Gutenberg At One Year: A Look Back And A Look Ahead

One year ago WordPress rolled out its most important change in its 15 year history. Until then WordPress had evolved in an evolutionary way. But this was a revolutionary step.

With much sturm and drang out went the old (now known as the Classic) Editor. In came Gutenberg, the name of a 2 year development project which replaced an unsatisfactory Word processor-like way of creating web pages with what’s called the block editor.

Gutenberg was packed into WordPress v5.0 so all you needed to do was update your version of WP and there was the new editor. If you didn’t want Gutenberg, you were advised to install the Classic Editor plugin which preserved your way of creating web content.

If you started working with WordPress since December of 2018, it’s very possible you don’t know what I am talking about. But if you’re a seasoned WordPresser like me, you know how significant the change has been.

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In looking back and looking forward to where WordPress and its Gutenberg page editor is going, a few questions came to mind.

Why Gutenberg?

Could we really go on forever creating rich web pages with a tool that was more word processor than web content creator? I’m talking about this.

WordPrss TinyMCE Editor Screenshot

No, we could not.

With 32.5% market share of how web sites are made, and with no threatening competitors (i.e., WIX, Media and Squarespace), the developers of WordPress nonetheless looked for a way to capture an even greater slice of the pie.

The aim was – and is – to be the operating system of the web. (Whether that’s a good idea will remain grist for another post.)

For all of this to happen, the worldwide WordPress development community felt the need to let users create content in a most intuitive, user-friendly manner. Hence they went back to the basics and created a block interface that is mapped to HTML, the markup language of every webpage. For paragraphs there would be a paragraph block, for headings – a heading block, for images – an image block, and so forth.

Screenshot - Gutenberg block editor

The new Gutenberg editor would solve many problems such as the following (among others) that were drawbacks in the Classic Editor:

  • No way to create columns.
  • No way to re-use content across pages and posts.
  • A reliance on using shortcuts.
  • A start towards a WYSIWYG design environment.

Should You Update To Gutenberg Now?

Are you still hanging back from using Gutenberg?

If you haven’t had a look at Gutenberg in a year, you have missed out on what is going on. It is now a reliable, more polished experience than a year ago. Gutenberg is faster, more responsive to the keyboard, and even more accessible.

Here’s what Laura Byrne Cristiano, a well known content creator, recently said about her experience using Gutenberg:

What’s more, an entirely new genre of plugins and themes have arisen that take advantage of Gutenberg. This is the part of the future of WordPress and it just might be time to have a second look.

If you’re still using the Classic Editor plugin, why not see how your site performs using Gutenberg? Do this with a Staging Site if you’re concerned about how your site will work with Gutenberg, and especially, how it will change your workflow.

If you’re using the Classic Editor, just deactivate it and – assuming you are using WordPress 5.0 (or higher) – you’ll have the Gutenberg editor. Don’t like what you see? Just reactivate the Classic Editor.

As for me, I’m still using the old editor, but in the coming year or so I will move to Gutenberg as a part of the re-design of this site. It just makes sense to couple those two ideas and do both at the same time.

How Long Can You Use The Classic Editor?

That remains to be seen. It depends on how you ask and who is answering that question.

Initially the idea was to stop supporting the Classic Editor in 2021. But in his State of the Word address at WordCamp 2019, Matt Mullenweg (co-founder of the WordPressProject) broadly implied that support for the Classic Editor would go on beyond 2021. This opened up the likelihood that there will be 2 types of WordPress for a long time to come. One using the new Gutenberg page editor and the other using the old Classic Editor.

You can have your cake...

What’s Going On With Themes and Plugins In Response To Gutenberg?

I mentioned a new era has blossomed with themes and plugins that use Gutenberg.

Many themes were re-designed or developed anew this year to incorporate what Gutenberg does. As for Gutenberg plugins, these primarily added new blocks and templates that are not available in the default editor.

You're Not Stuck With Themse

A good look at many of these plugins is in “Using Gutenberg Plugins To Extend What Gutenberg Does By Default.” I ought to know. I wrote it. 🙂

Where Does This Leave Page Builders Like Elementor, Divi, Beaver Builder, And The Others?

The page builders were re-tooled to work alongside of or on top of (pick your description) Gutenberg. Does this “extra overhead” slow down a site’s performance? It could. I say “could” because of the idiosyncrasies of every WP site. No two WordPress sites are exactly alike which makes stating absolutes absolutely impossible.

Which leads me to the big question.

Where Is Gutenberg Going?

As I understand it, after the next two phases of Gutenberg’s development, it will be possible that you won’t need page builders at all. Picture a world where the front facing side of your site is merged with what we now call the WP Admin. A world where selecting an element and/or dropping anything is easy to do, reliable, and fun. Design changes that you make can apply to a given page or sitewide.

This is the hope for Gutenberg. It will take some time to get there but we will. The promise of in-browser design that can be used by the largest possible audience is in reach, but it’s a few years away.

gutenberg plugin logoIf you want to keep one step ahead you can install Gutenberg as a plugin. Read up on the current version which is 7.0, but since it is in very active development, it changes all the time. This will be a more advanced version of what Gutenberg can do without the plugin.

Will We Forever Call It “Gutenberg?”

It was never expected that the word “Gutenberg” would remain in everyday use for WordPress. It was meant only to be the name of the project that was to transform WordPress.

