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Gutenberg’s Identity Crisis

What is Gutenberg? I feel like there’s an identity crisis and I want to share my understanding of Gutenberg’s goals and hopefully, this will help clear some misunderstandings. I understand that we, developers, understand the objective behind Gutenberg but from my interaction with some people I have noticed that there is still some confusion…

While the Core team of WordPress set the right expectations during the early stages of Gutenberg, it seems like there is still a lot of confusion.

Since the initial release and implementation of Gutenberg in WordPress, it looked like an improved content editor for WordPress, a replacement for TinyMCE. It was even pushed that way by the core team. An improved editor to be able to have finer control over the content for posts & pages. While that is true, this was and is quickly followed up by the intention of introducing a full-site editor, essentially, building a page-builder.

If Gutenberg was just a better content editor and was never intended to be a page-builder or website-builder, there would be no intention of building a full-site editor within Gutenberg.

Now I know that there is a negative association with page-builder within the WordPress community but ultimately the goal for Gutenberg is to become a website builder. Page-building blocks will then be offered by 3rd party plugins.

Gutenberg fixes most of the problems due to which page-builders were shunned in the past especially the concern of content lock-in by the plugins and themes.

While I understand that the Core team is hugely motivated by Automattic’s agenda (they’re a huge part of the core team and extremely intelligent people), I believe that this is a step in the right direction.

My only wish is that we truly understand and accept that the Gutenberg’s ultimate goal is to be full-fledged website building experience, from editing the content for posts and pages to building page layouts using the same blocks.

Gutenberg Theme Styles Integration and almost WYSIWYG

I am betting on Gutenberg.

WordPress desperately needed a modern editing experience to evolve from the blogging platform it was, to the CMS that it is now.

Competing with website builders like Wix, Squarespace, and Shopify that keeps chugging away at WordPress’s market share called for an obvious solution, an editor that made building websites easy. TinyMCE could never achieve this. Plugins and themes that built their own solutions helped but that required installing and configuring them to make WordPress ready to build websites.

Gutenberg fills this gap. It is an important gap to fill and I’m glad that this is taken seriously.

Recently, I’ve been trying to learn the reason behind the approach Gutenberg took in comparison to all the website builders out there. I asked this question on WordPress’s official slack channel. I wanted to understand the reason behind the choice of the backend approach of Gutenberg which requires writing CSS styles for both the frontend and backend, separately. I wanted to understand why Gutenberg didn’t take the approach of frontend editing experience from the get-go because that would offer tighter integration with the existing themes without additional requirements. We already have so many successful examples in the form of existing website builders.

I couldn’t find an answer to it. I understand that Gutenberg was critical and we might eventually get to the point where frontend editing experience might be offered but my current opinion is that even with the full-site editing experience, we will still have almost WYSIWYG editing experience which is actually an inconvenience for the developers and strange for the users.

According to the replies on the official WordPress slack, I was explained that this is simply a user-interface gap and Gutenberg blocks work similarly to the existing frontend editors (Elementor in this case). I understand their explanation behind the user-interface gap but this is a huge gap that doesn’t simply feel like a user-interface gap.

From the tech perspective, Elementor only requires frontend markup once to build its block. Gutenberg, on the other hand, requires building a view for both backend edit and frontend save.

For this same reason, I am hitting roadblocks in the development of my own Gutenberg plugin. I found an ugly workaround to match the styles in the frontend but it is still an almost WYSIWYG experience. This could have been avoided with a frontend editing experience. This causes inconvenience and a lack of full integration when developers don’t have full control over the theme’s style. To explain this further, theme editors need to update and build styles for Gutenberg blocks. In comparison to Elementor, this is not a requirement.

Why I’m betting on Gutenberg

My recent participation in WordCamp Lahore involved sharing my thoughts on the new opportunities for WordPress businesses and builders.

This was an interactive session that involved questions on why all of us (the panelists) are betting for the success of the Gutenberg project and is it better than existing page builders?

I always had an interest in Gutenberg. I first started building a plugin for Gutenberg called MightyBlocks which was 2 years ago. MightyBlocks was an experiment to build a plugin where blocks for Gutenberg would be registered and templated without using JavaScript. This was to make it easier for developers to migrate their shortcodes and page builder elements easily to Gutenberg without learning javascript.

WordPress has evolved significantly over the years. Evolved from a simple blogging platform to a very flexible content management system.

The missing element in WordPress which was already discovered by the market (themes like Avada) is an easy way to build, customize and arrange elements (blocks) required to build a website. This was solved with the help of page builders plugins and they’re doing a great job at solving this problem.

However, Gutenberg is working towards filling this gap natively. WordPress is moving away from being only a text editor to a content editor. The idea of blocks in the content editor and the blocks directory will provide users, especially first-time users a seamless experience of building websites.

On top of that, the next phase of Gutenberg in 2020 will offer a full-site editing experience. This will allow users to build headers, footers, and other areas of the websites with Gutenberg.

Is Gutenberg going to replace page builders? The answer is always going to be No.
Edit: “always” is an overstatement but my point is that it is going to take a long time. Gutenberg is essentially playing catch up.

Is it better than page builders? Not yet.

But for the WordPress project, Gutenberg is a big win. The first time users and their experience with WordPress has a higher chance of them sticking to WordPress and growing its market share.