Ever on the hunt for a more beautiful, simplified writing experience inside WordPress, I jumped at the chance to beta test the new Iceberg plugin. Rich Tabor and Jeffrey Caradang, the same team behind CoBlocks, have created a new markdown editor built on top of Gutenberg that provides the best writing experience for WordPress since core’s retired Distraction Free Writing mode.
Iceberg features a minimalist editor with four color themes, the ability to create a custom theme, and a set of typography controls. In switching to Iceberg, there is not much missing much from the default block editor that would be necessary for writing. Users can drag and drop media into Iceberg and the backslash command works to trigger the block inserter. It also includes a Table of Contents, word and character counts, reading time, keyboard shortcuts, and support for emoji.
“Iceberg was brought to fruition out of an experiment to make WordPress look and feel more like my favorite writing applications,” Tabor said. “My personal publishing flow was to write in an external application, paste it all into the block editor, followed by fixing/adjusting/resizing everything–honestly not fun. You see, writing with blocks is just ‘ok’ – and doesn’t feel natural.
“After chatting with others, I realized a lot of folks shared the same sentiment and that such a small number of folks I talked to actually composed articles within WordPress. And although I appreciate how far the block editor has come over the years as a site editor and page builder, I wanted to morph the experience to better support publishing.”
The Iceberg name is a nod towards Guten “berg.” Tabor said he wanted the project to seem more approachable, without being tied to WordPress or emphasizing blocks.
Tabor said he was inspired by dedicated writing applications like Bear, Ulysses, Dropbox Paper, and Google Docs. What he loves most about Iceberg is that its design is centered around the writer’s preferences.
“The editor themes that sit at the core of Iceberg’s design language empower each writer to define their flavor of the editor,” he said. “Every color variable is auto-generated based on the editor theme and applied throughout the interface as necessary.”
Gutenberg was also a strong inspiration for the design principles that guided Tabor in creating Iceberg.
“Gutenberg itself is undergoing quite a transformation with what’s being dubbed as ‘G2’ – a new design system geared towards improved contrast, modern lines and an overall cleaner look,” he said. “I knew I wanted to push Iceberg in that direction, bringing a clean and modern look to the writing environment.”
Under the hood, Iceberg is simply an extension of the block editor that de-emphasizes blocks to better enable writers. Since the plugin manipulates the editor itself, users’ content remains intact even if it is deactivated.
“It’s a clever combination of React components, styles, CSS custom variables and UX that is centered entirely around the art of writing,” Tabor said. “In short, if folks are familiar with Gutenberg development, they’ll find Iceberg similarly structured.”
Tabor said he wants to keep the plugin simple while also exploring where he can push the writing experience further forward. Possible features coming to the roadmap include goal setting, readability analysis, an improved pre-publish checklist, and better post previews/live previewing.
Iceberg Gets Positive Reviews at Launch, Fills a Gap in the Block Editor’s Support for Writers
Iceberg is launching as a commercial product, priced at $39 for a single site or $99 for unlimited sites. The product seems to have filled a gap in the market, covering Gutenberg’s long-standing deficiency in supporting writers. Community feedback during the beta and on Twitter and Product Hunt has so far been overwhelmingly positive.
“Iceberg is like a noise-cancellation for the WordPress editor,” Rajendra Zore said.
Nick Hamze offered feedback in a Twitter thread, saying he was excited to see a product that can “take markdown back from developers.” He views Iceberg as a positive development in the WordPress product space, and urged the community to support these kinds of innovations:
The fun thing about Iceberg is it’s an enhancement of the block editor not a replacement. No editor can be everything to everyone. Iceberg takes all the parts that are great for writers and emphasizes them while moving everything else into the background.
It’s not a criticism of the block editor but a celebration of it. Even if you aren’t a writer I think you should buy a copy. As a community we need to support people who are doing stuff like this. They’re never going to stop making cool stuff but they might stop making it for WP.
After beta testing the plugin I found that it provides the kind of writing experience that I have been missing in the block editor. Iceberg removes the cumbersome feeling of forcing your writing into blocks. More than anything, I want to see something like this land in WordPress core someday.
It’s somewhat bittersweet to see a better writing experience arrive as a commercial plugin, instead of from core improvements. I desperately want WordPress to be home to the best tools for writers, because it is a publishing platform that is so powerful in nearly every other way. This is not to say that core developers cannot adopt something similar. That’s the beauty of open source software – products inspiring new and improved solutions in a never-ending cycle.
Gutenberg designers and engineers have been working for the past two years to bring the writing experience in the editor to a functional place that meets the needs of those who use WordPress primarily for writing. So far the block editor’s Fullscreen mode is incapable of producing the kind of zen writing experience that most writers crave when turning to third-party writing apps.
Iceberg is GPL-licensed and is even available on GitHub for download and collaboration. I asked Tabor what he planned to do if someone proposed that some version of Iceberg be added to core.
“Honestly, I think it would be great if WordPress adopted the same high level of support for writers as Iceberg does,” he said. “Sure it may not be completely ideal economically, but Iceberg is built on an editor built by thousands of hands. If Iceberg is deemed a clever enough solution to be a part of core, then that’s ok. Although I’m positive there’s room to continue experimenting within the realm of empowering writers.”
As WordPress continues to move full steam ahead on the site building aspects of the editor, a truly distraction-free writing experience is not likely to become a high priority anytime soon. Tabor sees this as an opportunity for products that can transform the editor for different types of users who may not be focused on building websites.
“We’re in such a transformative period of WordPress right now,” Tabor said. “The editing experience we’re building with the block editor is much more focused on designing and publishing websites – not writing posts. Consequently, there’s been much more focus on the site building experience, in lieu of the writing experience. That’s not to say I don’t love the direction WordPress is heading–I absolutely do. But rather that I feel there’s room for a tool to improve the writing experience within the block editor.”