Why Gutenberg and Why Now?

Tevya Washburn has been building websites for more than 20 years and building them on WordPress for 10. He bootstrapped his website maintenance and support company, WordXpress, that he’s worked on full-time for more than seven years.

Late last year he launched his first premium plugin, and presented at WordCamp Salt Lake City. He lives in Caldwell, ID and is the founding member of the WordPress Meetup group in Western Idaho.

It was only a few months ago that I knew almost nothing about WordPress’ new Gutenberg editor. I had a basic concept of what it was and this vague annoyance that it would mean I’d have to learn new things and probably put a lot of effort into making some sites or projects work with it.

I kept hearing all of the frustration and issues with Gutenberg itself and the lack of information on how to integrate with it. At WordXpress we recently pivoted away from designing websites. When we designed them in the past, we used premium themes. I figured Gutenberg was the theme developer’s problem.

I still had this feeling of dread though, knowing many of my favorite plugins might not add support for it. I also felt some apprehension that even if the themes we use did add support for it, they might have a lot of new bugs through the first few releases.

Then I launched my first WordPress plugin, Starfish Reviews, and suddenly they weren’t someone else’s problems anymore! Now I’d have to come up with a plan to integrate our plugin with Gutenberg. I installed the Gutenberg plugin on a test site where we were testing our plugin with the nightly releases of WordPress and started playing around with it.

I was pleasantly surprised at how intuitive and easy it was to use! Now it wasn’t (and isn’t) finished, so there were bugs and annoyances, but overall I was impressed.

Around the same time, I suggested we should have someone present on Gutenberg at our local meetup. My brief experience was more than what anyone else had, so the responsibility fell on me. Preparing for the presentation forced me to look at Gutenberg more carefully and pay more attention to the information and debate going on throughout the community.

I started reading blog posts, paying more attention in podcasts, and even looking at what was being said on Twitter. I watched the State of the Word at WordCamp US where the general tide in the feelings toward Gutenberg, seemed to turn, though many people still remain skeptical, critical, or antagonistic toward the project as a whole.

Today, I saw someone suggesting legal action if Gutenberg caused problems on their sites. That’s ridiculous on several levels, but shows that there’s still a lot of suspicion, frustration, and outright anger around Gutenberg.

A couple notes: 1. the graphs below are for illustration purposes only, they’re not meant to be accurate to any actual data. 2. If you prefer listening, you can watch my screencast version (13:12) of what follows. The message is the same, but differs in many aspects of presentation.

Finding the Why

Simon Sinek is known for his Ted talk where he explains that most people explain a new product or service by talking about ‘what’ it is and ‘how’ it works, but they rarely explain the ‘why’ behind it. The ‘why’ actually resonates with people the most. They want to understand the reason and beliefs behind it.

In my research, I couldn’t seem to find a clear answer to the most important question: “Why Gutenberg?” If I was going to present to people who knew little or nothing about it, I wanted to provide a reason why this major change was coming that might cause significant frustration, work, and pain for them.

I found a lot of ‘what’ and ‘how’ about Gutenberg. In some posts by Matt Mullenweg and Matías Ventura, I found hints about ‘why’ Gutenberg existed, but no really clear, simple explanation of why this whole project was happening. Why would Matt and others want to seemingly force this major change on us all? Why does it have to be such a radical departure from the past? Why now?

I was certain the conspiracy theorists—who seem to believe that Automattic’s sole mission is to make their lives more miserable—were wrong. But what was the purpose? Could it really just be a me too attitude that left all of these brilliant minds feeling like they had to keep up with Squarespace and Medium? That didn’t seem to fit. Especially since Gutenberg is already leagues better than Squarespace’s convoluted visual editor.

Innovative Disruption

The Innovator's Dilemma Book Cover

Taking cues from those hints and suggestions, I started thinking about the innovative disruption model. It was popularized in business circles, starting in 1997 when the book “The Innovator’s Dilemma” was published by Clayton Christensen, a Harvard professor. His book was an expansion of an earlier article in the Harvard Business Review.

At the risk of oversimplifying the model, innovative disruption is what happens when an existing company who is the top dog (either in sales or market share) gets comfortable with their position at the top along with their revenue stream and quits innovating. They make small, incremental updates to their products or services to keep customers happy, but fail to look at the future of their industry.

This makes it easier for a startup or smaller, more innovative company to bring a new product or service to market that completely disrupts the existing market because it’s better, faster, cheaper. The established company doesn’t see the disruption coming because they feel secure in their large market share and steady sales revenue. They often respond with “why would anyone want that?” when approached with the new model that is about to completely upset their business model.

Blockbuster Gets Busted

The classic example of this is Blockbuster Entertainment, Inc. They had over 9,000 stores at one time, allowing people to rent VHS tapes and later, DVDs. They had a huge portion of the market all to themselves and it seemed nobody could compete with this juggernaut.

Then along came two small startups: Netflix and Redbox. Netflix comes along and says “we’re going to stream movies over the internet. That’s the future and the way everyone will want to consume movies and TV in the future. But since the internet is too slow right now, we’ll just start by mailing DVDs to people.”

