Matt Mullenweg Addresses Controversies Surrounding Gutenberg at WordCamp Portland Q&A

Matt Mullenweg joined attendees at WordCamp Portland, OR, for a Q&A session last weekend and the recording is now available on WordPress.tv.

The first question came from a user who tried Gutenberg and turned it off because of a plugin conflict. She asked if users will have to use Gutenberg when 5.0 is released. Mullenweg said one of the reasons Gutenberg has been tested so early is to give plugin developers time to get their products compatible. He also said that it has been the fastest growing plugin in WordPress’ history, with more than 600,000 installations since it was first made available.

In response to her question he said users will have the option to use the Classic Editor and that the team is considering updating it to include per-user controls and the possibility to turn it on/off for different post types.

Subsequent questions went deeper into recent controversies surrounding Gutenberg, which Mullenweg addressed more in depth.

“The tough part of any open source project – there’s kind of a crucible of open source development which can sometimes be more adversarial and sometimes even acrimonious,” he said. “Working within the same company, you can kind of assume everyone is rowing in the same direction. In a wide open source ecosystem, some people might actually want the opposite of what you’re doing, because it might be in their own economic self-interest, or for any number of reasons.

“I liken it much more to being a mayor of a city than being a CEO of a company. I’ve done WordPress now for 15 years so I’m pretty used to it. It might seem kind of controversial if you’re just coming in, but this is not the most controversial thing we have ever brought into WordPress. The last time we had a big fork of WordPress was actually when we brought in WYSIWYG the first time. Maybe there’s something about messing with the editor that sets people off.”

Mullenweg commented on how polarizing Twitter can be as a medium and how that can impact conversations in negatives ways. He said people tend to read the worst into things that have been said and that has been a new challenge during this particular time in WordPress’ history. WordPress tweets are sprinkled into timelines along with politics and current events in a way that can cause people to react differently than if the discussion was held in a trac ticket, for example.

One attendee asked, “With Gutenberg there’s a lot of uncertainty. Where do you see the tipping point where you see people become more favorable to Gutenberg than the Classic Editor?”

“Part of getting these two plugins, Gutenberg and Classic Editor, out early, was that it could remove uncertainty for people,” Mullenweg said. “Months before they were released you could kind of choose your path. The hope is that the 5.0 release day is the most anti-climactic thing ever. Because we have over a million sites that have either chosen to not use Gutenberg, which is totally ok, or have already opted in and have been getting these sometimes weekly updates. We have hosts that have been actually been pre-installing, pre-activating Gutenberg with all of their sites.”

Mullenweg said hosts that have pre-installed Gutenberg have not reported a higher than normal support load and that it has basically been “a non-event.” It’s the users who are updating to 5.0 after many years of using WordPress who will have the most to learn.

“Gutenberg does by some measures five or ten measures more than what you could really accomplish in the classic editor,” Mullenweg said. “That also means there’s more buttons, there’s more blocks. That is part of the idea – to open up people’s flexibility and creativity to do things they would either need code or a crazy theme to do in the past. And now we’re going to open that up to do WordPress’ mission, which is to democratize publishing and make it accessible to everyone.”

Gutenberg’s current state of accessibility has been a hot topic lately and one attendee asked for his thoughts about the recent discussions. Mullenweg said there is room for improvement in how this aspect of the project was handled and that WordPress can work better across teams in the future:

Accessibility has been core to WordPress from the very beginning. It’s part of why we started – adoption of web standards and accessibility things. We’ve been a member of the web standards project for many many years. We did kind of have some project management fails in this process where we had a team of volunteers that felt like they were disconnected from the rapid development that was happening with Gutenberg. Definitely there were some things we could do better there. In the future I think that we need – I don’t know if it makes sense to have separate accessibility as a separate kind of process from the core development. It really needs to be integrated at every single stage. We did do a lot, as Matias did a big long post on it. We’ve done a ton of keyboard accessibility stuff, there’s ARIA elements on everything. One of their feedbacks was that we did it wrong, but we did it the best that we knew how to and it’s been in there for awhile. There’s been over 200 closed issues from really the very beginning. We also took the opportunity to fix some things that had been poorly accessible in WordPress from the beginning. It’s not that WordPress is perfectly accessible and all WCAG AA and it’s reverting. It’s actually that huge swaths of WP are inaccessible – they just might not be considered core paths from the current accessibility team but I consider them core.

In response to a question about the future of React in WordPress, Mullenweg went more in depth on the vision he had when he urged the WordPress community to learn JavaScript deeply in 2015. At that time he said “it is the future of the web.” He described how each block can be a launching point for something else – via a modal, such as updating settings, doing advanced things with an e-commerce store, zooming in and out of those screens from the editor. This was perhaps the most inspirational part of the Q&A where the potential of Gutenberg shines as bright as it did in the early demos.

