State of the Word 2018: WordPress Embraces the Block Editor

photo credit: WP Tavern

WordCamp US kicked off in Nashville over the weekend, following the release of WordPress 5.0. In the first 48 hours, 5.0 had been downloaded more than 2.8 million times. It passed 3 million Saturday night.

“There’s been a lot that’s been going on, so I’d like to allow WordPress the chance to re-introduce itself,” Matt Mullenweg said during the preamble of his State of the Word address. He invoked the four freedoms as the project’s constitution and called the community back to its roots.

“It’s the reason we’re here,” Mullenweg said. “WordPress isn’t a physical thing; it’s not a set of code. It’s kind of an idea. WordPress is backed by the full faith and credit of every person and company that depends on it.”

He reiterated the project’s mission to democratize publishing and recast his vision for advancing the open web.

“Like I said a few years ago, we’re building a web operating system, an operating system for the open, independent web and a platform that others can truly build on,” Mullenweg said.

WordPress’ 32.5% market share and its commercial ecosystem, which Mullenweg estimates at $10 billion/year, give the project the resources to make a powerful impact on the future of the web.

Mullenweg Builds a Compelling Case for the Block Editor

photo credit: WCUS Photography Team

Mullenweg drove home the necessity of Gutenberg by showing a selection of videos where new users struggled to accomplish simple tasks in the old editor. Their experiences were accompanied by painful commentary:

  • “This feels like writing a blog back in 2005.”
  • “This was very finnicky; this does not work.”
  • “How would I add a caption? I have no clue.”

Mullenweg described how he used to effortlessly switch back and forth between the visual and HTML editors prior to WordPress 5.0 but realized that not all users are able to do this.

”This has been our editor experience for over a decade now and many of us have learned to deal with it,” he said.

He followed up with a video demonstrating how much easier these tasks are in the new block editor and identified blocks as the way forward for WordPress.

Some attendees commented after the fact on how the user testing videos, paired up against an expert using Gutenberg, seemed unbalanced and they would have liked to see videos of new users attempting the same tasks in the new editor. The goal of that segment, however, seemed to be more aimed at communicating the need for Gutenberg and the possibilities it opens up once users have had the chance to grow into it.

Mullenweg Urges Attendees to “Learn Blocks Deeply”

Millions of early adopters have already embraced the block editor during phase 1 of the Gutenberg project, which closed out with 1.2 million active installs and 1.2 million posts written. There have already been 277 WordCamp talks on Gutenberg, 555 meetup events focused on the new editor, and more than 1,000 blog posts discussing it.

Blocks are taking over the world of WordPress. Version 5.0 shipped with 70 native blocks and there are already more than 100 third-party blocks in existence and 1,000 configurations related to that.

“Blocks are predictable, tactile, and can be simple like a text block, or as rich as an e-commerce interface,” Mullenweg said. He described them as the new DNA of WordPress, from which users can create anything they can imagine.

Mullenweg showcased two sites built using the block editor, the Indigo Mill and Lumina Solar. These beautiful sites open the imagination to what Gutenberg is capable of bringing to websites.

WordPress.org will be highlighting plugins and themes to push the block ecosystem forward. There are also more than 100 Gutenberg-ready themes available to users on the directory and a new Gutenberg block tag that is currently live for plugins. It will also be available for themes soon.

Mullenweg highlighted tools like the create-guten-block toolkit, Block Lab, and Lazy Blocks that are making it easy for developers to create their own blocks. Block collections and libraries are also emerging. He said one of the priorities for 2019 is to build a WordPress.org directory for discovering blocks and a way to seamlessly install them.

Building on the homework he gave to WordPress developers in 2015, to “Learn JavaScript Deeply,” Mullenweg urged the community to “Learn Blocks Deeply.” Blocks provide a host of opportunities to improve the user experience beyond what Gutenberg’s creators could have imagined in the beginning.

Gutenberg Phase 2: Navigation Menu Block, Widget blocks, Theme Content Areas

Mullenweg announced the next phases for the Gutenberg project. Phase 2 has already begun and focuses on site customization, expanding the block interface to other aspects of content management. This includes creating a navigation menu block. Reimagining menus is will be challenging, and Mullenweg said they may even get renamed during the process.

