08 March 2019 - Jonathan Dempsey

WordPress: The Gutenberg Controversy

Gutenberg. The name may sound familiar to you if you’re a historian. Johannes Gutenberg is the lovely fella who invented a printing press with movable type. It may sound familiar for another reason; WordPress has recently released a page builder that allows users to create pages with movable “blocks”, named Gutenberg (Get it? Movable type? Moveable blocks? Same same but different?).

Gutenberg aims to replace the old CMS text editor WordPress user’s have come to know and love with these new movable blocks. Unfortunately, it has been met with resistance and poor reviews from the get-go.

Let’s take a look at what went wrong, if it deserves the hate it has been receiving, and if there’s any hope for Gutenberg’s future.

What is Gutenberg and how does it work

Gutenberg is a visual content editor which aims to give WordPress users greater control over the layout of pages and posts. A user can choose from a variety of block elements (Text blocks, image blocks, things like that) to arrange and order them on the page.

If you are familiar with site builders like SquareSpace, Wix or even similar WordPress plugins like Visual Composer, then it works kind of like them.

What does the community think?

Okay, a built-in page builder on WordPress sounds great! Let’s go take a look at what other people think about… Oh, dear…

Please no…

That’s enough!

You may think I’ve cherry-picked these reviews but just take a look at Gutenberg’s review page, it’s a bloodbath of bad reviews. At least it was at the time of writing this article but hopefully, that will change.

As Gutenberg is now standard on WordPress versions 5+, plugins that disable it have become extremely popular. The two top plugins that remove Gutenberg, Classic Editor and Disable Gutenberg, and replace it with the old text editor have over 3.2 million active downloads. It’s also worth noting that many people are simply not updating their WordPress site to version 5 to avoid using Gutenberg.

After testing it out myself, I don’t think Gutenberg is in a usable state the way it is now. WordPress developers are releasing improvements with each WordPress version update but it will be a few more months minimum before it reaches a point where it could be feasible to add it to existing sites.

The positives I take away from Gutenberg is that it provides much more functionality and control over pages in WordPress compared to the current editor. There is more of a learning curve but once you learn your way around the new interface, it’s not actually so bad to use.

I can see how newer, or less tech-savvy users would find it intimidating to use. Although there is more functionality, a lot of the new blocks are an edge case and wouldn’t be used for most sites. What you’re left with is menus being cluttered with blocks that will, in most cases, not be used.

There’s a test site for Gutenberg which lets users play around with the editor. You can find the Gutenberg Test Site here.

Why do people hate it so much?

Compatibility

Unfortunately, Gutenberg has compatibility issues with frameworks, plugins and any software that is directly related to the old text editor. If your site has a plugin, that’s related to the text editor, that hasn’t been updated by their developer to play well with Gutenberg then it’s not going to work.

Difficult for users

As one of the bad reviews stated above, Gutenberg is more difficult to use than the standard text editor. One of the core reasons to use WordPress was due to its ease of use. The text editor was extremely simple to use. Just click in the editor and start typing away. Easy.

Gutenberg now requires users to drag, drop, change element blocks and go through lists of blocks to find what they need. Of course, these new blocks add a lot of new possibilities of how pages can look and function but for someone using WordPress for the first time, it is an overwhelming amount to take in.

Forced upon users

Gutenberg was standardised into WordPress versions 5+. If you were to download WordPress now, Gutenberg will be there instead of the text editor. If you updated your existing WordPress site past version 4.9 to 5, Gutenberg will be there.

Naturally, a lot of people weren’t happy with being forced to give up the text editor for Gutenberg. Especially when it breaks their website because it doesn’t work with lots of plugins…

Is there hope for the future of Gutenberg?

In fairness, a lot of the reviews on the Gutenberg plugin page would have been written back when Gutenberg was still in beta. However, even two months after the official release of Gutenberg, there are still lots of compatibility issues and bugs, and negative reviews are still being submitted.

In WordPress, most recent release, version 5.1, Gutenberg has been given performance improvements so “The editor should feel quicker to start, and typing should feel smoother”. They also state that more performance improvements are due in the next few releases.

Although 5.1 improves performance, it may be a while still until Gutenberg is compatible with most WordPress sites and bug-free.

Conclusion

Gutenberg, a native page builder for WordPress would be a great improvement on the old text editor but due to being highly incompatible with numerous WordPress sites and being forced upon users, it has received a lot of negativity from WordPress users and developers alike.

The good people at WordPress are still going to be releasing improvements to Gutenberg but it may be a while before it’s at an acceptable standard to be used for all WordPress sites.

For now, it seems the best course of action is to stick with the conventional WordPress text editor.