“The other beautiful thing is that because Gutenberg essentially allows for translation into many different formats,” Mullenweg said. “It can publish to your web page, your RSS feed, AMP, blocks can be translated into email for newsletters, there’s so much that the structured nature of Gutenberg and the semantic HTML it creates and the grammar that’s used to parse it, can enable for other applications. It becomes a little bit like a lingua franca that perhaps even crosses CMS’s. There’s now these new cross-CMS Gutenberg blocks will be possible. It’s not just WordPress anymore. It may be a JavaScript block that was written for Drupal that you install on your WordPress site. I mean, hot diggity! How would that have ever happened before? That’s why we took two years off; it’s why we’ve had everyone in the world working on this thing.”

JavaScript is what makes this cross-platform collaboration possible and it’s already evident in the work the Drupal Gutenberg contributors are doing, as well as the platform-agnostic Gutenberg Cloud project. When Gutenberg is released in 5.0, it will enable more for WordPress and the web than we can predict right now.

“This is not the finish line,” Mullenweg said. “5.0 is almost like the starting point. Expect just as much time invested into Gutenberg after the 5.0 release as before – to get it to that place where we don’t think it’s just better than what we have today but it’s actually like a world-class web-defining experience, which is what we want to create and what you all deserve.”

31 Comments


  1. This is truly saddening to see. Matt has completely forgotten what it is that made WordPress great (the users taking advantage of the openness) and has transformed into a stereotypical businessman: not taking blame for anything, avoiding questions and speaking of his vision of the future.

    Terrible project leadership, complete opacity, one of the worst rated plugins in the repo, people quitting because their expertise is being ignored – none of that matters to him. Just Gutenberg, come what may.

    It really is sad to see.

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    1. I, by contrast, was very pleased with Matt’s presentation & completely comfortable with everything said by both Matt and the people asking questions from the audience.

      To me it showed yet again the leadership that has taken WordPress from a fork of b2/cafelog in 2003 to 32% of websites today.

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    2. Sometimes, it is more important to lift yourself rather than degrade someone else.

      – Aristotle

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  2. I liken it much more to being a mayor of a city than being a CEO of a company.

    Someone who’s both mayor of the city and also the CEO of the largest company in that city ought to realize there’s a massive conflict of interest.

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  3. “I liken it much more to being a mayor of a city than being a CEO of a company’]”

    Matt with the analogy fail. A better analogy would be to that of a royal, like Queen Elizabeth. Because like a mayor she is criticized externally by her actions if her subjects are unhappy, but unlike a mayor, neither the Queen nor Matt can be voted out after a fixed term.

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  4. Hold up, wait a minute, watching the video around the 4:40 mark, did he misspeak or they will be using shady Microsoft tactics? He said “when your sites auto update to WP 5.0…”.

    Since when WP autoupdates MAJOR versions? Until now, if I’m correct, WP only autoupdates minor releases ONLY, and even that was totally messed up a couple of years ago or so.

    My next question is that HAVE all the available ways to disable autoupdates are already been removed with 4.9.8, .7, etc… so using a plugin or wp-config.php command will not work to stop autoupdates?

    Any clarification from the core devs. here please?

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    1. Whoa! I just went to watch “that part” and sure enough, he did say Auto Update to 5.0. I seriously hope that was a misspeak, and hoping someone can clarify this.

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    2. Since when WP autoupdates MAJOR versions?

      It does not, though there were some discussions about that.

      Some hosting providers might already do that for their clients.

      Until now, if I’m correct, WP only autoupdates minor releases ONLY

      Correct.

      HAVE all the available ways to disable autoupdates are already been removed with 4.9.8, .7, etc…

      No, using a plugin or a wp-config.php constant to control autoupdates should still work in any current or future version.

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      1. Thanks Sergey for your assurances…

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    3. WordPress isn’t going to do it but others might. Email for one of my sites:

      This is an automated email from Softaculous

      You have Auto Upgrade enabled for the following WordPress installations hence they will be auto upgraded to WordPress 5.0 on around 19th November 2018 once the stable version of WordPress 5.0 is launched :

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  5. How does one vote in this city?

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  6. Matt’s wrong about why he’s seeing the adversarial stuff mostly on Twitter. It’s because there, people don’t experience the rampantly over-the-top hypersensitive censorship that occurs when they express Gutenberg-critical views, even mild and polite ones, on the WordPress-controlled media (e.g. plugin reviews).

