State of the Word 2019 Recap: All Roads Lead to the Block Editor

Photo of Matt Mullenweg standing behind a podium at WordCamp US 2019.

If there was one common theme in Matt Mullenweg’s State of the Word address this year at WordCamp U.S., it was that all roads lead to the block editor. His speech was primarily about blocks, blocks, more blocks, and a dash of community. This doesn’t come as a surprise because we are closing in on the one year mark of the official merge of the Gutenberg plugin into the core WordPress code. It has been a year about blocks, and nothing is changing that course.

WordCamp U.S. 2019 was held in St. Louis, Missouri, over this past weekend. The event was planned and put together by 47 organizers and 122 volunteers. There were 90 speakers who held sessions across a range of topics in multiple rooms.

For people who were not able to attend or watch via the livestream, the sessions are available via YouTube. Eventually, the videos will also make their way over to WordPress.tv

Open: The Community Code

Mullenweg opened The State of the Word by showing a documentary named Open: The Community Code, which is a film that primarily focuses on the WordPress community.

The film explores why people are so passionate about a project that is essentially just code. What drives them to organize and attend events like WordCamps? Why do they volunteer their free time contributing to an industry that sees over $10 billion in profits? What makes the WordPress community different from other projects? The film team interviewed 37 people to get to the bottom of these questions.

The team behind the project is also providing the film and all of the raw footage as open source for others to use.

The Events of the Past Year

Mullenweg primarily focused on WordPress updates and changes within the community when recapping events of the past year. Since the release of WordPress 5.0 on December 6, 2018, WordPress has had two major releases. A third major release, WordPress 5.3, is scheduled to launch on November 12.

During 2019, most heavy work went into the Gutenberg plugin, which was ported back into core WordPress. The number of contributors to Gutenberg more than doubled since WordPress 5.0 launch, an increase from 200 to 480 individuals.

The release of WordPress 5.1 introduced the first iteration of the site health page, new cron features, and a site meta table for multisite installations.

“WordPress is all about empowering users and we wanted to put the information and the tools in the hands of users as well to keep the site running in tip-top shape as we power an ever-increasing percentage of the web,” said Mullenweg of the site health feature. He further explained that it is WordPress’ responsibility to make sure users are up to date and running the latest versions of software.

Building on top of the site health introduction, WordPress 5.2 launched with a PHP fatal error protection and recovery mode. The release also bumped the minimum PHP version to 5.6 and ported all widgets to blocks.

Mullenweg then outlined the work done toward getting WordPress 5.3 ready for its November 12 launch date. The major changes include:

  • 150+ block editor improvements
  • Twenty Twenty default theme
  • Date/Time improvements and fixes
  • PHP 7.4 compatibility

As of now, 83% of all users on WordPress 5.2 or newer are running at least PHP 7. This means the WordPress project has done what it can from the user end. It is now time to start working with hosts to get sites updated to the latest version of PHP.

The block editor is now available on both Android and iOS devices. Mullenweg announced they were almost done with offline post support and that a dark mode is coming in weeks.

The community had a good year. In 2019, there were 141 WordCamp events, 34 of which were in new cities. There were 17 Kids Camps for younger contributors to get involved. There were also over 5,000 meetups and 16 do_action() charity hackathons.

The WordPress news page has been highlighting one story from HeroPress every month in the past year. HeroPress is a project that allows people to tell their stories of how they got involved with WordPress.

Mullenweg held a moment of silence for long-time community member Alex Mills (viper007bond) who passed away earlier this year after a long-fought battle with leukemia. Automattic is planning to finance a scholarship in his honor. The scholarship will go to a plugin developer to attend WordCamp U.S. who has not had an opportunity to attend.

2019: The Year of the Block Editor

Criticism of Gutenberg from reviews, tweets, and comments.
Slide with screenshots of Gutenberg criticism from users.

Mullenweg started focusing on the block editor after recapping the events of the past year. WordPress 5.0 was released one day before WordCamp U.S. 2018 in Nashville.

“We had people coordinating work from airplanes,” said Mullenweg. “There were impromptu groups of core developers, testing and packaging the release in the hallways. The polyglots, marketers, and support teams were just scrambling to get ready.”

