Gutenberg (WordPress 5.0) Launch – Success or Failure?

WordPress 5.0 launched last week with the highly anticipated Gutenberg editor, just before the inaugural WordCamp US meet-up in Nashville, TN. I’d like to share my thoughts on the launch on our blog, which has been highly anticipated within the WordPress community and delayed several times, simply because it wasn’t ready.

Every time a release of WordPress rolls out, we get all excited about what it’s new features are and how we’re going to use these at client level, how the client is going to benefit and how we’re going to benefit as a web design consultancy. The last few major releases of WordPress haven’t had as much buzz around them as 5.0, and I believe this is down to the new editor that’s shipped with 5.0. Gutenberg. Gutenberg is the new block based editor that replaces the classic editor that we all know and love, it’s intuitive and aims to give the user more control over layout of content – think of it as a slightly less feature-full version of something like Visual Composer (or WPBakery Page Builder – whatever it’s calling itself these days).

What is Gutenberg?

Gutenberg is a complete re-imagination of the WordPress editor, and it’s built in JavaScript (you should read into this, mark my words – WordPress will one day be a JS-centric CMS) – which is huge for WordPress, which, up until now has been built entirely using PHP.

With 5.0 – the default way of creating content on your WordPress site could change rapidly. I say could, as you could be using something else to help you build layouts, pages and posts, or you could be using the default editor – If you’re using the default editor, you’re likely to see better benefits of using Gutenberg than if you’re using a custom page builder.

Was ‘the world’ ready for Gutenburg

TL;DR – No.

I think the contributors to the WordPress project (because remember, it’s Open Source) are a little out of touch with how WordPress is used across the globe. WordPress was built to be a blogging platform, but quickly gained traction as a content management system, as it was so easy to customise with plugins. If there’s something you want to build on the web, it’s likely you can build it in WordPress – it may not be the best choice, but WordPress will almost definitely be able to handle it.

Because of this reason, many sites have abandoned the core editor that’s used in WordPress. You know, this one:

WordPress Classic Editor
WordPress Classic Editor

WordPress 5.0 forces Gutenberg on users, which, in my opinion isn’t sensible. Not to offend any clients, or WordPress users – but many clients we have aren’t ‘in touch’ with WordPress releases and what they bring. We disable auto-updates and disable allowing clients to update WordPress versions – they’re likely to update a live site which could cause catastrophic damage to the site.

We updated our site to 5.0 in a staging environment to see what Gutenberg would do to it, as we use a custom layout builder, built in React and it removed our custom editor, and took the content inside of it, placing it in Gutenberg. It was semi-intuitive, but it broke our site layout, as well as the post editor:

Gutenberg Post Editor
Gutenberg Post Editor

You can disable Gutenberg by installing the Classic Editor plugin. Which is almost at 1 million installs at the time of writing this. This shows that users aren’t ready for Gutenberg, and it’s forcing something onto the community that it simply doesn’t want. WordPress sites aren’t built to a given standard, theme authors don’t follow a set standard and nor do many plugin creators. 4.3 million sites use WPBakery’s Page Builder, which is updated to work with Gutenberg – I say ‘work’ with quite lightly though. You can add blocks (though I see no reason why you would, given that you can just create a custom block for WPB Page Builder) or you can disable Gutenberg – which I suspect will be what most users will do.

How should Gutenberg have been released?

In my opinion, Gutenberg should have been released as a stand-alone plugin, not a core update. Forcing something which fundamentally changes core functionality of a websites backend is a sure fire way to have negative effect on user experience.

Look at how many installations of the Classic Editor have been made – users don’t want Gutenberg because they don’t use WordPress in a ‘traditional’ way – on 90% of the sites we work on, there’s either a page builder, or something like ACF that’s handling content – This negates the need for what is essentially another page builder.

Many plugins work alongside Gutenberg, but I feel they’ve only done so because they have to. Imagine if WPBakery didn’t add support for Gutenberg: 4.3 million sites update to WP5.0 and 4.3 million sites break.

How is 5.0 fairing?

5.0’s adoption rate is slowly climbing, but so are Classic Editor installations. It’s clear to see that sites are updating to 5.0, because admins hate to see ‘you have an update available’ on thier dashboard, and feel the need to click install without realising that potential issues that may arise. They then seek out companies like us to fix said problems.

Let’s have a look at the stats, just after #WCUS, Matt Mullenweg (founder of WordPress) tweeted that there were 3.2m sites using 5.0. There were lots of replies to the tweet, but this one stood out for me:

To translate the above, that’s 0.32% of the total WordPress sites online that use Gutenberg. Not a huge adoption. But that being said, WordPress sites are quite slow on the uptake, there’s sites build that still use very low versions of WordPress, and some that haven’t updated PHP versions yet, so this will grow, over time.

Should I update to WordPress 5.0?

Test 5.o extensively in staging, see if Gutenberg works as part of your sites workflow, and then make the decision yourself. 5.0 doesn’t come with any security updates, so there’s no rush to update it, just ignore the update button for now (I know it’s hard) and when you have time, stage your site properly and test it extensively.

The Gutenberg editor is a real step in the right direction for WordPress, but only if you’re using something vanilla, like the twentyninteen theme, which was build specifically for Gutenberg. If you’re using a custom theme, you’re likely to see less benefit.

TL;DR – Not in production (you shouldn’t be doing this anyway)

What’s next for Gutenberg?

As it’s something that’s now part of core, new WordPress users won’t know any different. For this reason, you’re going to see a flurry of updates to popular themes, and new themes adding support for Gutenberg. There’s already a few themes on WordPress’ free theme library and beyond, such as Atomic Blocks and Benenson by our friends over at BigBite. Existing popular themes like Neve and Hestia now come with full Gutenberg compatibility too, though it’s worth noting these themes are simple, blog based themes.

Right out of the gate, Gutenberg is basic; but it’s a good foundation for what can be done in WordPress and shows a pretty big shift in the thinking of how WordPress works. It’s not a direct competitor for something like WPBakery Page builder, but in the future, who knows? With sites like Amnesty International adopting Gutenberg from the get-go, there’s some who feel it’s the future of WordPress.

What about us?

Me? I’m on the fence. We see too many sites that Gutenberg wouldn’t be suitable for. It’s a great product, with great possibilities – but I don’t think it should have been forced on users as it has. We’ll be using it for purpose built projects, but unlikely to adopt it into builds we’ve already completed.

Share your experience with Gutenberg below!

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