    So what he’s seeing on Twitter is closer to what people really think. And what people think is that Gutenberg is a big mistake. It’s a breathtakingly bad idea, astonishingly poorly implemented. But Matt likes it, so I guess that’s all that matters.

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    1. I think it’s just a tiny, loud, minority that doesn’t like Gutenberg. Most will just adapt. Just some people don’t like change.

      Did any of them tried and tested Gutenberg? Did they communicated any errors/issues on Gutenberg during their tests or just bitched on Twitter?

      That tiny “anti-Gutenberg” minority shouldn’t “overrule” the majority.

      It’s going to happen whenever the next big thing is on WP….”we don’t like x, we are going to leave WP”

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      1. I think it’s just a tiny, loud minority that likes Gutenberg. Just some people love change, even bad change.

        Yes, we tried and tested Gutenberg. That’s why we are complaining. You really think people complain about stuff they haven’t even tried? No. We tried it, it sucked, we said so.

        Feedback from complainers, the team has in spades. The feedback about bugs is being worked on. Feedback about the fundamental conceptual and design flaws is ignored or fluffed over.

        Check out the reviews of the Gutenberg plug-in before you come back with your “vocal minority” nonsense. Despite rampant censorship, you’ll see reality writ large there. Average 2.3 stars. 57% of reviews are 1-star, despite quite a few of the 5-star reviews being from people who hate it and clicked the wrong thing.

        Compare that with the Disable Gutenberg plug-in.

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      2. Absolutely. Instead of complaining, one should rather help!

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      3. Agreed with Steve. Most serious feedback about Gutenberg came from users who actually tried and experienced it. And I think the number of public posts complaining about Gutenberg is more than the posts liking it. There must be a reason.

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  7. I still don’t quite understand what Gutenberg means for my websites.

    Are third-party page builders and widgets made redundant by Gutenberg, or does it fill a different roll?
    Is Gutenberg largely unnecessary if I’m currently satisfied with page builders?

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  8. 2017: Mayor Mullenweg “Main street is in a terrible condition and this town needs new transport links so I’ll show you my idea, I give you … the Springfield Monorail. ” (crowd cheers)

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  9. ”we don’t like x, we are going to leave WP”

    Do not worry. As some people will leave, many others will join. We care only about the net migration of users.

    As a web developer on projects using php frameworks, wordpress, drupal etc., Guttenberg is something that I just imagined would be perfect even before it’s first commit.

    For many of us, developers, it will be a central point where using a common api, we will be able to offer easier customisations, custom features and offer easier help teaching our clients/collaborators on how to actually edit a page to obtain that exact output they want.

    Plus, for all other visual builders, I found no issues in starting a new post/page and deciding which to be used. Also, already created ones default to whichever editor was used initially, so current data would not be compromised on future updates.

    I think the haters against it, just have too much free time to comment about it and no true knowledge of how the project has truly evolved from a developer’s point of view.

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    1. I think the haters against it, just have too much free time to comment about it and no true knowledge of how the project has truly evolved from a developer’s point of view.

      That’s on persons opinion.

      Having been a WordPress developer since it first came out in 2003, I can tell you I have tried it and find that it is a step backwards as far as a user goes. Things that used to take a few clicks, now take many more.

      It’s obvious it was not developed with a UI group in the loop.

      I’m all for change and think it will be good in the long run, but to push it out into a core and claim because it has 600000 installs as justification is out of touch with reality. The Classic Editor has near as many so that should tell you something.

      It’s the rush to release that is causing most of the push back.

      There is very little documentation and many theme and plugin developers are not able to update their code because it’s been like shooting an arrow at a bullseye swinging back and forth.

      I personally hate the new interface and find it annoying to work with.

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  10. I’ve tried it and am just not a fan of Gutenberg. As long as there is a switch, I’ll use the classic editor. When there’s no switch, then I will.

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  11. I have mentioned this in the plug-in reviews and have been testing each major version of Gutenberg.

    1) Some of the haters are disabled folks. For better or worse, they have the force of law behind their complaints. So many educational and governmental institutions will be legally prohibited from using Gutenberg until some time in the distant future.

    2) Gutenberg is requiring a rewrite of many plug-ins. Not all of us have the money to rewrite those plug-ins, and it will take time, anyway. Even if we could afford the rewrites, we don’t dare do much rewrite much until we see what Gutenberg actually becomes, and whether we will have to pay for a major rewrite for each phase of Gutenberg.

    3) The paragraph-as-a-block approach won’t work well for many authors who write in great volume.

    4) The unified tool bar is an improvement, but the interface is still dreadfully unintuitive for our users’ needs. (And some of our power users have already threatened migrate to something else).

