The Gutenberg Kerfuffle

The default editor used in WordPress, TinyMCE (Moxiecode content editor), does a great job in my opinion of facilitating content creation independent of page design, which I’m pretty sure was its intent. However, as WP has advanced from its roots as blogging software to become a popular full-fledged web development tool, the editor has become a limitation. For creative web page design with rich content, true what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) page builders offer significant advantages. [Note: TinyMCE is labeled WYSIWYG, but I have to use the Preview feature to see my content in the context of the page design.] The WordPress core team is understandably concerned about the future of WP in the face of drag-and-drop page builder offerings like Wix, Weebly, and SquareSpace.

Hence, the WP core team plans to replace TinyMCE with a brand new editor, Gutenberg, beginning with WP 5.0. The intent is to “make writing rich posts effortless”. Gutenberg is a radical change from TinyMCE, and the apparent rush to move it into the WP core, rather than offer it as an optional plugin for a year or two, has caused something of an uproar, or a Gutenberg kerfuffle, in the WP community.

The Gutenberg Kerfuffle

  • There are legitimate concerns that Gutenberg will break stuff like plugins and themes. In my testing of the current beta, even using the default Twentyseventeen theme with all other plugins disabled, I was able to test-drive the features but could not save my work.
  • There are additional concerns that Gutenberg will break workflows. One example – the current beta does not support copy-and-paste from something like Microsoft Word nearly as well as TinyMCE.
  • There is the usual fear of change and sentimental attachment to TinyMCE.
  • There is some lingering resentment over the REST API debacle. Trust in the core team to listen to the concerns of the WP community has waned.

The current Gutenberg beta is receiving mixed, but mostly negative reviews.

My point of view:

  • Why the rush? It is great that the WP core team has its collective eye on the future. And concerns that WP has lost pace with some of its competitors in terms of page building are well founded. But WP remains wildly popular, far exceeding Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace combined.
  • I see only advantages, no downside, to publishing Gutenberg as a plugin. Go ahead and include it with the default install if you want (and feel free to drop Hello Dolly while you’re at it). Let Gutenberg prove itself in practice. Give it time. Perfect it. See how popular it becomes. After a year or two, if all goes well, then consider moving it into core.
  • If I need a fancy page builder in the near future, there are ample free choices in the plugin repository as well as premium (i.e. pay) versions. Beaver Builder and Page Builder by SiteOrigin are two examples.
  • Did the WP core team learn nothing from the REST API debacle? Radically new features should be well proven in production before being moved into core.
  • TinyMCE still works well for me. But I’m admittedly no artist at creative rich-content page development.

None of this is to say TinyMCE should not be replaced. Gotta happen at some point. It’s an outdated editor and WP has to move on. Just that there is no need for reckless urgency. There is a better approach than rushing Gutenberg into WP core.

Finally, a minor quibble with the name. Not to question the tremendous accomplishments and exalted historical position of Johannes Gutenberg. He introduced movable type printing to Europe, and his innovations made large-scale printing technically and economically feasible. The resulting birth of mass communication permanently altered the structure of society for the better, for the most part. It’s just … it would have been nice to see a little love go out to the much lesser known Bi Sheng, who actually invented movable type printing in around 1040 in China. Is it too late to change the name?

Update | August 5, 2018: WP 4.9.8 – the last stepping stone to WP 5 – has been released, with its Gutenberg callout. The review count on Gutenberg stands at 405 one-stars vs. 201 five-stars. A two-to-one landslide for the leave-Gutenberg-out-of-core crowd. And yet the People in Charge (PIC) at WP inexplicably refuse to listen. Negative reviews are responded to with a patronizing “Can you please tell us specifically how to improve it?”, even though many of the reviews are full of specifics. And even those that lack specifics make the WP community’s desire exceptionally clear – LEAVE GUTENBERG OUT OF CORE! Yet the PIC rush forward determined to leap headlong off the potentially catastrophic Gutenberg cliff with their hands firmly clasped over their ears, or perhaps with their heads up their … I’ve struggled to understand what the PIC could possibly be playing at. I can only come to one conclusion. Pathological arrogance. It brought down the Democratic party. It is bringing down the mainstream media. Could it bring down WP too?

WPPOV supports freedom from Net Neutrality and the GDPR. The Internet of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.