Blockbuster looked at this and said, “the internet is way too slow to stream movies. That’s ridiculous! Who wants to wait two weeks to get a movie in the mail?! Hahaha! Stupid startup, they’re wasting their money and energy.” In hindsight this seems ridiculous. At the time, most people would have agreed with Blockbuster.

As you know, people started changing the way they rented movies. Once they tried it, they were happy to pay a subscription and use a queue to get DVDs delivered in the mail. Ultimately, making the decision of what to watch ahead of time was better than wandering through a cathedral of DVDs only to find the one you wanted to watch has already been checked out.

Consumer internet bandwidth speeds quickly caught up. Netflix even invented some of the technologies that provide high quality streaming video to your home. Now, most of us can’t imagine having to go to the store to rent a physical copy of a movie. And those that can, get them from a Redbox kiosk that has a limited selection, but is much quicker and easier than a video store. Netflix now has a larger market share than Blockbuster ever did, with zero physical locations.

There are exactly nine Blockbuster stores still operating, mostly in Alaska. From 9,000 down to nine in only a few years! This is what failing to innovate does. This is how comfort and confidence in market share and sales blinds people and organizations to the coming innovations that will disrupt their market.

Literacy, Disruption, and Gutenberg

Disruptive innovation doesn’t apply just in business. I have a Bachelor’s degree in history. So one example I love to use is how literacy and education ultimately toppled monarchies and traditional power structures in favor of republics and representative democracy.

The choice of Gutenberg as the name of the new WordPress editor seems prescient in this example as well. The name was one of the clues that led me to answer the ‘why?’ question. It was Johannes Gutenberg and his movable type printing press that was the innovative disruption that changed everything!

Before that, the vast majority of people in Europe were illiterate and uneducated. The scarcity of books and written material made it impractical and prohibitively expensive for most people to learn to read. It also allowed the Church and aristocracy to control the opportunity to become literate. That meant the rich and powerful were the gatekeepers of knowledge. Most riots and uprisings to this point were about hunger.

The Gutenberg press changed all that. Suddenly books could be mass-produced faster, cheaper, better than they ever could before. Literacy caught on like a wildfire. The power structures thought they could control it and maintain the status quo. They outlawed printing without state approval and did many other things to limit the spread of ideas through printed materials.

But it was too late, the power to spread ideas that the printing press provided was much too viral. Many printing presses were operated illegally, then destroyed when they were discovered by authorities.

The tipping point had been reached though. The ability to read and spread ideas via printed documents was much more powerful than the money, soldiers, and weapons of the monarchy. Though hunger might have sparked riots and uprisings from this time on, those tiny flames were fanned into an inferno of revolution by ideas spread through printed words. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense is a great example if you want to learn more about concrete examples.

The Pain of Disrupting Yourself

I don’t have a business degree, but from my understanding, The Innovator’s Dilemma can be simplified down to this: to survive, and stay on top, a company (or software, or community) must innovate. It can not be incremental innovation. It must be innovation that disrupts the company’s core product or business model, even to the point of entirely replacing it.

Blockbuster tried some Redbox-like and Netflix-like solutions, but they were too little, too late. The only way they could have survived would have been to disrupt their own business model and service. They would have had to say, “in five years we will close all 9k stores and completely shift our business to providing video online.”

Who does that? Who thinks “we have built an empire, but we have to completely change it and replace it all over again”? That’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma” that the book’s title refers to: it’s incredibly difficult to think in those terms when you’re on the top. It’s nearly impossible to say, “we have to disrupt ourselves. We must compete with our own business and products and services.” But ultimately it’s the only way to survive.

…Or you can buy an innovative company and let them disrupt your main business. Did you know Blockbuster had the chance to buy Netflix for $50 million in 2000? It was pocket change, but they passed because it was a very small, niche business.

Had they bought Netflix and allowed it to continue innovating and disrupting their core retail rental model, Blockbuster might still be around. It wouldn’t have 9k retail stores, but it would have an even larger market share than it ever did renting DVDs.

In either case, the process is painful. That’s why it’s called disruptive. Not because it’s a walk on the beach or small speed bump, but because it takes a lot of work and forward-thinking and causes a lot of pain to create and implement.

If you are the market leader, you can’t rest on your previous success. You have to change everything once again, like you did to get to where you are now. Despite the pain of doing it, you have to invest yourself and your resources into hard work and difficult questions and challenging thinking that goes directly counter to our natural tendency as humans. If you want to stay on top, it’s the only way.

WordPress is Ripe for Disruption

WordPress has a 30% market share right now. It won’t be long before 1 out of every 3 websites is built on WordPress. No other platform is even close.

As WordPress professionals and community members, it seems like we have all the momentum and benefits of being the leader. “Surely nothing could displace WordPress!” That’s what Blockbuster said. That’s what monarchs of past ages said. The truth is simple: “yes, something could. In fact, something will, if WordPress doesn’t innovatively disrupt itself.”

