Home » Gutenberg: Friend or Foe?

How Will WordPress Gutenberg Affect the Way we Write?

There’s been a fair bit of hype lately about the WordPress Gutenberg update. Is this really going to be a great leap forward as promised – or just another level of confusion?

One thing’s for certain, we won’t be able to avoid it, so we’d better learn how to use it – and quickly!

I’ve been experimenting with Elementor Builder for a bit. (you can read my review here) I’d hopefully be excused then, for thinking I’d have a bit of a head start at understanding Gutenberg. There are some similarities, and I’ve already found a couple of pros and cons. As I did with the Elementor review, I’m using Gutenberg plugin to write this post and learning as I go.

So What Exactly is Gutenberg?

With the old WordPress Editor, we wrote and edited content by typing directly into the editor. If we wanted a heading, for example, we’d highlight the text and select “Heading” then adjust to suit our needs. All content appeared as a single vertical stream of text, images, etc.

What we didn’t see, (and for many of us, didn’t know) was that these different sections were isolated within the HTML as invisible “blocks”.

WordPress Gutenberg simply allows us to see these individual blocks and move or edit them as separate items within our content. This is intended to make for a superior user experience and a real “hands-on” feel.

So How Do We Use Gutenberg?

Adding a new block in a document is dead simple. Just select the icon (plus sign within a circle) and select what type of block you want to add. These cover almost any element you can imagine inserting into your posts. Videos, images, embeds etc etc. Plugin authors can easily create their own custom block types also.

With the old system, in order to rearrange the positions of images, paragraphs, etc I’d usually end up using cut and paste or simply deleting the item and redoing it. The one thing I noticed right away is that to move a block to another part of the document I can simply hover the cursor over the block and use the up and down arrows that appear to the left. Strike one for Gutenberg over Elementor, by the way. Their drag and drop option I found a bit clumsy and unreliable.

To delete a block, I simply use the menu just to the right of the block. Here you’ll find several editing options to use on the fly.

Also, with Elementor, if I needed to add a heading within an existing block of text, I was forced to do a cut and paste to break the text block into two parts and insert my title between them. Now, with Gutenberg, I type my heading in place, then highlight it and convert it into a heading block ready for editing. The existing text block is just split in two. Strike two.

One type of block can easily be converted into another type, or blocks can be grouped together to create a list, for example.

Content within a paragraph block can be edited individually, as we’re used to. (Bold, italic etc) Additionally, font color, background color, drop cap (as I did with this paragraph) and more are all accessible from the sidebar. This does apply only to paragraph blocks, however. (As a footnote here; I disabled the Gutenberg plugin I used to initially write this post, as it was conflicting with other elements. After I did so, the Drop Cap disappeared from this paragraph)  Just in case you were wondering.

One thing I would definitely have liked to see is the background color and font color option for headings. If you’ve visited my-buzz before you’ll know I like to give my headings a bit of color to make them stand out. This seems like a basic requirement to me, if I’m going to be using Gutenberg to write my content without using a builder program. Gutenberg would only allow black text for headings.

I’ve since added the usual color I use with the WordPress Editor, however.

Another issue that I’m hoping will be addressed is that I no longer have the option of adding “no-follow” or “open in new tab” whenever I add a link. Maybe this is a compatibility thing with my plugin.

What About Developers?

Gutenberg will make it much easier for developers. Previously, developers worked mainly with meta boxes. Gutenberg offers more options for integrating with the WordPress UI. While still retaining the meta box option, the three main ways to integrate with Gutenberg will be; a pop-over that opens when you click a menu item – a sidebar (to the right) where you can add your plugin – or a screen takeover feature that allows you to add your plugin UI to all of the interface. I might add here that I’m NOT a developer, so this information is of little consequence to me personally. I can see the definite benefits though.

When Will We See Gutenberg?

Gutenberg is available right now as a plugin, and can be installed from within your WP dashboard. This is the version I’m now using to write this post. I’m not sure whether the fully integrated version will work exactly the same, but I’d assume that there may still be a few improvements and tweaks in the pipeline.

Gutenberg will be included within WordPress from version 5.0 onwards.

For developers who may be reading this, there is a site www.frontenberg.tomjn.com where you can test Gutenberg by adding your plugin to the sidebar to see if it all fits together.

Is Gutenberg Going to Make Life Easier for Content Writers?

WordPress hasn’t had a major rebuild for ages. Meanwhile, page builders like Elementor, Thrive Architect, Beaver Builder et al have become very popular. We all want to have beautiful websites. Page builders allow us to fill in the gaps between what we envisage and what we can actually create.

My first thought when I heard of WordPress Gutenberg was that it would sound the death knell for page builders entirely. It still may, but not by making them redundant. Not in the short term, anyway.

Most, if not all, page builders will initially struggle to properly integrate with Gutenberg. Of course, all the major builders have armies of programmers who will be burning the midnight oil working out any compatibility issues so we can only hope for some positive outcomes.

Having said all that – WordPress Gutenberg is not (initially, at least) designed as a page builder. It’s still an editor. Personally, I like that they’ve finally brought WordPress into the 21st century. I’m hoping that before integration they can sort out all the teething problems and assuage the nay-sayers out there.

There’s been a lot of buzz within forums where beta users have raised a number of issues. The main concerns arise from;

  1. Compatibility: The WordPress editor we’re used to relies heavily on TinyMCE, an HTML editor, within its core. All current WP plugins are written to be compatible with TinyMCE. There’s some concern as to whether Gutenberg will retain this and therefore whether plugins in current use will retain their compatibility.
  2. Gutenberg in its present state lacks a lot of the functionality we’ve become accustomed to. (Such as my concern about font color in headings as mentioned earlier) When Gutenberg becomes a part of the WordPress core (Version 5.0) it’s unclear as to whether we’ll be able to make minor tweaks like this without resorting to writing code (which is above my pay grade) or using a builder (which may not work)

My Take on Gutenberg by WordPress

As far as I can tell, the majority of users (myself included) would prefer WordPress to release Gutenberg as an optional plugin only. At least at first. From version 5.0, however, we will no longer have access to the WP editor and will be forced to use this new version. This from a company that has always championed open source and the free exchange of information on the web.

For that reason, I’ll be delaying any update to V 5.0 as long as possible. I want to be certain there’s no chance of my websites being compromised.

There is a plugin however, available here. https://it.wordpress.org/plugins/manager-for-gutenberg/ This plugin will allow you to disable Gutenberg either globally or on an ad hoc basis. This means that you can retain Gutenberg’s installation but exclude individual block types, API/hooks for custom themes etc. or limit it to pages (or posts) only. You still won’t have the old WP Editor, but you could then use a page builder or other editor.

The very fact that someone has gone to the extent of creating this plugin is testimony of how much global concern Gutenberg is causing.

Have you looked at WordPress Gutenberg? What’s your take on this new WP editor? Feel free to join the discussion via the comments box below. I’d like to hear your thoughts or ideas.

Cheers for now.

Thomas. AKA BusyBee

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