Why Gutenberg?

At WordCamp Europe 2017, Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of the WordPress open source project, announced that Gutenberg was available as a plugin for testing. In the past few weeks, members of the community have published their experiences with the new editor. Some of the reviews I’ve read so far include:

There is one review in particular that has piqued my interest. Adrian Roselli not only shares his first impressions of Gutenberg, but also asks a couple of important questions and raises some interesting points:

When I first heard about Gutenberg, I asked some people at WordCamp London and later at WordCamp Europe who had requested it. Remembering that WordCamp is open source, I then re-jiggered my question and asked what problem it was trying to solve.

Of the people I asked, I do not know who was a contributor. The answer I overwhelmingly got back was that Matt wanted it.

There are two things that concern me about Roselli’s statement. The first is that I have a few quirks with the current editor but I don’t often use short codes, custom HTML, or use custom embed codes. Thinking about what problems Gutenberg solves is somewhat perplexing if they’re not problems I encounter on a regular basis.

The second is that people at WordCamps are answering the question by saying Mullenweg wants it in core. Roselli states that he doesn’t know if the people answering the question are contributors or not. Because Mullenweg wants something in core should never be the primary reason it’s added.

It’s easy to see how one could come up with this answer. Earlier this year, Mullenweg took over core development as the project lead, and assigned Automattic employees Matias Ventura and Joen Asmussen to lead the development of Gutenberg. As project lead, Mullenweg can bypass the concensus-driven model, and do what he thinks is best for the project without going through a committee.

In the 2016 State of the Word, Mullenweg announced that the Editor would be one of three core focuses for 2017. In January of this year, the team published a technical overview of what the new editor would encompass. A month later, the team published an initial prototype of a block-based editor.

The team is moving rapidly with plans to ship Gutenberg possibly in time for WordPress 5.0 expected later this year or early next. If all of the work thus far had to go through a committee, it’s likely Gutenberg development wouldn’t be where it’s at.

Perhaps not enough people understand the ‘Why’ behind the project. Who can blame them? Outside of specifying that it will help WordPress leapfrog its competitors, there’s not a lot of information on official channels that concretely explains and supports the idea that Gutenberg is necessary for millions of users.

Mullenweg has a good track record of doing what’s best for the project. However, in the case of revamping the editor, which will radically change how everyone will create content in WordPress, it’s concerning that more user research, personas, usage data, etc. is not available to indicate such a major shift was warranted. There was an Editor survey published earlier this year but the results were not representative of WordPress’ global user base.

“A lot of assertions on ease of use are made on the Gutenberg plugin page, with nothing to back them up,” Roselli said.

Gutenberg is an exciting, ambitious project, but one that I’m not entirely sure is necessary. If WordPress core is going to fundamentally change the way I create content without giving me a choice, I want as much information and user research data as possible to convince me that it’s the better option.

It may seem odd that these questions and concerns are being raised six months into the project but at the same time, development has moved so fast, it feels like the opportunity to have them addressed at the beginning was missed.

Revamping the editor experience is a massive undertaking and, six months in, it’s not better than the editor I use today. I wrote this post in Gutenberg and it was a cumbersome, frustrating experience. It will need to address a lot of issues if it’s going to beat the current WordPress editor, let alone leapfrog its competitors. However, the team is making good progress on a weekly basis.

Gutenberg needs as many testers as possible if it’s going to be the best editor in its class. For instructions on how and what to test, read the Gutenberg testing guide on the Make WordPress Testing site.

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