Is it going to be painful? Yes. Is it going to cause a lot of work and effort on the part of the community? Yes! Absolutely. But the alternative is to learn a totally new platform in five years when WordPress dies like Blockbuster did. You think this change is going to be difficult? Try throwing out WordPress entirely and moving your website(s) to an entirely new platform. Because that’s the alternative.

Good Arguments Against Gutenberg

I see many people listing a string of bugs in the Gutenberg UI/UX and concluding that Gutenberg shouldn’t exist. I see others critiquing the underlying technologies and claiming that’s evidence that Gutenberg is entirely wrong.

I’m sorry, but those arguments are entirely invalid. They may be great arguments for how Gutenberg needs to change or improve, but they are not valid arguments against the existence of Gutenberg and its inclusion in core.

Hopefully, I’ve made it clear that WordPress is in dire need of innovation. If that’s true, then as I see it, there’s only one really great argument against Gutenberg. As one person in one of the meetups I presented at put it: “is it the right innovation?”

That's the crux of the whole thing: WordPress must innovate to survive. Matt Mullenweg and the entire Gutenberg team have looked at the past and the future and decided that a better, faster, easier user interface and experience, are the disruptive innovations that WordPress needs to survive.

You can argue that it’s not, that there’s some other innovation that will completely change WordPress and thereby save it from disruption by outside forces. And that's a totally valid argument to make. But in my opinion, you can’t argue that continued, incremental changes are enough. You can’t argue that the path we’ve been on the last five years is going to keep WordPress on top for the next five years. It simply won’t.

I Like Gutenberg, but I Love What it’s Doing

In my experience thus far, I like Gutenberg. I believe it is the right disruptive innovation WordPress needs at this time. It will make WordPress easier to use and help its underpinnings be ready for the future. Being easy to use is what got WordPress where it is today.

It’s not very easy to use any more. There are significantly easier options out there, that could disrupt WordPress and replace it. I think Gutenberg will allow WordPress to disrupt itself and keep ahead of other disruptive innovations. It will save WordPress and allow us all to keep using it and building our businesses on it for another 10 years into the future.

I like Gutenberg, but I really love what Gutenberg means, what it represents, and what it's doing. Gutenberg is bigger than just a new post editor, it shows that the leaders of the WordPress community are willing to make hard decisions and innovate even when it means disrupting their own work and previous innovations.

I have huge respect for the Gutenberg team, who have not only had to rethink everything and do all those difficult things I referred to before, but have had to do it all very publicly, while navigating a gauntlet of criticism, personal attacks, and much more.

I hope this post shows my thanks and newfound appreciation for what they’re doing and going through. Flipping the phrase from The Dark Knight, the members of the Gutenberg team are “the heroes the WordPress community needs right now, even if they’re not the ones we deserve.”


59 responses to “Why Gutenberg and Why Now?”

  1. The WHY:

    even though WordPress thensoftware is much bigger AND growing faster than Squarespace and Wix, Worpress.com is slowly declining in usage and prominence, according to Google Trends.

    Automattic needs a revitalization plan. So even though they know nothing about how WP is used in the wild, they took over the Core development process and declared the editor the problem, and Gutenberg the answer.

  2. As far as I recall from what Matt Mullenweg said in one of his State Of The Word addresses, he did explicitly refer to people drifting away to Squarespace and Wix.

    And he did say that the people he wanted to appeal to were newbies who wouldn’t know how to do some of the things that Gutenberg is designed to do better.

    I’ve been using the Gutenberg plugin for a while and I don’t think those newbies will find it easy to use. You have probably seen Ross Wintle’s attempt to make a post with Gutenberg- and he is not a newbie!

    Of course, it is not a finished product yet – witness the fact that as of version 2.4, it is still not possible to edit a permalink in Gutenberg.

    Read what the WooCommerce people said about getting WooCommerce to play nicely with Gutenberg.

    One thing that isn’t yet 100% clear is how complex plugins like WooCommerce will work with Gutenberg.

    I am not being negative just for the sake of it, and I want G’berg to be a hit – but I do wonder.

    • Read what the WooCommerce people said about getting WooCommerce to play nicely with Gutenberg.

      We also said that we were working on it. That post is several months old and the overall picture is coming in to much sharper focus for us now. As it is for many other plugin developers :)

  3. I think it’s important to keep the different criticisms of the Gutenberg project distinct else we all shovel everyone into a box of cranks who supposedly resist change for the sake of keeping things the way they are.

    Some people don’t like the method of introduction, some people don’t like the current underlying tech, some people don’t like the implementation details, some people don’t like the UIX, some people don’t believe it fills their needs, some people don’t like the decision making processes that have driven it, some people would like to see a quantum leap in other areas first.

    Despite that, I think the majority supports the idea of a new editor/approach, even if it breaks with our tradition of being backward compatible. The blocks approach in general is also very well received, I believe.

    you can’t argue that continued, incremental changes are enough. You can’t argue that the path we’ve been on the last five years is going to keep WordPress on top for the next five years.

