If you’ve been hearing a lot about Gutenberg and not a lot about what it actually is, this post is for you.
There has been a lot of buzz about Gutenberg and most of it hasn’t necessarily been positive. Actually, you’d probably think the world was going to end.
For bloggers, it’s not as bad as you might think.
While plugins that build on the editor have largely had compatibility issues with Gutenberg (including WooCommerce and Jetpack—both of them have some UI issues), most of your plugins won’t be affected.
But before we get into more details, let’s talk a little more about what Gutenberg aims to do.
Gutenberg is a feature plugin that will be implemented to WordPress core. It aims to simplify and streamline the current content creation process. It’s a more visual approach to the current editor, allowing its users to translate their ideas more directly, without the use of HTML, shortcodes, meta boxes, and other things that might not be intuitive to content creators.
Most of the controversy surrounding Gutenberg stems from the fact that WordPress has always tried to accommodate existing plugins. Backward compatibility has long been a core principle, but Gutenberg is very different from anything WordPress has ever implemented to the core install. While they can try to make it backward compatible, it’s still going to break a lot of plugins that build on the default editor.
What This Means for Content Creators
Nothing we’re not used to! As bloggers, we’re always learning and looking for new ways to do things. While it might take some getting used to, the new editor is fast, simple, and easy to use. It translates from an imagined design to a coherent blog post, without the need to deal with code or lots of plugins. No more weird word wrapping or struggling to align text in a visually appealing way.
If you already use a WordPress theme from the WordPress.org directory, you likely won’t have problems with Gutenberg. Most themes are designed similarly with no changes to the visual editor.
First Look at Gutenberg
While I’ve been keeping up with a lot of the changes, I haven’t really used it to just write a blog post until now. It’s a lot more stable, less buggy, and overall very easy to use.
For writers that have published articles on Medium, you’ll already be familiar with this style of editor. It looks and feels a lot like Medium, but with more formatting options.
If you want to get a little more hands-on, you can test out the editor for yourself here. I wouldn’t recommend installing the plugin on anything but a test site until you’re sure your plugins will play nice!
Now You’re Thinking in Blocks
Creating other kinds of text blocks will give you other formatting options. A heading block has formatting options for headers, while a list block only has formatting options for bullets, indention, and other things you’d need to format lists.
Blocks are divided into the following categories: Most Used, Common Blocks, Formatting, Layout Elements, Widgets, Embeds, Shared, and Inline Elements. The block inserter remembers which blocks you’ve used and stores them in the Most Used category accordingly. But if you’re having trouble finding things, or just prefer not to have to go through categories, blocks are searchable.
I won’t go into the details of each and every block, as you’ll learn more just from playing around with it and familiarizing yourself with the new formatting options. A few of them also have a few kinks that still need to be worked out and aren’t working as intended (or are still in beta).
Plus, if you ever have questions on what a block does, most of the documentation is built into Gutenberg already! Just check the pane to the right of your editor.
Shared blocks allow you to create blocks that are—you guessed it—shared across pages. Even if you use shortcodes to display a call-to-action or information on cookies, affiliate links, or other reminders we have to display on our blogs, I found that shared blocks make it a bit easier.
Once you’ve created a block with your CTA, you can just click on the three dots to the right of a block and click Convert to Shared Block. Super easy!
Whether you edit as you go or get it all out before review, Gutenberg has a nice flow to it. It hides editing options as you type, only showing them when you move your mouse and go to edit.
You can close the options pane on the right entirely, providing distraction-free writing. The amount of negative space the editor has gives it a nice feel and makes everything seem a lot less busy. Just click the gear icon in the top right to get everything back.
Along with useful tips on what everything does, the sidebar to your right offers tons of useful formatting and editing features (like in the Paragraph block options pane below).
While I don’t think Gutenberg is ready to take on any drag-and-drop builders, it’s useful for users who prefer simpler themes and easy customization. (You can even build some really nice pages with it, as seen on the live demo.)
New Formatting Options
Keep in mind a lot of these features are still in the beta phase and largely experimental. So if you try it out and it doesn’t quite work like you expected, don’t worry too much. Do send feedback to the Gutenberg team! It’s important that they get feedback from a variety of users.
Some of my favorite formatting options are the spacers, separators, breaks, and columns that they’ve added. While things like inline images and the columns are still being worked on, they’re a step in the right direction. Most formatting blocks and layout elements have simple customization in the right pane, making it quick and to tailor them for what you want.
Shortcuts will continue to work with the new editor and navigation is made easy with the ability to navigate blocks using your arrow keys. Not a huge feature, but glad they’ve addressed a lot of QOL features.
Drag-and-drop is still a little weird, between the slow, laggy movement and some positioning of the blue lines that indicate where a block is supposed to go, but still an improvement.
Other neat bonus features:
- Collaborative editing between two peers.
- Per-block commenting.
- Bundling block assets.
- API for async-loading capabilities for block assets.
Transitioning to Gutenberg
With all the new changes, it can be a little daunting to suddenly adopt this new editor. While you can outright install Gutenberg to try it out, I would recommend Gutenberg Ramp (also by Automattic) first, in case of any mishaps with plugins. This way you can choose when to use it and when to default to the classic editor. (If you do want to dive right in, you can download the full plugin here.)
That being said, if you’re planning on walling up and turning off Gutenberg as soon as it comes out, I would highly suggest trying out Ramp and giving it a fair chance. You can ask anyone who’s worked with me over the past year—I didn’t exactly receive the news of Gutenberg well. I instantly wrote it off and didn’t revisit it until months down the road. But developers started to get over their grumbles and looked for ways to make their plugins mesh with Gutenberg. Some that complained at the start were the first to make their own blocks for the editor.
It’ll really come down to the Gutenberg team being receptive to feedback on the plugin and how they implement it. (And with this release, it’s looking like they’re offering an opt-in, rather than opt-out.)
I don’t think it’ll wind up being a deal-breaker for people currently using WordPress (or moving to WordPress). So far, despite the negative feedback (and the poor ways in which it was delivered in the first place), they’ve kept open communication on development and continue to implement feedback from their users. Just continue to follow its development and give them feedback on what works (or what doesn’t!).
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