WordPress’ Gutenberg: The Long View

WordPress has been around for 15 years. 31.5% of sites use it, and that figure continues to climb. We’re here for the long term, so we need to plan for the long term.

Gutenberg is being built as the base for the next 15 years of WordPress. The first phase, replacing the post editing screen with the new block editor, is getting close to completion. That’s not to say the block editor will stop iterating and improving with WordPress 5.0, rather, this is where we feel confident that we’ve created a foundation that we can build everything else upon.

Let’s chat about the long-term vision and benefit of the Gutenberg project. 🙂

As the WordPress community, we have an extraordinary opportunity to shape the future of web development. By drawing on the past experiences of WordPress, the boundless variety and creativity found in the WordPress ecosystem, and modern practices that we can adopt from many different places in the wider software world, we can create a future defined by its simplicity, its user friendliness, and its diversity.

If we’re looking to create this future, what are the key ingredients?

Interface unity. Today, the two primary methods of embedding structured data into a WordPress post are through shortcodes, and meta boxes. Both of these have advantages, and drawbacks. With shortcodes, authors can see exactly where the shortcode will be rendered, in relation to the rest of the content. With meta boxes, the site creator can ensure the author enters data correctly, and doesn’t get it out of order. Additionally, meta boxes allow storing data outside of post_content, making it easily queryable. With blocks, we can combine these strengths: blocks render where they’ll be in the finally content, they can be configured to only allow certain data to be entered, and to save that data wherever you want it. With block templates, you can lock the post to only allow certain blocks, or to even layout the blocks exactly as they need to be, ensuring the post is saved and rendered exactly as intended.

Platform agnosticism. There’s never been a nice way for plugins to provide custom UI for the WordPress mobile apps (or any other apps that talk to WordPress, for that matter) to render. Thanks to the magic of React Native, this is a very real possibility in the near future. The mobile team are working hard on compiling Gutenberg into the mobile apps and getting the core blocks working, which will guide the way for any sort of custom block to just… work. 🤯

Concept simplification. Even vanilla WordPress has masses of similar-but-subtly-different concepts to learn. Within the post, there are shortcodes, meta boxes, and embeds. Outside of that, we have menus and widgets (and widget areas, of course). The first phase of Gutenberg is focussed on the post, but ultimately, we can imagine a world where the entire site creation process is just blocks. Blocks that can fit together, that can be easily rearranged, and can each take care of important individual things, like their own responsive behaviour.

A common base. Gutenberg isn’t going to replace page builders, or custom field plugins like ACF. Instead, it give them a common framework to build themselves upon. Instead of every page builder having to spend a huge amount of time maintaining their own framework, they can use the one that Gutenberg provides, and focus on providing the advanced functionality that their customers rely on.

A design language. I don’t know about y’all, but as a developer, I find it challenging to create quality interfaces in the WordPress of today. I’d really love if there was a simple library for me to refer to whenever I wanted to create something. Desktop and mobile environments have had this for decades, but the web is only just starting to catch on. The WordPress design team have some really interesting ideas on this that’ll help both core and plugin developers to put together high quality interfaces, quickly.

There are side benefits that come along for the ride, too. Encouraging client-side rendering gives a smoother UX. Using modern JS practices encourages a new generation of folks to start contributing to WordPress, helping ensure WordPress’ long term viability. Because it’s Open Source, anyone can use and adapt it. This benefits the Open Source world, and it also benefits you: you should never feel locked into using WordPress.


What’s next?

Naturally, there’s going to be a transition period. WordPress 5.0 is just the start, it’s going to take some time for everyone to adjust to this brave new world, there will be bugs to fix, kinks to iron out, flows to smooth. The tools that plugin and theme developers need are starting to appear, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. There’s a long tail of plugins that may never be updated to support Gutenberg, the folks using them need an upgrade route.

If you feel that your site or business isn’t quite ready to start this transition, please install the Classic Editor plugin now. Gutenberg is very much a long term project, I’m certainly not expecting everyone to jump on board overnight. Much like it took years for the customiser to get to the level of adoption it has now; every site, plugin, and agency will need to consider how they’re going to make the transition, and what kind of timeline they’re comfortable with.

Ultimately, the WordPress experience, community, and ecosystem will grow stronger through this evolution.

I’ve been been working on WordPress for years, and I plan on doing it for many years to come. I want to help everyone make it through this transition smoothly, so we can keep building our free and open internet, together.

Podcasting: Tavern Style

Scattered lego blocks

Earlier today, I joined JJJ and Jeff on episode 319 of the WP Tavern’s WordPress Weekly podcast!

We chatted about GitHub being acquired by Microsoft (and what that might mean for the future of WordPress using Trac), the state of Gutenberg, WordCamp Europe, as well as getting into a bit of the philosophy that drives WordPress’ auto-update system.

Finally, Jeff was kind enough to name me a Friend of the Show, despite my previous appearance technically not being a WordPress Weekly episode. 🎉

WPWeekly Episode 319 – The Gutenberg Plugin Turns 30