WordPress: time for change

The thing about open source development

The thing about open source development is that it’s much like natural evolution: it evolves and changes in the environment. Change is never easy, but change is necessary and while the current WordPress Editor is simple, relatively easy and painless – it’s also basic and a bit boring. It’s become established… or in other words, it’s become really old.

Little has changed in a decade. We’ve got used to its idiosyncrasies and we’re now blind to its shortcomings. Anyone who has edited content on Squarespace or Medium will have found that the user experience is so much more smooth and intuitive. Thankfully, the WordPress Community has caught onto this and while it’s taken many months of development, we’re now seeing WordPress roll out its editor changes. The new Gutenberg editor aims to bring everything together in a more modern and easy-to-use layout system. It promises to be “e ortless” says Matt Mullenweg, who’s not only the project lead but also the co-founder of WordPress.

Blocks are central to the new editor and will make it easy to create rich posts, bypassing things like shortcodes and custom HTML that we’ve all become accustomed to but were always a bit of a ‘hack’ anyway. There will be blocks for images and texts and these will be central to the new editing workflow, so getting your head around blocks is perhaps the first place to start.

WordPress knew it needed to add new UIs and revisit existing UIs. It also knew that it had to free up as much space as it could and minimise where it could. In January, Mullenweg and the core team drew up a wish-list and began important R&D.

If you’re keen to see what it looks like, you can actually download a plugin for any self- hosted WordPress and install Gutenberg and have a play around. The ‘framework’ for the new editor went live in June’s 4.8 WordPress update, but a word of warning – only use it for testing, not on a live site, until all the glitches are ironed out.

What I really love about the change is how you can do advanced mock-ups with a cleaner look and how the enhancements to the UI make it a much more enjoyable experience. Controls appear as you hover over them and the UI is now somewhat like the Medium.com experience for creating content, but with more control and expandability. Minimal controls appear as you edit and it’s pretty easy to convert content into di erent types of text blocks such as headings and lists.

The other big plus is that there’s cleaner code at other end. No more shortcodes or proprietary formatting. The aforementioned Blocks system ensures that code is totally ‘portable’ and free of any dependencies. We also like how videos auto-embed and can be dragged and dropped around. You can upload images and move them and create multi-column layouts. It’s incredibly simple to add a gallery or set of product images.

Widgets can also be dropped in for extra flexibility and although we’re trying to get away from shortcodes, it’s going to be possible to drop these in just like before.

As Gutenberg develops further, these built-in blocks will come ‘out of the box’. The idea is that developers will be able to create their own and build a new editing experience that uses ‘Blocks’ rather than relying on plugins like ACF or Visual Composer.

There’s been a lot of scaremongering about Gutenberg, but Editor has needed to change for a long time. We can’t continue using it the way we are. Years of hacking the editing experience has gotten messy and means there’s a hundreds ways to do very similar things. It might take five or even ten years to root out the bad practice we’ve introduced, but we must embrace change and keep up with evolution, documentation, discussion and testing. Gutenberg is a work in progress – it’s not going anywhere, it’s just evolving and adapting.