Guten – huh? What you need to know about WordPress’s big ‘Gutenberg’ transition

Note: I originally wrote this post for subscribers to my weekly e-mail. Normally that’s exclusive content I don’t share elsewhere, but I’m making an exception on this one because of the breadth and depth the Gutenberg change will bring to the WordPress community. If you appreciate content like this, join the list.

A fairly significant change is coming to WordPress. So significant that the project is named Gutenberg, after the inventor/invention that revolutionized publishing.

If you have a WordPress website, Gutenberg will definitely affect you. Whether you use WordPress or not, though, it’s something you should read at least a little about if you have a website, or want to.

That’s because sites running WordPress will change, whether their owners like it or not. And also because if you’ve avoided WordPress in the past, the change may make you do a happy dance.

Goodbye, big blank editing window

Here’s a look at the Gutenberg editor:

The editing process reminds me very much of creating content in Squarespace. Everything is added with blocks of various types: text, images, video and more. This kind of a process should make it easier for the average person to pull off more-complex page structures.

Ich muss meinen Senf hinzufügen*

I understand why WordPress is making this change. I suspect that, without it, they feel they’ll die. In their view, the Wixs and Weeblys of the world “democratize publishing” online, and WordPress’s big, white box of an editor makes it hard to get fancy.

I’m generally not in favor of page builders because they’re usually more grand in practice than in theory. Plus they make sites perform more sluggishly. The WordPress folks may do it better than others, though.

I certainly hope so, else the divide between the haves (can afford a high-performing site, don’t need WordPress) and have-nots (WordPress is their only affordable option) will be wider instead of narrower – right opposite of what Automattic (makers of WordPress) intend.

The ‘haves’ sites will load in two seconds and present a distinct advantage over the poor mom & pop WordPress sites that were easy to build but take forever to load.

At the moment, I don’t have the time to set up a test environment and play around with the current iteration of Gutenberg (you can download a not-yet-ready-for-prime-time version of the editor).

What I think you should do

People who have current, well-designed WordPress sites should install the Classic Editor plugin when Gutenberg rolls out. You’ll need to do this because there’s a very good chance your theme won’t work well with the new editor. Also because your content won’t be set up for it, either.

I tried an earlier version of the plugin on my site and the best way to describe how it looked is with a single word: cattywampus. My guess is the same thing will happen to our content when Gutenberg becomes part of WordPress.

Eventually you will have to embrace this change, whether you like it or not. I’m sorry.

In theory, you might escape it for a time by not updating WordPress. That would be foolish. Software updates don’t just add fancy features; they patch up vulnerabilities that internet low-lifes look for and exploit.

Soon enough it will be time to refresh your site with a new theme. Hopefully you’ll do this before WordPress pulls the plug on the Classic Editor. They haven’t yet said how long they’ll support it, so it’s just something we’ll all have to keep an eye on.

Bottom line: I’d rather you rebuild your site at your leisure than be forced into throwing it together in a panic because something stops working.

What if your site is on WordPress.com?

I’ve looked for information about how they’ll roll out Gutenberg there and came up empty. Although your site is likely to face some of the same changes, you won’t have the benefit of switching things back temporarily using a plugin.

So many sites are built on WordPress.com that I have a hard time believing they’d roll out Gutenberg and break them all. Stay tuned, and I’ll share what I know when I know it.

What I’m going to do

Without testing what happens when switching to a Gutenberg-ready theme or when importing existing content into a new site built on Gutenberg, I can only make educated guesses about the best course of action.

My plans are to set up a test on my local machine and work more extensively with the Gutenberg editor. We have big changes in the works here at Fearless HQ, though, so that testing won’t begin until the dust settles. Hopefully by June 2018 at the latest.

I’ll let you know how my testing goes, and I may do video if it seems like it’d help explain what happens. Stay tuned. Better yet, sign up so you don’t miss anything.

* Translation: Literal – “I have to add my mustard.” English equivalent – “I have to add my two cents.”

Update

I’m working on a website refresh project for a client likely to be affected by Gutenberg. I didn’t want to put off testing any longer, so yesterday (6 April 2018) I set up a test environment and made a video demo. Gutenberg definitely has some downside for current sites created in the classic WordPress editor, but I found more upside than expected for new content. Check out my Gutenberg test here »

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