    This feels intuitively right, but is it necessarily so?

    Has Twitter not changed that much in the last 5 years in terms of UIX, what about FB, or Google search? All of these platforms have focused on incremental change and none of these platforms are any less in danger of being toppled than they were 5 years ago.

    Can a platform, even if it makes a big innovative, prevent the kind of disruption from other platforms that we can’t anticipate? I don’t think so. It’s trying to control for things we can’t control.

    So I don’t think ‘we must innovate to survive’ is a compelling reason to base decisions on. I think it’s better to simply think about how the software can get better for people and whether that’s done by incremental change or sweeping changes is not that important. That’s why I support Gutenberg as an initiative, because the window of opportunity it provides seems clear to me. At the same time I can’t say I’m enthused about how it is at the moment, despite desperately wanting to like it to bits.

  4. Brilliant post. I “knew” all this but certainly could not express it with the clarity that you did. It was just all jumbled up in my brain.

    The point you make about “self disruption” is one of the most relevant as to “why Gutenberg, why now?” that I have seen in all the Gutenberg articles I have read. Because it is true! We are shown this by looking at past businesses so many times, and yet that still does not make it easier to “see” when one is at the top.

    Thanks, Dave

  5. I am impressed and enthusiastic that Mullenweg and the WordPress team recognize the trends, and have decided NOT to be complacent, but to do something about it.

    No matter which direction they take, there will always be those who say it’s the wrong direction.

    This is typical of the majority in ANY situation. “It’s a bad idea, It’s not going to work,” etc.

    But the marketplace of ideas is no place for armchair quarterbacks and milquetoast academics.

    Rather, one should hearken back to the words of the brilliant tactician, General George S. Patton: “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”

  6. That sounds like a pure Soviet style propaganda in a ruling party’s mouthpiece, including illustrations, titles and supreme committee members applauding in comments.

    I have nothing against Gutenberg but it’s simply not the way I want to work in WP and I want to have the choice not using it. At all. In that sense, I would also appreciate if this site voices “opposition” opinions a bit more equitably. I mean: not only in comments.

    • That sounds like a pure Soviet style propaganda…

      Although I spent halve of my life under the iron curtain, I didn’t have this feeling while reading this article.

      In previous articles there are many suggestions, like plugins or even forking WP. Look, now you have perfect opportunity to do, what Matt have done a decade ago. Perhaps WP will just disappear and your fork will become new standard for the WWW ;)

      • Thanks Thomas for that great perspective. I’m surprised how many people seem to think there are no other options, as if Gutenberg is being forced upon them and they have absolutely no choice. I guess if you have an “iron curtain” mentality, it’s hard to see the possibilities and reality.

  7. That’s such an insightful post and what a great analysis, Tevya! I loved how you’ve explained it from the history perspective and also, the business angle.

    The Gutenberg Press was a revolutionary contribution to the print technology and Gutenberg is well on its way to do the same for WordPress.

    I think there are lessons for all of us here:

    1. Just when you’re about to get comfortable, step right outside that zone

    2. Disrupt when you’re at the top of that graph and not when you’re nose down. That’s too late.

    3. There’s a lot of pain associated with disrupting yourself

    When you’re in the process of change, it’s going to painful. For smaller companies, it may mean, the revenues may take a blow and the team size may shrink. There will be opposition internally and externally. Accept it.

    4. Don’t give yourself an option.

    As they say, the worst decision you can take is NOT taking a decision at all. So the outcome is secondary, the primary thing is going all out on one thing.

    I am going to share this post! :)

  8. I’ve to go against Gutenberg! I’ve 10 meta box in my editor panel. What will happen to the meta box? Without those, my site will break, surely. I’ll not update my site if Gutenberg comes, and that’s final.

    If Gutenberg like editor is the solution to go forward, then why WordPress.com is not forwarding (as expected)? I think there is big problem in measurement. #NoGutenberg

    • They already were forced to include meta fields & boxes because Yoast said. “Give us Meta or no Yoast.”

      So don’t worry too much about that. And there are a lot of people out there who need the meta fields. Give Automattic time to make a proper solution. And even if they don’t.

      The beauty of the WordPress community is that someone out there will create compatibility for them – one way or another.

      Just like WooCommerce had no native importer-exporter, they added that.

    • Faisal,

      If your meta boxes are part of a custom post type you van easily support the Gutenberg editor while registring this custom post type, by setting argument ‘show_in_rest’ on ‘true’. Now your meta boxes are being displayed in the Gutenberg editor :-)

  9. WordPress is failing to see the real raising competition for the .org version – Headless CMSs like Contentful, Prismic and tons of others.

    They would be better off in the long run focusing on a field api or a interface for creating content models (custom post types) and improving the WP-API

    • As I said in the article, I believe this is the only valid argument against Gutenberg: that it’s the wrong innovation that’s needed right now. Maybe you should put together an article on why WordPress should be looking to compete with headless CMS’s, instead of the “easy” website builders. I’d love to read it and learn more. That definitely seems like a real possibility, and probably the other best area for WordPress to innovate and compete in.