But it took hold and now people are using it in ways that confuse too many people. Gutenberg is a part of WordPress and as such do we really need to keep referring to it as such? Or, as I like to say, “WordPress is Gutenberg and Gutenberg is WordPress.” Maybe that’s not a satisfactory explanation but if you can see the future, you’ll know what I mean.


What Do You Think?

Are you using the new block editor? Do you love it? Or, do you wish it would go away forever? Please share your thoughts below. I’d love to know what you think.

7 thoughts on “Gutenberg At One Year: A Look Back And A Look Ahead”

  1. I have never used it because I never saw the need for it. Of course I have been coding since the early 2000’s so I will disagree with some of the limitations you listed such as no way to make columns, but for be average user you were correct. That said, WP does make site building much easier, especially with builders like Elementor and Divi. So for me, I still don’t see the need for Gutenberg nor do I have a desire to use it. But I suppose I will dabble since the sky didn’t fall 😉

    Reply
    • I totally get where you’re coming from Steve and since I like coding I too have been resistant. But I’ve also seen where this is going and I wan to take advantage of the things I like about Gutenberg. And thanks for taking the time to leave your thoughts here.

      Reply
  2. At first I did not care for Gutenberg. But, now it has become the way to go, gradually coming up to par with good features. It’s now THE way to go for me. Another thing to keep in mind is loading speed. Gutenberg IS Word Press… there is a difference (and big advantage) in Gutenberg over using ie Elementor. I’ve found that Elementor-designed Published articles results by tenths of seconds slower loading speeds.

    Reply
  3. Hi Bud,

    I decided to try Gutenberg because we were redoing our site and following a Gutenberg webinar for WP instructors you did last year with Birgit and another WP instructor/expert. It was frustrating at first, likely because it was so new. I’m still frustrated by some things (column width adjustment, image vertical alignment), but it is much easier to work with than it was initially. I am glad I took the leap of faith since, as you said, it is the future of WordPress and why not get used to it as soon as possible? Not being a coder or particularly technical, I had lots of challenges with the Classic editor. I do believe that Gutenberg is easier for non techies to use. It also saved me having to add Beaver Builder to our site.

    Thanks for this interesting look at where Gutenberg was and is going.

    Merry Christmas (if you read this in tome) and all the best for 2020!!

    Reply
  4. Gutenberg (at least in its early days, before I quit using it) is completely unsuited to those who write content elsewhere, and paste it into WP (as a magazine might). Last I tried it – a few months ago – it was very, very slow, and the result was a mess.

    Reply
    • No question that Gutenberg in its earliest days was awful and very much a betaish, unpolished product. But I have seen major improvments. As for copying and pasting from other text based documents that was supposed to be one of its strengths. I copied a simple spreadsheet the other day and it worked perfectly using the table block. But as for copy/pasting a complicated text document – not sure how well that would go.

      As for speed issues, there could be a lot of extenuating factors. – server, plugins, themes are things I’d look into – that could affect Gutenberg performance.

      Reply

Leave a Comment

7 thoughts on “Gutenberg At One Year: A Look Back And A Look Ahead”

  1. I have never used it because I never saw the need for it. Of course I have been coding since the early 2000’s so I will disagree with some of the limitations you listed such as no way to make columns, but for be average user you were correct. That said, WP does make site building much easier, especially with builders like Elementor and Divi. So for me, I still don’t see the need for Gutenberg nor do I have a desire to use it. But I suppose I will dabble since the sky didn’t fall 😉

    Reply
    • I totally get where you’re coming from Steve and since I like coding I too have been resistant. But I’ve also seen where this is going and I wan to take advantage of the things I like about Gutenberg. And thanks for taking the time to leave your thoughts here.

      Reply
  2. At first I did not care for Gutenberg. But, now it has become the way to go, gradually coming up to par with good features. It’s now THE way to go for me. Another thing to keep in mind is loading speed. Gutenberg IS Word Press… there is a difference (and big advantage) in Gutenberg over using ie Elementor. I’ve found that Elementor-designed Published articles results by tenths of seconds slower loading speeds.

    Reply
  3. Hi Bud,

    I decided to try Gutenberg because we were redoing our site and following a Gutenberg webinar for WP instructors you did last year with Birgit and another WP instructor/expert. It was frustrating at first, likely because it was so new. I’m still frustrated by some things (column width adjustment, image vertical alignment), but it is much easier to work with than it was initially. I am glad I took the leap of faith since, as you said, it is the future of WordPress and why not get used to it as soon as possible? Not being a coder or particularly technical, I had lots of challenges with the Classic editor. I do believe that Gutenberg is easier for non techies to use. It also saved me having to add Beaver Builder to our site.

    Thanks for this interesting look at where Gutenberg was and is going.

    Merry Christmas (if you read this in tome) and all the best for 2020!!

    Reply
  4. Gutenberg (at least in its early days, before I quit using it) is completely unsuited to those who write content elsewhere, and paste it into WP (as a magazine might). Last I tried it – a few months ago – it was very, very slow, and the result was a mess.

    Reply
    • No question that Gutenberg in its earliest days was awful and very much a betaish, unpolished product. But I have seen major improvments. As for copying and pasting from other text based documents that was supposed to be one of its strengths. I copied a simple spreadsheet the other day and it worked perfectly using the table block. But as for copy/pasting a complicated text document – not sure how well that would go.

      As for speed issues, there could be a lot of extenuating factors. – server, plugins, themes are things I’d look into – that could affect Gutenberg performance.

      Reply

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