Little in recent history has had such a significant impact on WordPress as Gutenberg. It has developers polarized into pro- and anti- camps, with those on the fence becoming fewer and fewer with each news update.
To get everyone up to speed, I’ll address the latest happenings in Gutenberg, what the project aims to be, and what we can expect from the upcoming addition to WordPress.
The Purpose Behind Gutenberg
The decision to build Gutenberg is hotly debated. People in favor of the project want to provide WordPress users with a more modern toolset, allowing for greater freedom. People that dislike Gutenberg often argue that it is trying to compete with drag-and-drop website builders.
Regardless, the purpose of the project and the issues that it solves are clear to most WordPress developers. While the WordPress CMS is currently one of the best frameworks to build a site with, its core functionality is based on an earlier, more simplistic version of the internet.
What Gutenberg Aims to Do
Gutenberg aims to transform the core content editing system in WordPress. Formerly, WordPress core only supported simple articles. More complex layouts were only possible by stringing together third-party plugins and custom code. Now Gutenberg allows users to build in a more structured and visual fashion. While training a user in WordPress, it’s not uncommon to describe the content editor as being similar to a word processor, but that analogy will no longer hold.
It should be noted that while WordPress has become one of the most used CMSs by web developers, its primary target audience is still fairly non-technical. One of the inherent issues when choosing to work within the constraints of a CMS is that your own personal goals may not always completely align with that of the CMS’s target audience. This misalignment has become one of the primary instigators of myths surrounding the project, as well as some of the opposition to Gutenberg.
What It Is Not
Gutenberg is not looking to make the entirety of WordPress into a drag-and-drop builder, akin to Squarespace or Wix. Instead, much of WordPress will be left intact, with many of the changes being specific to how content is handled and how themes can interact with it. Developers will still be necessary for many complex customizations, but end users will now have an easier time controlling the layout and structure of what used to be primarily just a content area.
A Move Towards a More Visual WordPress
If you’ve worked with WordPress for some time, you know that the content editor itself has quite a few limitations. Typically, developers get around these by using shortcodes or plugins that allow custom fields. Doing so permits more intricate layouts, but for many WordPress users these tools are out of reach.
By integrating tools like these more thoroughly into the core of WordPress, Gutenberg will allow everyday users to create more personalized sites and layouts than the standard content block that they’re used to. For developers, this means that there will be fewer hurdles for us when it comes to giving our clients non-standard layouts.
By using themes correctly, and with the newly introduced blocks and embeds, Gutenberg gives clients the pieces to build beautiful layouts, rather than locking them into a template layout that may no longer fit their needs six months down the line.
Gutenberg Blocks and Embeds
Arguably the most significant addition by Gutenberg, blocks will allow users to arrange content in a manner similar to Wix or Visual Composer. While this does limit some specific formatting, it opens up a lot of possibilities.
The new blocks contain many of the old favorites when it comes to content: text, images, galleries, hero images, corresponding service embeds, and more. In addition, new blocks can be easily created, allowing developers to give clients highly customized building blocks for their own site.
Developers would previously have been required to create any page-specific templates, but these can now be created by most users.
This shift promises to make creating a website more accessible for small businesses. Of course, larger business will continue to require more in-depth development work.
Gutenberg promises to bring some exciting changes to WordPress, but it’s not quite ready yet. There are still some unknowns being worked out by the team and the community. Here are two of the biggest:
Where Does Gutenberg Stop, and Themes Begin?
With Gutenberg bringing so much to the table, it can be hard to define where its functionality and that of themes should align. Although developers are able to bridge any gaps that may be left between the two, the core audience of Gutenberg—novice users—will likely need to see a stronger definition of the two to make informed decisions.
What Will Its Integration Look Like?
It’s currently unanswered whether Gutenberg will be added to WordPress core for certain, or how that integration might look. There are a few different ways it might be handled:
- Gutenberg is made the default editor for WordPress core (likely with the option to disable it).
- Gutenberg is not made the default editor for WordPress core (but is included, with the option to enable it).
- Gutenberg remains a standalone plugin.
There are several variations beyond these, but these are the most likely forms that the integration will take. If you have an opinion on how the integration should be handled, make it known to the Gutenberg team. They are regularly gathering feedback from the community to determine the best way to handle such issues.
Currently a Plugin, Likely to Be Core
If you want to get your hands on the current version of Gutenberg, it is currently available as a plugin in the WordPress Plugin Directory. Though it is a plugin at the time of writing this post, all signs point to its inclusion in an upcoming WordPress core update, with many suspecting that it may be rolled into the WordPress 5.0 update. Currently, the WordPress development roadmap doesn’t have dates or timelines, leaving it mostly as speculation.
If you want to help shape the Gutenberg experience, test out the plugin and provide feedback. Since it is currently in development, they are seeking opinions, and use stories, from as many users as possible.
Although this overhaul to how WordPress handles content will certainly shake things up, will it provide the next step in the CMS’s evolution that developers are hoping for? We can’t really be sure in its current iteration, but the project is becoming more promising with each new version. Here’s hoping that it can provide the migration away from heavily content-focused pages that users are looking forward to.
Have additional questions about Gutenberg? Did I miss an important feature or interpret something incorrectly? How do you feel about Gutenberg? Let me know in the comments below!