  10. That. Was. Awesome!

    I have seen Gutenberg at the very start and I was like ‘this is horrible’.

    I have seen Gutenberg at the last State of the Word and I was like ‘this is not so bad’.

    I have seen your article on the Innovator’s Dilemma just now and I’m like ‘We need this.’

    There is a lot of wondering from my end how it will work with WooCommerce, how much of hooks and such for the front-end might change, plugin compatibility and a lot of other potential issues.

    BUT! But this entire re-structuring, complete do-over, a WordPress renovation an re-innovation will spur a new generation of WordPress developers, plugins and solutions. Design and Development related.

    We need Gutenberg, we just have not the slightest clue of it yet.

  11. We just watched the Ted talk he referenced at work. Very well thought argument for Gutenberg. I’m personally excited for the difference it will create for WordPress development. Statamic, another CMS I build on, has implemented a similar editor called Bard that I really like.

    • I think the post addressed the why very well and WordPress is indeed ripe for disruption but you missed an undercurrent here which is growing wildly and is focusing on interoptability with big plugins .

      Have you seen elementor?

      I think this is the true disruption leapfrogging anything I’ve seen come from gutenberg with a ravid growing community.
      I think sitebuilders will drive this new self disruption but I think it’s a more complex puzzle then gutenberg to take all.

  12. I am the author of a WordPress blog aimed at novices, inexperienced people or people who do not have much experience with this CMS, and I can assure you that Gutenberg is not intended for them.

    It is up to five times more complicated for someone inexperienced to learn how Gutenberg works than the current editor.

    We have to take into account that almost everyone knows how to use a text editor (either Microsoft or the one that brings Google for free). The current WordPress editor is very similar to these text editors, so their learning curve is much lower and the conceptor assimilation much faster.

    Gutenberg complicates everything much more. There is not even the option to drag and drop … I think many of us have already tried this tool in plugin version and it makes us waste a lot of time (with respect to the current editor) to write a simple entry.

    I sincerely believe that the Atomattic wants to disguise the real interests of Gutenberg’s imposition by counting something that does not correlate with reality.

  13. It’s true that simplifying the interface for authors is an important goal for WordPress, but I feel that the real issue facing WP is how hard it is to maintain at the administrative level. So much functionality is contained in third party plugins, which are often unreliable in the long run. Updating is a hassle — keeping up with changes in function, making sure an update for Plugin X doesn’t conflict with Plugin Y — but what’s worse is the day when you blink and look up and realize that Plugin Z hasn’t been updated in three years and appears to have been orphaned and the latest WP update broke it, or it’s become a security threat, and suddenly now you have to go shopping for a new plugin… AGAIN.

    Multiply that by however many sites one may be running? Fuhgeddaboudit.

    If all you’re doing is building a website and then handing over the keys and walking away, these things are not a problem. If you’ve only been doing the job for a year or two, and nothing you’ve built has become outdated yet, it’s not a problem. But for those of us who’ve been doing this for 10+ years, who’ve been maintaining sites that have been live for 10+ years (my oldest WP site has been live since 2003 or so), it’s a nightmare. It’s exhausting.

    AND, because it’s so easy to get up and running with a WordPress site, there are tons of “administrators” running sites with little or no idea what they’re doing; these problems can be completely insurmountable for them.

    If something is going to kill WordPress, this is what I think will do it.

    • It really does feel like those who are in charge of WordPress don’t use it in the real world for anything beyond a simple blog… So much effort is put into “bells and whistles” while actual meat and potatoes are ignored. If it isn’t sexy, nobody wants to do it.

    • I agree with you 100%.

      The “wrong” innovation [which Gutenberg is, in its current incarnation] has the ability to kill WordPress from within, orders of magnitude faster than any outside agent ever could.

      If we want a lesson from the past we don’t have to look any further than the Betamax and VHS format wars of the 70s. Betamax was/is a superior recording format, but the performance in the hands of the end user was less attractive than VHS.

      Beta sales dwindled away and VHS emerged as the winner of the format war. What Sony did not take into account was what consumers wanted.

      Gutenberg is a content editor written by devs for devs and will be ignored, or even worse, will be rejected, by the average WP user.

      Its application is too opaque, it is too unclear how to use, too unrelated to the task that most [non-dev] users want to use it for, and as a result, to the average user it will be a big turn-off factor for WordPress as a whole.

      The sensible thing that needs to happen now is that Matt takes it on the chin and says, “oh well, that prototype worked out great, and we got a lot of useful information”, and then the team immediately needs to start work on prototype #2 [if they haven’t already].

      If that doesn’t happen, and barring a complete change in the Gutenberg UX, then it will continue through prototyping, beta release to final release.

      And sink the ship.

      And when Matt wonders what happened, he might remember just how many people have told him and the whole dev team, to stop talking and “listen”.