Phase 2 goals also include porting all widgets over to blocks and registering theme content areas in Gutenberg. An early version of phase 2 will be in the Gutenberg plugin so anyone wanting to be part of testing can reactivate it.

During the Q&A time, one attendee asked a question about how this phase seems to include very little about making layout capabilities more robust. He asked if Mullenweg plans to let those the marketplace handle those layout decision or if core will define a layout language. Mullenweg responded that it may be more prudent to see what others in the ecosystem are doing and cherry pick and adopt the best solutions. He also remarked that it would be exciting if users could switch between different page builders in the future and not lose their content.

Gutenberg Phases 3 and 4: Collaboration and Core Support for Multilingual Sites

Mullenweg announced that Gutenberg phase 3, targeted for 2020, will focus on collaboration, multi-user editing, and workflows. Phase 4 (2020+) is aimed at developing an official way for WordPress to support multilingual sites. When asked what that will look like from a technical standpoint, given the many existing solutions already available, Mullenweg said he didn’t want to prescribe anything yet, as it’s still in the experimental stage.

Other major announcements included a highly anticipated bump in the minimum PHP version required for using WordPress. By April 2019, PHP 5.6 will be the minimum PHP version for WordPress, and by December 2019, the requirement will be updated to PHP 7.

WordPress releases are going to come faster in the future, as Gutenberg development has set a new pace for iteration. Mullenweg said he would like WordPress to get to the point where users are not thinking about what version they are on but instead choose a channel where they can easily run betas or the stable version.

Mullenweg Acknowledges Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned in the 5.0 Release Process

WordPress 5.0 was one of the longest and most controversial release cycles in the project’s history. Those outside the inner circle of decision-making endured a great deal of uncertainty, as dates were announced and then missed, with secondary dates thrown out in favor of pushing 5.0 out with just three days’ notice.

“We were scared to announce a new release date after missing our previous one,” Mullenweg said, acknowledging the controversial release date. He said this seemed to create a lot of fear and uncertainty until they announced a new date. The dates seemed to come out of the blue and were stressful for the community.

Mullenweg highlighted the lessons they learned in the process of releasing 5.0:

  • Need the various teams across WordPress working together better
  • Need to keep learning JavaScript, even more deeply
  • Importance of triage and code freezes
  • Always announce release dates

Mullenweg noted that WordPress 5.0’s beta releases were tested 100 times more than other releases, which he said contributed to Gutenberg becoming more robust before landing in 5.0. However, these positives seemed to be overshadowed by several critical breakdowns in communication that many feel betrayed the community’s trust.

He noted that people used the plugin review system as a way to vote on Gutenberg and that perhaps the community needs a different medium for expressing those kinds of things. Users did this because they felt it was one of the only feedback mechanisms where they had a voice. Negative reviews piled on in the early days of the plugin’s development but they continued steadily throughout the feature plugin’s journey into core. After 5.0 was released, negative reviews on the Gutenberg plugin have continued to pour in, and its rating has fallen to 2.2/5 stars.

Growing Pains and a Call for Transparency

photo credit: David Bisset for Post Status

Mullenweg said that Gutenberg development happened entirely in the public eye, surfacing many challenges associated with developing open source software in public. The code was public, but the most important decisions were made behind closed doors. This was compounded by the developer community voicing frustrations during core dev chats and on social media.

During the Q&A segment, several audience members called for more transparency in the release process, noting that most of the posts and announcements regarding 5.0 came from Automattic employees. Morten Rand-Hendriksen, who has become somewhat of a community firebrand at WordCamp Q&A’s, received applause for his question regarding the use of the word “we” in connection to posts on the make blogs. He pressed Mullenweg for more insight into where these decisions are made.

Mullenweg said the “we” he meant in regards to 5.0 release dates referred to a private channel where the release leads discussed it. He said with so many people showing up to the dev chats, the discussions became difficult.

“I don’t just go in a cave and come up with these things,” Mullenweg said. “A lot of people were showing up [to dev chats] who had never contributed to WordPress before and were crowding out the discussion of the core team.” He also said the private conversations were “every bit as feisty as the public one,” except there weren’t any drive-by opinions.

To those on the outside, these meetings appeared to be secret, as they were never referenced or summarized on the make blogs. This left the developer community wondering where these decisions were coming from and whether or not they had a voice.

