Read this WordPress Gutenberg review to prepare for the inevitable.

By some reports, 75 million websites have been developed using WordPress. You read that correctly … 75 MILLION. So when Automattic (the developers of WordPress) introduces a paradigm shift in WordPress’s core user interface (UI) and user experience (UX), the internet shudders. But this new content editor, named Gutenberg, is the future of WordPress content editing, and we all need to be ready.

You can type “WordPress Gutenberg review” into any search engine and read screen after screen of apocalyptic fears and genuine frustrations. Rather than wade through the quagmire of (possibly) misplaced web wisdom, though, here is a high-level introduction.

What is Gutenberg?

Gutenberg, now in a beta plug-in version, is the new WordPress editor. In the words of Automattic, “The entire editing experience has been rebuilt for media rich pages and posts.” Sounds good, right? It could be, IF the final product is more intuitive than the pre-releases.

If you aren’t familiar with WordPress, it helps to know that about 26 percent of all websites are built on it. WordPress first appeared in 2003 as free, open-source software, and bloggers fell immediately in love. They didn’t have to pay someone to build a website for them in order to publish their musings online. They could use WordPress to build their own site, quickly, easily and for free. But the real draw was the ease of content editing.

As people used WordPress, it continued to evolve. Developers created plug-ins, themes and custom code snippets that could make the platform perform internet magic. Now, WordPress is regularly used to build websites for everyone from mommy bloggers to corporations to governments. While the evolution of the core and the community offering has been staggering, there is still room for improvement. Enter Gutenberg.

How does it work?

Gutenberg is currently available as a plug-in in the WordPress repository. It uses content “blocks” in place of the tried-and-true TinyMCE editor and meta boxes that users are familiar with. Automattic says, “Blocks are a great new tool for building engaging content. With blocks, you can insert, rearrange, and style multimedia content with very little technical knowledge. Instead of using custom code, you can add a block and focus on your content.”

The Good

As I mentioned earlier, Gutenberg is still a plug-in. It isn’t scheduled to be integrated into the core until WordPress 5.0 is released, which may happen this year.

If the blocks live up to their promise, they will allow people to more easily customize websites. If you manage the content on your website, you might appreciate that you have more options for publishing content, and for making it relevant and engaging for your audience.

Also, Automattic has provided a Classic Editor plug-in (also in the repository) that can be installed to replace Gutenberg after it is released. That is indicative of a development team that understands the ramifications of this type of change. The Classic Editor plug-in should give the WordPress community enough time to absorb Gutenberg, access integration issues and make the necessary adjustments prior to mandatory adoption.

The Bad

As of this writing, the reviews for Gutenberg come in at 2.3 stars on a 5-point scale. Some people like me have found it clunky and unintuitive. And like me, many people are concerned that once Gutenberg comes online, it will require some major upfit to existing websites.

There are some themes that are used with WordPress now that flat out won’t work with the Gutenberg ideology, and that means that functionalities on the sites using them will quit working.

If you’re managing one site, it’s not the end of the world. If you’re an agency like Vela managing hundreds of websites, the consequences could be catastrophic for customers.

The Ugly

At worst, sites will become unreachable, themes will need to be completely overhauled, plug-ins will have major conflicts and custom login pages may no longer allow access to the dashboard.

We’ve dealt with similar updates before and are ready to manage this one. But in spite of all our planning, organization and precautions, the developers may still throw us a curveball. For example, in one case, a single eCommerce platform update crippled several of the sites we built. Thankfully, we had the staff, training and expertise to quickly counter the issues and get our clients’ sites up and running.

I have downloaded the plug-in and find it frustrating. Its objective is to simplify the user interface, but the drag-and-drop UI as it now exists requires a user’s manual to figure out. It’s trying to do too much, and is too complex for many of its end users.

Most our website clients ask us to design and develop sites that they can manage. They want to be to add or edit content and images. They don’t want to design templates or layouts, and that’s fine with us. Not everyone is a designer, not everyone is a developer, and not everyone should be laying out templates.

With Gutenberg, our clients will have that capability, even if they don’t want it. And that could be problematic.

What should we do?

At this point, you’re probably ready for some good news. So here it is: Automattic is listening to the concerns of its users. It has been pouring out information to the public regularly, and I think as a company has really been responsive. There have been tweaks made to earlier versions of Gutenberg that were promising. And until the transition to Gutenberg is complete, we can still use the classic WordPress interface.

My Two-Cent WordPress Gutenberg Review

Overall, I think Gutenberg and its drag-and-drop interface represents a good and necessary direction for WordPress if it’s going to be viable for the next 10 years. But proper rollout and support is crucial. Many platforms have tried this type of leap before, only to experience failure and be passed over for some new upstart. The internet doesn’t forgive. That’s how WordPress won it.

Automattic has the right idea, but we will need to wait and see if Gutenberg is the right solution. As a WordPress maven, my fingers are crossed … tight.

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