He explained the reason for the biggest change to WordPress in its then 16-year history. “We came together and decided to make this big change cause we wanted to first disrupt ourselves. We wanted to empower more WordPress users to realize our mission of democratizing publishing, and wanted to make the web a more open and welcoming place.”

Not everyone was happy with the direction of WordPress and its new block editor. It was a rough year from a leadership perspective to have a vision and see it through, despite constant negative feedback. Mullenweg highlighted some of the comments that were critical of the block editor and explained that they had learned a lot from the process.

“I think that we also have a great opportunity when we make big changes in the future,” said Mullenweg. “Sort of build that trust in the conversations around testing, using GitHub for development, things like accessibility. So, I understand why we had a lot of this feedback. But, we did get through it together.”

Mullenweg highlighted that, according to Jetpack plugin stats, over 50 million posts have been written in the block editor. That amounts to around 270 thousand posts per day. It is important to note that this stat is on the lower end because it only accounts for users of the Jetpack plugin. Therefore, the number is likely much higher.

He covered the performance improvements to the editor, block motion when moving blocks, typewriter mode, block previews, and the social block. “These are like the Nascar stickers of the web,” he said of social icons. “They’re everywhere.”

The Next Steps for the Block Editor

In his address, Mullenweg covered the four phases of the Gutenberg project.

  1. Easier Editing
  2. Customization
  3. Collaboration
  4. Multilingual

The first phase was the initial launch and iteration of the block editor for content. The second stage, which we are in now, is about full site customization. This includes widgets and non-content areas, and will eventually cover areas like the site header and footer. It will be interesting to see how page-building plugins work with these upcoming changes. Some could use WordPress as the foundational, framework-type layer. Others may go their own way. Themes will also have to keep pace with the changes.

Phase three, collaboration, will introduce a feature that allows multiple authors to collaborate and co-edit posts on a site in real time. With any luck, WordPress will also build in a proper system for attributing posts to multiple authors.

The fourth and final phase cannot get here fast enough. As WordPress usage continues to grow around the world, it is past time that it offered a multilingual experience. “We’re going to tackle the Babel fish problem,” said Mullenweg.

Also on the roadmap is the concept of block patterns. Patterns would be a groups of blocks that follows common patterns seen across the web. The existing Media & Text block is an example of a common pattern, but new patterns would go far beyond something so basic. By providing patterns to users, they could simply insert a pattern and fill in their details, which should make it easy to rapidly create rich content.

Watch the State of the Word

Mullenweg’s entire presentation was done from the block editor. He used the Slides plugin created by Ella van Durpe.

Community Questions and Answers

The Q&A sessions after Mullenweg’s address was more focused on community and policy.

Rian Kinney asked whether we would see official policies on accessibility, ethics, conflicts of interest, and diversity. She wanted to know how the community could make this happen over the next year.

While a privacy policy is in the footer of WordPress.org, Mullenweg expressed his desire to not make changes than lean too heavily on policy. “That is in spite of there being a policy or not, we’ve tried to enact bigger changes in WordPress in a policy-first way in the past,” he said. “To be honest, it felt nice but didn’t always make things actually change.” He said we usually do better by working with people to make changes rather than starting with the policy.

Olivia Bisset, a young WordCamp speaker behind Lemonade Code, asked Mullenweg how we could inspire kids who are currently in school to get involved with WordPress. The project has tough competition coming from more exciting technology sectors such as robotics and other industries that are swaying the next generation.

“This is going to be on YouTube later, and boys and girls, maybe of your generation, will see you here asking a question and being a speaker at WordCamp in front of a thousand adults,” said Mullenweg. “And, you know, it’s kind of beautiful.”

Mullenweg said that we need more stories from younger people on HeroPress and that Kids Camps will help. He said that WordPress should be easier and more accessible, which are things that the current generation is more aware of and care about. He also mentioned Automattic’s recent acquisition of Tumblr, which has a larger user base of young users, as a way to introduce them to WordPress.

View the Q&A portion of The State of the Word in the following video.