During the Q&A, Mulllenweg said he listened to vigorous discussion and diverse viewpoints from release leads coming from different companies, while gathering as much information as possible from reading reviews, blog posts, and comments from the community. He described this process as part of the art of trying to make sense of all the different things people are saying and balance that.

Supporting a BDFL-led project requires a certain amount of trust that the leadership is listening. Over the past several weeks Mullenweg has made a strong effort to keep the channels of communication open.

The painful user testing videos Mullenweg shared demonstrated how desperately WordPress needed to grow out of its old editor. It isn’t often that core makes changes that affect nearly every corner of the WordPress ecosystem at the same time. This experience came with its fair share of growing pains. Despite communication missteps during the 5.0 release process, Mullenweg has successfully navigated the project through this rocky transition. Although WordCamp US attendees seemed road weary after 5.0, they were united by a shared desire to move forward and continue working together with the leadership that has kept WordPress on the course of growth and improvement for the past 15 years.

34 responses to “State of the Word 2018: WordPress Embraces the Block Editor”

  1. So, how does one end up on the “Plugins that offer blocks for the block-based editor.” list? My plugin offers two blocks but is not listed. I do not see anything common in the readme.txt files between the plugins.

  2. I’m really surprised how badly Matt and his team got this wrong. Some simple changes to the introduction would have cleared up a lot of the agro related to this.

    The clumpick approach of forcing Gutenberg as default on current installs was bound to cause headaches. On for new installs yes. And mixing the two is just leading to disaster for many not versed in the incompatibilities between the old and the new.

    I for one see much potential for the block builder once it is refined a bit more and has features added that will fill the gaps left for many in it’s new design. Till then talk of removing classic should not have been mentioned. A bit of a PR disaster.

  3. There’s no doubt in my mind that some parts of the old editor were baffling and unintuitive to users.

    I’m very curious to see some usability study results on the NEW editor though. Hopefully we all broadly agree that “the old editor could be bettered” what I’d like to see is usability test results which show Gutenberg is both better, and that the issues people currenly have trouble with are acknowledged and will be addressed. There are parts of Gutenberg which are baffling to both developers and content editors.

    I see that 10up recently carried out some usability testing with results HERE. That’s interesting but it polled just five participants.
    I would like to see Automatic run some usability testing on WP5 and have at least 100 participants, with a range of skill levels, experience, and physical abilities.

    The last time Automatic / Make.wordpress ran usability tests on Gutenberg they were far too simplistic and catered to the easiest path to a simple result: “create a blog post with a heading, quote, insert a video of Einstein, add a bullet list beneath and publish”
    This sort of test is not going to reveal where the editor falls down, only where it shines. That’s not useful in moving the editor forward.

    A more representative test might involve moving sections of text around, copying and pasting text across (and between) paragraphs, or re-arranging and editing an existing large article.
    Ask the user to do something simple like: “make the narrow editor wider to fill the screen’s available width”, which is pretty much the first thing any client has said to me. Let’s see how well that one goes!

    I want to see Automatic show that they understand the pain points of users and to indicate that they intend to address and resolve rather than belittle and dismiss them.

    • I’d like to see users try and upload a pdf and create a link to it in a Paragrph block. Something as simple as this should’ve been one of the first things they built support for, but even now, you have to resort to a hacky workaround of adding a File block, copying the url and then deleting the file block. Either that, upload it directly to the media library and grab the url from there.

      This is one of the most common and basic tasks that users constantly perform, yet Gutenberg still can’t handle it easily.

    • Yes Steve, as you say…”moving sections of text around, copying and pasting text across (and between) paragraphs, or re-arranging and editing an existing large article’…exactly the sort of thing a blogger does in writing every post, and now Gutenberg makes this a huge headache..I simply cannot see, and I’ve tried, how to insert a picture into a text ‘block’, then shift it, without stuffing up the whole article . Woe betide you if you accidentally (easily done) move to the new editor from the old (given the constant prompting to do so) because you lose the whole post. My conclusion is that WordPress is abandoning its ‘base’—the bloggers—for the more lucrative commercial client like Indigo Mill and Lumina Solar. Those examples use barely any text—let’s see a demonstration of how editing upwards of 1000 words (a typical blog post) can be done in Gutenberg!

