What is WordPress Gutenberg? – And why WordPress needs it.

Photo by Sharosh Rajasekher on Unsplash

We must preface by saying this is my own opinion and does not represent any views form WordPress, automatic, or other WordPress developers.

To really understand the issue of Guttenberg we need to step back and look at the market around WordPress. Particularly from the point of view of WordPress.com run by automatic.

In 2017 we have seen competitors like Squarespace and Wix make a difference and take (still a minor), market share. Mostly it seems to be attractive to small business owners with little website experience, budget or skills. These are what I call “cut and paste template brochure” websites. You just drag and drop items into place. This makes them potentially very bad as responsive sites and open to back layout skills. In the end, most people just use the available templates.

In the World of WordPress.org and self-hosted WordPress in 2017, we have also seen the dominance of mega themes like DIVI and continued use of drag and drop options to these theme builders. These are also mostly templated driven, but most products are a theme with added templates, rather than the traditional choice of a template theme with just the one template and options.  The success of DIVI is similar to that of the Genesis framework.  Genesis was taken up by web designers with little coding experience as a platform they could innovate designs without needing to know how to build a theme from scratch.  DIVI allows web designers who may have even less knowledge to make multiple designs keeping the same base Divi theme.

So the overarching trend has been away from building themes, even child theme, but using drag and drop builders to create and modify themes. This trend gives the biggest threat to WordPress.com and the default WordPress install.  The hosting environment run by automatic does not have a default drag and drop builder.  So, they needed to bring something into core WordPress and work out how to make use of more themes again.

This has been less of an issue to the develo9per community because, well, they are developers and can take any of the many tools out there, or make their own, to overcome WordPress.org limitations. Which is their raison d’etre?

Enter Guttenberg

There is now a WordPress plugin called Guttenberg that will become part of core WordPress with WordPress 5.0. It replaces the editor with a sort of page builder interface. it is not a WYSIWYG drag and drop system, but it is pretty WYSIWYG. So will bring WordPress core back into the game. However, it will need a little more before it can really meet the threats we have talked about.

Goodbye, shortcodes and widgets?

The new editor gives us better ways to achieve extra features without needing shortcodes. A shortcode can deliver an action at the appropriate palace and allows parameters to be passed to a more complicated function, but it is not WYSIWYG. In Guttenberg, you add features within blocks, and you can create your own blocks to deliver content for your plugin that shortcodes have provided till now. This same feature could also be applied to widgets too.

The interface also allows page design with a javascript interface through a REST API.

take a steptowards a more fluid and javascript powered future

 Could this change everything?

Over time, it is likely that Guttenberg will transform WordPress into a real-time page design platform. WordPress can already do this using a range of plugins or specialised themes and needs to be seen to do it ‘out of the box’ just keep up with the direction of users and its competitors’ offerings.

Like any big change with WordPress, it will bring lots of new opportunities.  it will build towards a much more live design and editing experience. It will take a significant amount of time.

My conclusion

Most Web designing is template driven.  People want a proven template and don’t have the time (or the skills) to make a great one from scratch. In the past, that meant looking through hundreds of themes for the right answer. Lately, it has become taking one theme and looking at the variations available.  None of what is suggested will change that. However, we would have a more easily used interface to allow us to interact with our design.

Page and theme editors will need to decide if they stay with their solution or join the core interface.

Those selling their product with ease of use; DIVI, Wix, Squarespace etc, will have to find a better argument. If many developers start writing plugins to interact via WordPress Guttenberg, their collective effort should these other players a good run for their money.

Competition is good, it increases choice and forces everybody to be constantly raising their game. That keeps developers busy and better products for all.

Should you embrace this change?

You must certainly upgrade all current and future plugins to support and take advantage of Guttenberg. Make sure your plugins are fully compatible. If you have a better editor interface and many users, then don’t feel you have to drop yours in favour of Guttenberg. If possible, support both! – I am already rolling out support for the Guttenberg plugin, so I will have full compatibility available before WordPress 5 launch. It is never good to be playing catchup and with WordPress, you have little excuse not to be ready.