Would you like to write for WP Tavern? We are always accepting guest posts from the community and are looking for new contributors. Get in touch with us and let's discuss your ideas.

25 Comments


  1. He didn’t touch on the horrible amount of 1-star reviews, how many 1-star reviews have been “archived” (because they were too true) and how all decisions regarding WordPress are taken behind closed doors.

    Report

    Reply

    1. I’m not aware of any reviews being archived, certainly not to try and change the distribution of ratings. Today the Gutenberg plugin has 1,987 one-star reviews, and about 240k active installations. (Remember it was auto-deactivated with 5.0 so people had to manually re-activate it.) There are well north of 20,000,000 sites running Gutenberg now.

      I don’t give these numbers to say any of the one-star reviews are wrong. There is so much we have to fix with Gutenberg! If people want to give feedback with one-star reviews, or comments, or tweets, or anything, we welcome it in every format and medium and we’ll do our best to incorporate it into the roadmap of what we’re trying to fix and improve with the software.

      It will never be perfect, but I do think we can make it a lot better than it is today. I appreciate that people give it a fresh try every few months, and it’s very rewarding when folks (like Linda’s comment below) find that it’s evolved to suit their needs.

      Report

      Reply

      1. Maybe you are not aware of it, but there is a huge problem with the moderation with the Support Forum. That includes deleting lots of things that shouldn’t have been deleted. Someone recently left a comment on our blog about having a review of a different plugin deleted twice because a constantly problematic moderator could not grasp that they were really intending to leave a review and not looking for support, despite explicitly stating that the second time. We have run across multiple instance of them deleting replies where people were just saying thank you.

        As for deleting Gutenberg reviews, there are multiple comments about that in a previous post on this website starting here.

        Considering that the person in charge of the moderation works for you, you could take action to improve situation.

        Report


    2. Gutenberg attracts so much hate for understandable reasons. It’s new, unfinished, has bad UX for writing (personal experience), and a lot more things which are typical with any new update.

      But the criticism is way too overblown by the vocal haters. The Classic Editor plugin still exists for those who never want to look at Gutenberg.

      While researching for an article I’m writing, I counted more than 30 1-star reviews for the Gutenberg plugin in the past month alone. With no commentary whatsoever. Why would anyone even care about installing it separately only to diss it without any constructive criticism?

      WordPress is also licensed under GPL, which means forks like ClassicPress exist, which do the same.

      Currently, WP faces an existential threat from DIY locked-in platforms like Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, etc. Not to mention the social media giants who own all our data. All of our lives and experiences have now become a commodity in the hands of a select few corporations.

      Gutenberg seems like a solution to claim the power back. Its vision is perfectly aligned with WordPress’ original one, which is to democratize publishing on the web. It’s not there yet, but I think we all ought to give it a chance.

      I’m excited to see the future of WordPress powered by Gutenberg.

      Report

      Reply

  2. When Gutenberg got merged last year in an alpha state at best, I predicted that it would take two or three WP releases to be really usable. Well, I’m using 5.3RC3 in one site and while the editor has come a long way from the 5.0 version, it’s still cumbersome to use. I’m worried because I’m starting to think that its “flaws” are structural and will never be “fixed”.

    Report

    Reply

  3. At first, I was struggling to cope with the new features of the Gutenberg block editor. But after like a year using it, I am loving it already. Block editor is the way.

    Report

    Reply

  4. Gutenberg esGutenberg is great! Little by little he has surpassed his expectations, but I think it will take many more years to be more familiar, it is a complicated step that has a bright future. Soon I will start creating blogs and websites based on Gutenberg.

    Report

    Reply

  5. Hi Justin,

    Adding Gutenberg editor WordPress core is a big mistake. Its not ready(user experience) yet to included into the WordPress core. Its premature. It is very true that WordPress needs a better editor but i am very sure Gutenberg does not serve the purpose. Hope that Mullenweg and team would find a better alternative to Gutenberg.

    Report

    Reply

  6. I started to use the block editor more and more, just because it’s the default editor. It’s not a true game changer for content editing experience for me. It’s just fine to replace the classic editor, since both work. By making it default, the block editor gains a lot of usage. And it also continues to be improved, which is good.