      You are paddling in the wrong direction!

    • Thank you for expressing how I feel. I am now hesitant to put any new sites into WP. I have lots of older sites and a few that ‘cannot’ break even for a little bit. I was trying to figure out if I was ‘missing the boat’ ..but it feels like more I may need to jump ship!

      Now why couldn’t WP/ Automatic just make another version of WP for the drag and drop community as it seems this Gutenberg is a response to Wix and Squarespace.

      And I can’t tell you how many times someone has called on me to do a website, decided that one of those others was ‘better’ (cheaper) then come back to me begging for help. I tell them up front, you are on your own.

      I just hope that when it does ship that there is an option to keep the current editor.. or I will be out the door.

      • Actually, I just re-read my post again, and I can now see that I missed another nautical metaphor, which needs to be added to my advice to Matt, something along the lines of… “you’re not up shit creak yet, but you can smell it from here”. :-)

        Seriously though, I think your reaction is a totally sane response to a team that is trying to tell us what we want, but dont seem to be listening when we tell them it isn’t.

        But because there’s still time for the ecosystem to implement a route-around, which is what the internet does all the time, I dont think the inevitable is, well, inevitable.

        I think that this wrong-headed intransigence over Gutenberg will actually prove to be one of the major deciding factors in creating the coming WP2 fork(s).

  14. WordPress does need to move forward. WordPress does need Gutenberg or something like it. Definitely, tech-wise, a positive move forward. The problem is with implementation and rollout. Forcing it on users is NOT the right way to do this. For those of us who are aware of it, it won’t be an issue, we’ll forgo upgrading WordPress or we’ll disable Gutenberg. But for the MASSES who are blissfully unaware of Gutenberg’s existence, they will upgrade, their sites will break, and it will be a nightmare for the world’s most used CMS. This will HEAVILY tarnish WordPress’ reputation and turn hundreds of thousands against WordPress… The funny thing, it’s totally avoidable… don’t make Gutenberg the default. Launch it in 5.0 as an alternative, but not as the default. Let people move into it at their own pace for a year and THEN make it the default. But… we’re dealing with HUGE egos here and the smart move won’t win out.

  15. I understand the argument for improvement via innovation, but claiming other arguments “are entirely invalid” defeats any debate. Fine, no point arguing about it…still, I’ll offer some comments.

    A call for “Innovation” doesn’t trump the fact that the Gutenberg plugin is rated 2-1/2 stars with some 8,000+ installs, not much of a platform for mandating a merge into core. Moreover, choosing the name Gutenberg is hardly “prescient,” more of a nod to history while ignoring history. For me it brought a groan, as I’m a supporter of the real Project Gutenberg at gutenberg.org, which precedes the Internet, the Web, and WordPress.

    The notion that it will be hard to get there but then easier to use is difficult to swallow. Developers’ UX is not the same as content creators AX (Author Experience). My tests of Gutenberg were similar to Ross Wintle’s as mentioned above by David Bennett, finding basic tasks difficult to perform:

    A larger issue of Gutenberg is the confusion of Corporate WordPress and Community WordPress. WordPress is not a company (or whatever else) trying to survive:

    to survive, and stay on top, a company (or software, or community) must innovate

    The symbiosis of an open source project and commercial enterprise is critical for the success of a community ecosystem at large, and WordPress has long triumphed with balanced growth. However, for more than a year Matt Mullenweg as project leader has corralled core team development around a single project despite the stated principle of the project roadmap:

    After the 2.1 release, we decided to adopt a regular release schedule every 3-4 months with the features primarily driven by ideas voted on by our users.

    Instead of following community input, we now have a Growth Council of commercial companies convened by Mullenweg at Automattic that is directing work to be performed by several WordPress.org volunteer teams. How did that happen? I asked (privately to top community leaders and publicly), but no one has explained it:

    It’s not some conspiracy, it is what it is: a sharp shift and gamble that may jumble the balance of the community and the ecosystem, and disrupt the work of both users and providers. There’s plenty of room for innovation within and around WordPress, but innovation for its own sake is not well mandated and success never guaranteed.

    One CTO of a WordPress agency told me that they and others will follow a wait-and-see approach, holding at WordPress 4.9.x if necessary for at least a year, as there’s no need to rush innovation at the risk of client disruption. Why now, indeed.

    • I share your frustration with this Gutenbrick thingy that is being foist upon us, whether we like it or not.

      But I updated my Gutenblock dev site this morning to 2.5.0 and tried the same URL experiment which was causing you so much grief in the video.

      It turns out *all* you have to do is write the URL using markdown, so –> `[anchor text](https://link-to-site)` and bingo bongo, there you have it :-)

      That shouldn’t be a problem for most end-users. They just have to learn how to write using a plain text formatting syntax (which to most would seem like a high-level programing language), instead.

      So no problem there then.

      I have no idea whether that was available to you prior to 2.5.0.

    • And since you say you are creating this wonderful plugin to favor users, do not you think it would be easier to do a poll among real WordPress users to see if they really want or need Guttenberg?