    5) Gutenberg violates the fundamental web design principle of separation of design and presentation. When web pages don’t work in some devices, users blame the platform (which means us), not their wonky overrides.

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  12. In preparing for WordPress 5.0 on behalf of clients I just found the Classic Block. Not the classic editor, but the TinyMCE classic editor inside the new Gutenberg editor.

    Tested headings, paragraphs, media, alignments, formatting, insert media and so on, as used to. Edit as HTML.

    The whole classic block can optionally be converted to blocks.

    Client group 1 is mostly writing posts and occasionally editing pages: If feeling uneasy with Gutenberg and many blocks, show them Classic Block.

    Client group 2 is maintaining custom content (post types) with some metaboxes provided by different plugins or own code: Investigating. Maybe turn off block editor for some types. If still problems, activate Classic Editor to see f it helps.

    Client group 3 is using a page builder with columns/boxes: Investigating. Most will probably not see Gutenberg, but blocks from the page builder as before. Investigate later if Gutenberg can replace the page builder.

    Client group 3 edits pages with a lot of (often nested) shortcodes and never see what they get before previewing: Maybe work in HTML mode for a while until they are all available as blocks and voila – new world! There is now a lot – Atomic Blocks is a good start and a place to look, and some come with core, like columns and buttons.

    1. Use Gutenberg and discover what it brings. You may love it.
    2. Always use just one block, the classic block. Se easy, and as used to.
    3. Install Classic Editor, works at least untiil Dec 31, 2021, probably “forever” in some way.
    4. Don’t upgrade this major, just minors, at least until the waves have calmed, few weeks or months. Previous majors have de facto long term security updates, so it’s not risky.

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  13. I think the whole issue is as simple as … people just don’t like change – especially when it “feels” like it is “major.” It was the same when the wysiwyg was introduced. You couldn’t find what you needed even though it was right in front of your face. It wasn’t in the same place – the icon has changed – etc. etc. It took you hours or days to figure out that if you would have just moved your cursor a tiny little bit more to the left or the right – or up or down – what you needed was right there! We are years down the road and we don’t want to change if we don’t have to… but if we do… we want it to be easier and faster. I don’t have hours to spend in a day learning something new – even though it’s really not new – it’s just “different.” It’s like changing from a PC to a MAC…. once you have done it and gotten through the learning curve… you wish you had done it years before you did! Job well done! We should all be used to the “life lesson” by now! I like it! I love it! I want more of it!

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    1. I don’t think this is it at all. WP users are usually on the forefront of change. This is about efficiency. Right now I can knock out a 1,000 word post in fifteen minutes. It’s Like writing with any program. A few minutes for SEO and details and I’m done. In Gutenberg each ppg must be dealt with separately. This takes me much longer. I just want a writing platform. I’m personally not interested in a SEO/Presentation platform. If WP continues to serve me for writing I will stay as I really like the platform. I fear that WP has lost customer focus and, instead, has become gadget focused. I’m just not interested in gadgets. Maybe I’m an anachronism?

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  14. If I got a dollar everytime some Gutenberg fan said “some people just don’t like change”, I’d be filthy rich by now.

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    1. Obviously you don’t like Gutenberg because you haven’t tried it.

      If you have tried it and you have an objective concern with the way Gutenberg will affect you, or even a subjective observation of its behavior, you’re a hater and have too much time on your hands.

      It’s rather telling that the dissenters are able to back up their claims with evidence, while the loudest advocates are-for the most part-ignoring facts and simply trying to discredit anyone who objects.

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  15. Sure the cult always think they’re right and others’ opinions are rubbish. How about:

    Not a front-end editor Why not? Good luck to all the devs who have to create multiple stylesheets (one for backend, one for frontend) and deal with all the quirks of all the inline embedded UI elements of Gutenberg inserted into the DOM.
    After wasting countless devs hours styling for the backend, all you will ever get is what’s close to frontend. It will never be true WYSIWYG. Oh and it’s going to be quirky and can break editing randomly.

    Missing basic features bloggers are used to Colors! Yes, you can’t color headings something most bloggers in feminine niches always do. You can’t change color of a word mid-paragraph – again something very commonly done right now.

    Image galleries don’t have choice of selecting image sizes or even adding proper srcset + sizes, and waste un-necessary bandwidth downloading large images – something that old galleries system did without any issues.

    – Still quirky. Using it for 6 months and it still breaks too often. It’s at beta mode at best.

    It does have a lot of potential but to be arrogant enough to say it’s ready without understanding massive number of users, that’s just stupid.

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  16. Imho, rushing Gutenberg will make it worse.

    Users will see through this and once they see the limitations of Gutenberg, they’ll never want it again.

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