    Report

    Reply

  7. Indeed, 5.3 has quit nice improvements for Gutenberg. Although it would take another 3 to 5 versions to level the UX of (for example) Elementor.
    I can’t deny the fact that Gutenberg created a gap for Elementor to even grow faster. I work with a lot of (young) marketeers and DIY-website owners, they mostly all grab to Elementor for new websites.
    (so, yes WP is already an operating system… for Elementor)

    Okay, you can use ‘blocks’ (just another other word for plugins).
    And there’s the upcoming block directory…

    But what about block durability or higher risk on potential abandonned plugins/blocks?
    What about loading times?
    What does the plugin/block really do/load?

    Cause we all call them ‘blocks’; but they are just plugins. And most of them will have an impact on frontend. (js, css).
    And we all learned not to install too much plugins, right.
    But for blocks; it seems no issue.

    Those are the questions i have in this momentum building new custom sites. I’m not that keen relying too much on third parties blocks, i prefer to rely on core to create durable sites for my customers.

    That’s why i hope the development speeds up like 3x faster for core.

    Report

    Reply

  8. We train beginners in WordPress (a lot of beginners) and what they are able to achieve with the new block editor vs the old classic editor is incredible in a short space of time. They really love it.

    Report

    Reply

  9. As a content creator I’ve loved using Gutenberg on WP.com as it totally streamlines the process of putting together a post or a page, however I was very reluctant to use it as a developer as it’s disrupted a lot of the plugins I’m working on and forced me to use the classic editor in many of my projects for compatibility.

    HOWEVER, having spent some time looking at Gutenberg from a development standpoint and how the block approach can allow for plugins to integrate far easier into the process, especially if said plugin uses a lot of shortcodes, then I can totally see why this is the best way forwards.

    As someone who’s worked with non technical people to help them build content for sites, shortcodes are a bit of a bane. Sure, for people who understand how to structure code and markup, they can be great and easy to understand, but they’ve also caused me way too many headaches when put into the hands of people who just want an easy way to do something.

    I’m currently planning on converting one of my plugins to a Gutenblock and very much looking forward to the benefits it will provide.

    Report

    Reply

  10. I follow the block editor from the beginning. I used a little at first but gave up because in fact the usability was very bad, which greatly impaired productivity.
    Today I use the block editor daily on many sites and I already find it much better for creating richer and more interesting posts in a simple way.

    Report

    Reply

    1. I spent a large proportion of this year learning Drupal, so I am used to the notion of blocks.
      Yes, I kinda do prefer the old editor, however, it is new and provides a more modern approach to development, so I am up for keeping Gutenberg.
      There are some block plugins available too. Response blocks are most definitely the future.

      Report

      Reply

  11. I wish there were more people making blocks. I don’t think Gutenberg will truly gain acceptance until people start making blocks that do things that aren’t possible with anything else.

    Report

    Reply

  12. I really think it’s the people who know what the old way of doing things was, who are having issues with Gutenberg.

    Report

    Reply

  13. Languages and WordPress/Gutenberg… hm…

    Let’s say I’m writing a post about Luis Buñuel. You can’t write Buñuel in a standard paragraph block (unless you happen to know the code for it), you have to use a Classic block. Except, you can’t transform a Paragraph block into a Classic block. So you have to copy all of your text into a new block from scratch, in order to render one character correctly.

    You also can’t write Luis Buñuel as a caption to an image. You can do Strikethrough though. Which is nice. I wonder if there’s a stat somewhere to show that strikethrough is more popular than diacriticals etc…

    If your language alphabet contains anything other than the English standard 26 letters, you’re stuffed. Yes, I could type it in something useful (such as Word) and paste it in; but then, what’s the point of distraction-free writing, typewriter mode and all the other composition gimmicks? I can have domain names in non-Latin characters but not my own content? In 2019?

    WordPress does support one other language by default though: you can convert smilies to emoji. Marvellous.

    I really want to like Gutenberg, I type everything new now using it and I’m quite used to it… but until it can accurately render the language *of* Gutenberg, using it is frequently an exercise in frustration.