      I can not understand that you do not worry about a 2 star rating out of 5 among 8,000 users who have tried the tool. There are many WordPress users who are not developers and who leave their opinion there.

      I agree with you that it is a sudden change … abrupt and unnecessary too and if it is not to seek the own benefit of Automattic, I can not understand another reason to do so.

  16. Interesting conversation as is always when it comes to this. Personally, I like it and will leave it at that.

    But as someone who has taught thousands of users over the last 10 years on WordPress, and I’m not talking devs, designers and power-users, but biz owners and bloggers. I think we are not giving them the benefit of the doubt here.

    I cannot tell you how many new and existing WordPress users I have seen hesitate when it comes to the editor. But in more cases than not, they get it, they learn it. Some may take longer, but I can assure you they spend more time agonizing over updates, choosing themes, figuring out plugins and heck, just getting traffic to their site.

    Most people, maybe not all, are use to change in one way or another. Look at every piece of tech we use in our business and how things have morphed and twisted over time. Things change, we learn. It’s all about being flexible. And how many times has a new user added a plugin they need to only have to learn something else in WordPress again.

    I feel we are assuming all of these users are going to crash and burn when Gutenberg hits, but seriously, I am more optimistic than that.

  17. Why do we need gutenberg when we have plugins such as the Site Origin page builder, Elementor, Beaver Builder, Visual Composer, Divi Builder, Layers, King Composer, Kong Page Builder, etc….

    • Gutenberg is welcome as an alternative editor plugin, but it is not a page builder, which is where the web building marketplace has evolved. It has some aspects of a page builder, but it’s a backend component builder. It’s not fully determined how it will integrate with frontend styling, but Tammie Lister placed it on the Gutenberg roadmap following merge and Mel Choyce presented on the idea at LoopConf: https://wpshout.com/links/mel-choyces-talk-about-gutenberg-customizer/

      The WordPress Customizer has been a helpful core addition that did not disable existing themes—although it did change requirements for themes to be listed in the WordPress.org repository with a sunset date. And, there are useful examples for how theme customizers and frontend page builders can work together (e.g.: GeneratePress + Elementor).

      It’s disappointing that Gutenberg did not consider the existing page builder models for a fresh frontend approach to a component architecture. Certainly, the Dashboard UX and core architecture need some redesign and refactoring on the backend, but why wait to consider the implications and ramifications of the Customizer as a later addition?

      Reminds me of the decision to abandon the Front-end Editor for WordPress that was considered as a core addition years back. Why not give users what they want?

    • I asked the very same thing to Matt Mullenweg in person at WordCamp Miami and he replied with something I did not expect (no exact quote; but along the lines):

      “Imagine they all were to use Gutenberg. If instead of the users having to get used to all of these builders. Have them united under one system. And then the companies who make these builders would create unique gutenblocks or otherwise contribute to the Gutenberg system to make it universally better for everyone.”

      And having met the man behind the vision definitely lifted my spirits and confidence in the project.

    • You don’t.

      That’s not why it is there.

      Its just that in WordPress 5.x [supposedly], it will be used by WordPress to do that job as well.

      The net net of which, is that it will programatically change the underlying content construction, but you will continue [as now] using the tools you chose as being the best suited.

      And Gutenbrick will sit there in every WordPress install, about as useful as the “Hello Dolly” plugin, or maybe even a bit more.

      And in the meantime, all the wasted hours and focus expended on Gutenbrik could have been applied to take WordPress in the right direction.

      Instead of down the rabbit hole.

  18. I was very much against Gutenberg in the beginning (what? no meta?), but now the improvements over the first versions are remarkable. That said, I still don’t think is nowhere ready to be merged into core. The usability is still really poor. The allergy of devs and designers to any kind of visual hierarchy of blocks is working against the project. But any comment in this direction on their GitHub repository is clearly ignored.

  19. While Gutenberg is getting better and better there is still people that will not want to use it due the the complex nature of learning a new editor.
    That being said we need it as a plugin with the ability to decide for our self if we want to use it or not, putting it in Core is wrong.
    I will give it a try and if I do not like it or my multi site users complain I will be reverting back to the version of WordPress Before Gutenberg.

  20. It remains to be seen whether this will help or hurt the WP community. In the late 1980s and early 1990s there were dozens if not hundreds of Word processors and Desktop publishers.

    Microsoft used it’s dominance to bundle Word with Windows for the purpose of destroying those other word processors. Word was (and still is) a mediocre Word Processor compared to the competition – and it destroyed the Desktop Publishing market. But it’s now the standard, like it or not – and there is no word processor market.

    The truth is regardless of the stated intent or desire, Gutenberg will destroy Fusion Builder, Visual Composer (i.e. WP Bakery) and others. For those two and a few others, that’s a “Good thing”, they make it too easy to create monstrosities. They are bloated. They cannot be removed once inserted.

    Most page builders will not be financially able to support their customer base, and so thousands of users will be left without an smooth upgrade path.

