The Gutenberg Problem

/ WordPress Articles / by Paul Robinson / 0 Comments

Gutenberg is a new editor being created by the WordPress team. It is designed to be a block editor that replaces the visual editor (currently TinyMCE) that comes with all WordPress installs. It seems to have generated a lot of controversy mostly over how it will be integrated into WordPress if/when it becomes part of the core.

The rest of this article is an opinion piece based on information that is current as of the publish date. If you are reading this in the future please keep that in mind.

I have read a fair few articles and a lot of comments on peoples opinions over Gutenberg. From what I can gather developers are not happy about it, but I hadn’t yet tried it and thought it was about time to give it a try.

I actually like Gutenberg, which is probably going to get me a lot of hate, but looking at it from the perspective of a client it seems nice to use and simple to understand. There are a few places that need improvement but since it is still heavily in development I will assume they will be improved upon in time.

Gutenberg, We Have A Problem!

The fact I like it doesn’t mean there aren’t any potential issues though. The biggest is probably Meta Boxes. I’m actually with the developers in that I think the post editor would be much, much better if everything was a block and you could put anything you like inside that block. Order details (WooCommerce), message data (Contact Form 7), post editor, gallery, forms, anything you like. Some editable, some not. The big problem here is that WordPress didn’t have this from the start and from the developer side it may not be possible to fully replace the editor screen with the new block version without breaking some older code. This isn’t the WordPress way since backward compatibility has always been one of WordPress’ strong points.

That being said, web technology has come on a long way and WordPress needs to keep up with that due to new users expectations of fresh and user friendly interfaces. I have seen this with a fair few clients, they seem to like the fresh clean ‘app’ approach and I feel blocks would be in keeping with that.

Solutions, solutions, solutions

If we ignore the arguments about changing Gutenberg and look at it for what it seems to be, a full re-implementation of the post editor, then I can think of two possible solutions.

First: If custom metaboxes are detected Gutenberg is hidden automatically and the older editor appears. This stops it from breaking websites that would be too expensive to update or clients do not want to update. This comes with the downside of WordPress devs having to maintain 2 separate editor screens.

Second: Gutenberg is kept as a core plugin. It comes pre-installed with all WordPress installs but is easily disabled. That way developers can choose to implement blocks for their clients or stick with Meta Boxes. This comes with, what I consider to be a massive downside, it may not get the support it needs from developers. It is possible they will just stick with what they know because of the change from PHP meta box implementation to JavaScript based implementation.

Conclusions

So where does this leave us? Honestly, I don’t know. I think Gutenberg could be an excellent replacement to the current editing interface. However there are too many questions about if it will break popular plugins such as ACF, CMB2, Pods, etc. I think there needs to be a frank discussion about what can be done and how to move forward. Luckily it appears they have one on Github.

Personally I will be watching to see what happens with Gutenberg with interest. While I do like it, I do not want it to come at the expense of breaking all the websites I have built using Meta Box based plugins. However I have faith in the WordPress devs that they would never do that. Let’s hope that faith is not misplaced.

Remember, this is an opinion piece. Feel free to comment with your own opinions, ideas, or comments. Attacks, trolls, and any sort of abuse will not be tolerated.

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