March 26, 2018
The Reality of Gutenberg & WordPress
Gutenberg is happening. It is coming and it is coming soon. I am not thrilled.
WordPress the CMS
Automattic have been trying to tell us for years that WordPress is more than a blogging platform, that it is a true and full Content Management System. "Look!", they say. "You have custom post types, and the metabox API allows for you to create complex content types. It's a CMS!". Alas, it is all built on top of a blog with very blog specific design patterns. The underbelly of WP is ugly and hacky, even if it works "just fine" most of the time. Gutenberg is as direct of a statement of intent as I could expect; WordPress is a blogging/marketing platform, and not a CMS.
WordPress the Casual Site Builder
Gutenberg is a response to the threat of Squarespace and Wix and Medium. This update is for WordPress.com, to combat the threat of those other systems, to ensure dominance in the web publishing space, to increase market share by appealing to more casual users, small business owners, etc. Automattic can probably then generate leads for their WP VIPs. But I think this will come at the expense of developers like me, working at a digital agency, who drank the koolaid about WordPress being a CMS and it being a tool that can be used for Higher-Ed, Government, Healthcare, and not just for a blog or a simple marketing site. I am ready to move on to real CMS's for those projects. As for the marketing and bloggy sites, Squarespace has a much more robust block and content building experience. Why even bother with WordPress at this point? Gutenberg is not anywhere close to those systems, yet. It will probably get there, but will it matter, and will it be worth it?
Gutenberg the Editor
The new editorial process is nice, but super limiting. I hope that more blocks are in development otherwise this feels dead on arrival. I am having some fun with it on my site, checking things out, playing with the shiny new toy, but after a few posts, it's already starting to feel restrictive. Theme builders give me so many more options for how to present content. Sure, they can be very nasty and terrible, but they offer so much more out of the box. I kinda hope that WordPress does not depend on extending block functionality via 3rd party plugin. They have come this far, surely they can offer some more variety?
For example, how about letting me insert a block above the title. Typically you start the page with a large hero, then the primary h1 follows. You can do this now by excluding the post title, but Gutenberg does not let you change the post slug (why?). And if you dont have an SEO plugin installed your <title> will be empty.
How about letting me define a wrapper element around a few blocks to give me more HTML to hang a frontend design off of? Like, making a group of blocks.
How about a related posts that is not just a list of post links, but something that will allow an editor to create a curated list, or a dynamically generated list, that includes thumbnails, excerpt, tags, whatever.
If it ain't broke...
Creating custom blocks has a much higher barrier to entry than say, creating custom field sets with ACF Pro, or using Metabox.io to create modular content blocks. We typically have some unique design constraints and features of our content patterns that do not allow for perfect modular re-use across websites. In other words, we make boutique websites for our clients. ACF and Metabox.io make this extremely easy. Gutenberg blocks are going to take a lot more time to build and test (now we have to test integration on the backend?!)
Ok. I am starting to rant. Ill end this by saying I don't think Gutenberg needs to be THE editor for WordPress, just AN editor for WordPress. Leave it as an optional plugin.