new, and is still being updated almost faster than it can be tested. It is NOT yet stable or usable in our opinion, and our team is carefully watching the Gutenberg rollout and how it will impact sites we’ve built or are currently building. One of our main concerns is that many of the plugins and themes commonly used to customize websites for clients may not yet be compatible with Gutenberg, especially if they have not been updated recently to specifically address this release. Most plugins we use for client sites are updated quite frequently, but we will be keeping our eye out for any that are falling behind. However, even if everything is updated in the core and plugins, there is still the potential for some incompatibility with Gutenberg due to the extent of core changes.
We’re not the only ones with compatibility issues and Gutenberg’s current instability on our minds, so WordPress is providing what they call a “Classic Editor” plugin for all sites as a fallback. It overrides the Gutenberg backend changes and keeps sites operating with the same dashboard editing experience you’re already familiar with (note that security updates will still be applied.) We’ve gone ahead and installed the Classic Editor on all the sites in our maintenance program and are putting it on all new sites we’re building, just to give WordPress and Automattic some time to work the kinks out of Gutenberg. We’ll keep it in use until Gutenberg is stable enough for our liking. If you’re not in our maintenance program, we strongly suggest reach out to us or your current developers to have it installed. At the very least, we recommend that you test your site with Gutenberg to make sure nothing breaks (you can download and activate Gutenberg here), and then you can decide how you’d like to proceed.
One other issue that’s come up with Gutenberg is that it’s unfortunately a step back in accessibility which has been written about extensively in this article by Rian Rietveld, the former accessibility team lead at WordPress. We are hoping to see some improvements in the updated releases of Gutenberg in response to Rian’s concerns.
First and foremost, know that if you’re a maintenance client of ours, we’ve got you covered and will keep you in the loop. If you’re not currently on a maintenance plan, it’s a good time to check in with us or your current developers.
Overall, Gutenberg is an exciting change for a tool that hasn’t had this degree of overhaul in many years. We’re cautiously excited about the opportunities this update brings, but not ready to celebrate it just yet. We will be keeping up with the latest developments and sharing our findings!
Learn more about how Gutenberg works: https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2018/08/complete-anatomy-gutenberg-wordpress-editor
Accessibility issues with Gutenberg: https://rianrietveld.com/2018/10/09/i-have-resigned-the-wordpress-accessibility-team