    • I see that 10up recently carried out some usability testing with results HERE. That’s interesting but it polled just five participants.

      I’m really excited about the work that Sarah has been doing in Gutenberg! This article might help shed some light on why 5 users were chosen. In short, when conducting user tests, you can use as few as 5 users to uncover 85% of usability problems.

      This helps to greatly lower the barrier of entry for conducting tests, and then conducting followup tests based on changes you’ve made.

    • Just see the reviews on Gutenberg plug-in. There you have your representative test of real users. And it’s not looking good. But certain factions of the WP community prefer to simply ignore that.

  4. Yeah–some of the responses I’ve seen in the support forums are distressing. Some moderators try to help, while some talk to people like they’re idiots. That’s going to drive users away from WordPress more than anything.

    Also, I never found the old editor hard to use. It always seemed pretty simple to me.

  5. I loved every bit of Matt’s talk until he mentioned of phase 2-3-4 of Gutenberg where it seems like WordPress developers, theme and plugin devs while get sidelined as we have the ability to do almost everything within WordPress. (headers, menus, widgets, wide-layouts etc) which has actually been the cake for these guys.

    As a WP-Designer, i’m totally okay with the progress but not the whole community.

    Matt and team, good work and I really appreciate every bit but kindly think through this.
    Peace :)

  6. The bad news is that some contributors are not in a good position to segue smoothly to the new system. They will lose a big investment in the old system.

    The good news is that in the Website scene & game … Happy Days Are Here Again. Remember Matt’s mea culpa, that he had misunderestimated Social Media? He did nothing of the sort. He knew it was the death-nell of personal involvement in web-platforms … just as the Web in its turn had killed personal OS programming (as a movement & community), and he sorta-like prayed for deliverance. “Denied … you know about that Evolution stuff, Matt”.

    But then, there were some unexpected (by many, especially in ‘Tech’ … tho by no mean by All) Changes, which led to a reprieve from the Social Borg Assimilation … Matt’s prayers were in fact answered – “But you better get your butt in high-gear here, fast!”

    And he has. And Socialdom is in disarray, and personal inititive is the Everything Old is New Again Byword. “Quit frittering your life away making content for care-nothing Companies who sell ya out”. Instead, Build Your Own.

    Yes, WordPress long-since had become a hairball. Yes, the Admin-embedded TinyMCE was a barrier … for a platform that bragged the 5 minute install.

    My hat’s off to Matt Mullenweg for charging hard at that unexpectedly opened door.

    Some WP-folks are in a position like those Caravan-people jamming themselves onto a passing ride. They’re situation is not secure; any sudden bumps or hard swerves, and some of them aren’t going to be able to stay on.

    But watch now, how long it takes before the New WordPress starts reaping the reward. These changes are going to Start Something Big.

    Congratulations, Matt & Team.

  7. Thank you for this post. The comprehensive review of the keynote plus the cool-headed analysis are exactly what I have come to rely on WPTavern for.

  8. I have switched to WordPress 5.0 on many sites that I manage. But only ones that use an external page builder (Thrive architect, WPBakery) or something that lets me bypass Gutenberg. I tried Gutenberg on one site. It is unintuitive and just really bad. I couldn’t figure out how to just put plain text down.

  9. The bickering will occur as the masses divide between old-school and new-school methods of designing the internet but some things cannot be stopped. As web-masters finally realised last year that not embracing obvious changes will end up with no visibility on the net in the future. As in https, new google policies, cloud/container/vm advancements and the fact that little 5″ touch screens are a huge part of everyday use now. Gutenberg is great as is Ubuntu and AWS but it will take time for a lot of website designers after taking years to learn habits that are now sorta redundant. Novices and new-comers will eat it up for breakfast and maybe not give up so easily after falling over on too many plugins and themes …

  10. I think the real issue that I have with Matt’s answers is where he says:

    “A lot of people were showing up [to dev chats] who had never contributed to WordPress before and were crowding out the discussion of the core team.”

    They went behind closed doors to keep from dealing with opinions from people who had never contributed before. That is ridiculous. Sure, the meetings would have been nuts.

    But he is specifically calling out those who have never contributed before but are now trying to get involved in his so-called democratizing of publishing. When the people affected by a decision share their voices and then the decision-makers move behind closed doors because they don’t want to hear them, that’s the polar opposite of democratizing the platform.