    The question is will that destroy the WP community or help it. It could go either way. The pain of the upgrade may drive them to Wix — or will they weather the transition to a unified Gutenberg world – where WP is ultimately less bloated and users aren’t trapped into annual license fees per domain. The Gutenberg world, will (probably) be better than the current mess of page builders. Getting there is not a sure thing. But it appears to be a risk worth taking.

    The opportunities to transition from the other page builders to Gutenberg abound. If a developer can automate some of that, there’s some nice profit to be had on the consulting end of it. But most WP users don’t have huge budgets, so you have to find a way to be efficient.

  21. I was certain the conspiracy theorists—who seem to believe that Automattic’s sole mission is to make their lives more miserable—were wrong.

    Stopped reading here. This tactic of dismissing critics with an ad hominem is well-known and calls into question the motivations of the poster. Very few people believe that “Automattic’s sole mission is to make their lives more miserable” and anyone who views criticism of the Gutenberg project through that lens loses any claim to being balanced.

  22. Innovation is always the subject of criticism, whatever the domain may be at the end. I am the humble editor of a music website, and had to think of countless workarounds to make it compatible with WordPress in terms of both programming and design. Not to mention SEO…
    I already have a lot on my plate and certainly don’t want to bother my mind coming to the point when I’ll be left with no other choice but running this new tool as long as it won’t show it’s not a pain in the ass to work with. So let’s just give it more time if needed to maturate with the option to use it as an alternative and in the meantime get people to become familiar with it…
    After all, this is what someone here called flexibility, huh?
    Besides, what happens when like a car manufacturer releases a model that hasn’t been tested enough??? That hasn’t fully shown its reliability???
    Patience is the mother of all the vertues, isn’t it?
    With respect to everybody in this house…

    • Agreed. I am a user of WordPress and not a developer. I have done a bit of testing with Gutenberg and as long as it doesn’t get in the way of me running my business (which after all is the only reason I have a site) then I am fine. So far it seems fairly intuitive but I won’t convert until it is ready for prime time both from a usability perspective and from a compatibility with my plugins perspective. Luckily one of the main plugins that I am using is working on compatibility as we speak. I have less issues as to why or why now. Most users just want their sites to work and not be a burden to update and maintain.

  23. Interesting article, thanks.

    Btw, in my browswer (current windows chrome) the animations kept cycling which was very distracting.

    Thank goodness for right-mouse block element, but you may want to check why they’re not running just one time.

  24. “Disruptive innovation/technology” is, since a couple of years, the new darling of conference speakers and technology bloggers/journalists when referring to something someone is testing but not sure it will work or people really need.

    They always use it when they want to put you in a position where you are ashamed to say or think “no thanks” because you are going to look like an old dinosaur.

    It corresponds to the famous “awesome/awesomeness” marketers are still using when launching a new crap that you really don’t need so that you feel uncomfortable refusing such wonder.

    I always stop reading/listening when those stop words are encountered.

    • Sorry you feel that way John. It’s a great model for understanding a lot about our ever-changing world of technology. I didn’t intend to make anyone to feel ashamed. My intention was not to stifle opposing points of view, but to present one perspective and model that I felt hadn’t been covered, but has a great deal of application.

  25. Interesting post. But what knocked out Blockbuster was an epic change that rendered their entire business model obsolete. The same thing happened to Blackberry.

    Gutenberg – and I’m reasonably fond of it – is NOT a defense against such changes. As big as it is, Gutenberg is still ultimately an incremental improvement to one part of the software that still does more or less the same thing. And that minor innovation is happening in an ecosystem where page builders are already doing similar (or better) kinds of innovation.

    It’s like saying Blockbuster could have saved itself by rearranging its stores. Or Blackberry could have saved itself by introducing a modestly better interface. To save themselves, they would have had to radically reinvent, almost to the point of going into a different business.

    What can ultimately kill WordPress is a transformative innovation that fundamentally changes how we serve and consume content (ie, imagine consuming all content in VR, and then imagine a new platform custom built for optimal VR content creation and consumption). When such change comes, Gutenberg and similar innovations are unlikely to save WordPress.

    (To put it differently, Gutenberg is the kind of improvement that Blockbuster and Blackberry WERE doing.)

    • Like I said in the article, this is a very valid argument. Maybe VR will kill websites entirely and WP will be die with them. I personally hope not, since I get terrible headaches from all 3D/VR gear I’ve tried.

      I do think Gutenberg is much more disruptive than what Blockbuster or Blackberry did. As it currently stands, it may not be. But imagine the entire WP admin running on React via the API…. Imagine widgets, menus, and the interfaces of most plugins being blocks with a consistent interface throughout…. Imagine the entire interface instantly saving your changes as you make them, without the constant need to hit that “save” or “update” button and wait while the page reloads before you can continue on. And that’s just a few examples. Gutenberg is going to completely transform WP. If that’s the right innovation to keep it relevant, then we’ll all still be using WP in 5 or 10 years. If it’s not, we’ll be using something else….


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