    Report

    Reply

    1. Hello. Could you expand on your experience? I ask because this is deeply unexpected and I would like to see how I can help.

      Gutenberg does support multilingual character input, to the extent of the Unicode set, and has done so from the start. The majority of Gutenberg’s active contributors have a mothertongue that isn’t English, and regularly compose posts using anything from accented Latin scripts (Portuguese, Spanish, French, Polish, etc.) to non-Latin scripts (Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, etc.).

      Could I ask you to provide the following information? You may reply here, or file an issue (https://github.com/WordPress/gutenberg/issues), or message me directly in the WordPress Slack (https://make.wordpress.org/chat/), where my username is mcsf.

      – Exact version of WordPress
      – Exact version of the Gutenberg plugin, if any
      – Browser and operating system versions
      – Type of physical keyboard and configured layout
      – Exact instructions on reproducing the issue
      – (strongly recommended) A screencast in which you reproduce the issue. In case you are unfamiliar with this process, there are many tools and guides. See: https://www.wikihow.com/Create-a-Screencast

      Report

      Reply

      1. Will do – thanks for responding.

        Gary

        Report


    2. What browser and OS combination are you using?

      On GNOME based Linux systems, I can hold Compose, press ~ and then n, to type “ñ” of Buñuel in the paragraph block, as well as in the Image caption, and it saves and renders properly. In Mac OS, you can probably press Option + n to do this. Windows has a character map to copy it from.

      Providing ways to type characters is not the editor’s responsibility, it’s the responsibility of your operating system’s input method to provide this, and most mainstream ones do.

      Report

      Reply

      1. Providing ways to type characters is not the editor’s responsibility, it’s the responsibility of your operating system’s input method to provide this, and most mainstream ones do.

        It occurred to me that perhaps Gary Taylor was alluding to the Character Map option offered in the classic editor. If so, Gary, then there are a few plugins that provide that exact functionality — I have personally tested and enjoyed the following:

        https://wordpress.org/plugins/insert-special-characters/

        Report


      2. @Miguel – yes, that was it. I’ll look at that plugin, but…

        @Kavya – while I take your point (and it’s the way WordPress is going, plugins for everything), it’s a reduction in functionality from what we had before.

        “If you’re an occasional users of accented characters, where would you look for them?” is the question I would ask here. I don’t know the Windows 10 keystrokes. I know there’s a Character Map accessory somewhere, but most of the people I know wouldn’t know about it (although they use PCs daily).

        And, even knowing that I can use the Classic Block for accented characters, I still have to create a whole new block – I can’t convert/transform my Paragraph Block by using the option in the top-left corner.

        I’m not against Gutenberg – I typed a whole post using it last week, instead of copying and pasting from Word – but WordPress as a whole becomes less useful if it requires specialist knowledge to use the way you want it to. I think so, anyway ;-)

        Report


    3. Hello, very strange as french users do not have any problem with special characters.

      Report

      Reply

  14. I was also one of the skeptics when the Gutenberg project was started, but after it was officially launched with 5.0 and I started to familiarize myself with it, I have found it has grown on me.

    One thing that concerned me about the next steps section was no mention of accessibility. I am being asked about this by clients more and more and think this needs to have a high priority on the WP agenda.

    Report

    Reply

  15. It is clear that the only objective of Matt (Automatic) is that the Community continues to create, improve and test Gutemberg, so that WP-com can compete and snatch customers from other accommodations such as Wix, 1 and 1 … and all that already They use other visual constructors.

    I always thought that Gutemberg should have been an alternative (a complement) and not imposed on all users. But it was the only way to implement it in the kernel within WP-com. It has gone above the opinion of miles of users who are integrated against integrating Gutenberg into the core.

    I think Matt uses the community to have a cheap workforce in the development and testing of Gutenberg. But it belittles the opinion of the Community when important decisions have to be made.

    For him, WordPress is his business and specific look for him, not for the community.

    He has not made any reference, for example, things that can be integrated within the WordPress core related to the GDPR and the cookie policy. Things we have to add through third-party add-ons and that, we could come as standard. This aspect does not create business and, therefore, is not so interested in its development.

    Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.