    • So the implication is that “democratic” WordPress is not open to people who are not “core team.”

      I had a Automattic employee openly stalk me on Facebook to the point where I had to block her. She was telling me I had no right to my opinion, should never speculate, on and on. And kept saying how great everything was like a Jonestown groupie. But that’s to be expected. She was told to go do something, so she does it with a vengeance.

      Matt has stakeholders and investors breathing down his neck to compete with Wix and get some of their market share. WP users and volunteers will either get in line behind the Boss or will be left in the dust. Some have been. Yoast said he would “raise Hell” if Gooberborg were released in December. Guess he lost his will to do that very quickly.

      It’s pretty clear as the rising sun in the morning. Mullenweig doesn’t give two coughs about you, me, or anyone else but his investors and core group. If this were not true, he would have said “let’s roll this thing out incrementally, so it won’t crash sites and leave all our plugin developers in the cold, or disenfranchise our army of developers. Let’s release it January 1st, with lots of advance notice so everyone can get used to it and then make it a optional plugin until everybody has a time to use it and our reviews are not all 1 star stinkers.” That would make logical sense, but would require a level of empathy and compassion that simply isn’t there. And if you think I’m exaggerating just go to any Facebook forum and look at all the sites going to white screen, crashing, people who are confused or stressed out, all the plugin developers losing their incomes, and on and on.

    • I attended a dev chat session not long before the 5.0 release, and I think Matt’s being deliberately dismissive of the actual crowd. Sure, there may have been some folks who weren’t core contributors, but others like myself and my fellow attendees that day certainly are in some way. The point of a dev chat is for devs to discuss the current important issues – not for just the Core leads to talk amongst themselves.

      Too bad, so sad that it wasn’t just AutoMATTic employees talking…

  11. I made a negative review about Gutenberg and said that it may be not a problem for new WP users. To my great surprise, people teaching how to use WP to newbies told me in comments that the first thing the students asked was “can we have something looking more like Libre Office or Word ?”, so back to Classic Editor.

    • Or ClassicPress….because the Classic Editor is gone after a year or two..and WP has already said they want Gutenberg to integrate more with the ClassicEditor and everything else.

      • I was following Classic Press closely, but from their discussion about the future of eCommerce (especially WooCommerce), it is clear that CP will not be able accommodate majority of current users.

        In my opinion Classic Press should not reject whole react thing (although I’m not a fan of it), but work more on fixing the “democracy” of the project, eg. have Gutenberg available only as option, etc., so not to become incompatible with major players, but promote good community culture and make good changes that never make to core on main WP, but still stay somewhat compatible.

        Otherwise when this whole Gutenberg uproar will eventually end, majority of users will flock back to main WP branch.

    • It takes time to get familiar with the new editor. I must admit that. I’m not sure if it goes well in the future. At the moment, I think the classic editor is still better in terms of writing. The classic editor on WordPress.com even more better.

  12. What are the options as far as code editors for people now? I’ve used a WordPress site for years, but really use very little of the inherent capabilites of wordpress. I come from a coding background, and want an actual code editor, not this new thing that WordPress has forced on me — which doesn’t actually seem to work anymore (I can’t even preview changes anymore). Is there a plugin out there that can replace this?

  13. It’s a shame that the WP community hasn’t got a place to speak aloud about their expectations and doubts as it occured. The WP forums seemed to be a fiction these days. And there WERE many reviews of Gutenberg in its repository that pointed out exactly (with several detailed examples) why this editor and the whole blocks phillosophy is a huge mistake. And guess what? Many of them were just deleted and accounts of their authors were blocked (myself included). And – as it was mentioned above – some moderators are acting there like they were running a Guantanamo facility.

    People are frustrated and angry. And they feel hugely dissapointed and deceived. Many devs have immediately walked away and moved to other web solutions.

    I can understand the discussion about the WP future and any developement decision. But such a treatment to the community is a PR suicide. Sorry but WCUS talks and Matt’s explanations didn’t help at all to get rid of any doubts.

  14. So, because it was so painful to listen how a guy had no clue how to add a caption and how another guy felt like he is wrtiging a blog back in 2005, Gutenberg was created.

    I wonder if the leaders of Gutenberg project feel the real pain of over 1+ million website owners (and counting!) who have already installed Classic Editor Plugin in a desperate try to save their sites, workflow, time and business.

  15. I’m finishing up a site for a client that uses Gutenberg heavily. It was difficult getting the theme together at first due to the constant changes to Gutenberg, not to mention the learning curve and architecture decisions that we had not encountered before while structuring the theme and files. (where to store blocks, how to logically split and store reusable template parts, etc)

    In the end, it turned out really well, and the client couldn’t be happier. I custom built 20+ components for them as highly-customizable Gutenberg blocks, plus a few flexible layout items – like sections and columns. They are now able to build amazing looking pages in under 10 minutes. Pages you could never do with the classic editor or would take extensive custom templates to handle.

    The completed project feels cleaner from a file/code structure perspective and looks great on the front-end. I’m actually a little impressed with the flexibility I was able to bake in.

    I agree WP development has grown more difficult by magnitudes. But the end result is also far superior to what you could achieve with classic editor + plugins.

  16. I am going to try to use it.
    My biggest complaint is not remembering where the different setting are. They should put more out in the open rather than hiding him here there and everywhere. Stop worrying about “clutter”.

  17. I just spent a year or so learning all the related aspects of running 20 or so WordPress sites. I recently moved 16 sites onto a new server using updraft, multcloud, dropbox, google drive and a few other WP plugins as well as other cloud based apps I updated them to WP5 and removed the gutenberg plugin used for a month or so. Some are still using the 2017 or custom theme but I changed a few to the 2019 theme. Now at this point I have become competent at: hosting to designing – building, backing up and restoring – cli’s and the best gui’s to replace them with – Windows 10 destroyed and using my own custom designed linux distro – many other cloud related stuff.
    The point is that all the old c-panel based, hope your hosting provider is up-to-scratch, etc, based WordPress days are over.
    Self hosting and managing websites is a new ball game and ssl/load balancing and other stuff is required these days. Designing websites that work on all devices and act as interactive apps rather than multitudes of panels, pages, banners and `god knows what’ distracting the viewers purpose.
    #EndPoint > I like WP5, Gutenberg, no reliance or cost association on plugins/themes, the control and power I now have with all the latest software selected and up to date. My `operating system’ will be available in beta stage next year and would not be as fantastic as it is without the fact that it is `All About WordPress’ ( https://neweralinux.com )

  18. I’ll have to admit I am struggling with the new version of WordPress. It is not integrating well with the theme I have been using for the past couple of years and I am having to use the visual editor exclusively to create and change pages and posts. The theme developer is very active in doing upgrades and hopefully they will be able to make it so I can edit from the dashboard as well as visually as I was able to in the past.

  19. Core Support for Multilingual Sites

    – +1 I’m very happy with this coming change on the part of WordPress.

    The owners of the WordPress sites (e.g. business owners) should only be paying for the translators to get REAL translation. And should not be paying to any translation software.

    Translation is a very essential thing to do in WordPress. Since its online publishing, readers of website is most likely global in scope and it make sense that the software that supports this translation should be supported inside core by default. There should be no need to buy additional plugins just to get multilingual support.

    Right now, business/website owners will be paying for the plugin license to add translation support for the website posts.

    Then we will be hiring or paying translators to get the translation job done (another cost on website owners). This makes WordPress translation work a very expensive thing to do in the long run.

    If this is supported inside WordPress core, this cuts the translation work cost dramatically. Owners will only be paying for a human translator.

    This should obviously make a lot of WordPress users happy. And then you will see a lot of WordPress sites becoming multilingual with this change.

  20. Hopefully the new block editor can be as good as Mailchimp’s someday. For now on the websites I maintain, I am reverting back to Classic until I can manipulate photos and text easier without ping-ponging between sidebar menus or having limiting options on text size, coloration and fonts.

  21. i personally cannot see why the editor is so narrow? why doesn’t it represent normal theme article width like it always did? it’s sooooo annoying seeing my title occupy 2 lines instead of 1… i am going to install classic editor, i mean, yes, blocks and future and all that, but until such little things cannot be adjusted, i am against blocks.. yes, thanks to lazyness, 99% of people will not do anything about it, won’t dump wordpress for another cms, etc.. but it’s not a reason to just stick people with something seriously unfinished..

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