Gutenberg – now just called the Block Editor – is the new editor for WordPress Posts and Pages, which provides a very different user experience to the familiar content editor.
All content, even just paragraphs of text are treated as separate blocks.
Many people struggle with the concept and the far from intuitive interface.
Whereas the old editor was akin to Word, the new editor is more like … actually it’s not much like anything else I can think of. It is complex while also quite limiting. If there’s a block that provides the layout you want (and you can actually find it in the confusing array of blocks) then all well and good. If there isn’t a block for it, tough.
There are lots of choices: you can set background colours, text colours (though only for entire blocks not selected words like you could with the old editor) text sizes, etc. Fine if you run a one-person site and have an eye for design. For keeping a consistent look across a site, it’s a car crash in the making.
It is possible to improve the out-the-box editor, for instance by limiting the colour options available, but that’s extra developer-level work most users won’t have budgeted for.
Despite previous timetables clearly stating that if Gutenberg was not ready for a November 2018 launch, it would be delayed till January 2019, and the fact the editor still had a large number of bugs, with just 3 days notice WordPress 5 with Gutenberg as part of core was released on 6th December. A time when many WordPress developers were on route to WordCamp USA.
With staff at Automattic (the company which runs the commercial WordPress.com hosting platform) filling many of the key roles in WordPress 5 development, including its CEO Matt Mullenweg in the lead role, it was he who took the decision to launch in early December.
While many developers may not have been prepared for a December launch, Automattic certainly were, with a new advertising campaign to promote their hosted service that focused on the new editing features rolling out in early January.
The best that could be said about the decision to launch in December is that it lacked the necessary transparency to demonstrate that it was a decision taken in the best interests of the whole WordPress community.
Accessibility remains an issue: the new editor was released without meeting WordPress’s own standards regarding accessibility. If you have admins who use assistive technology on their computer, or you need to meet accessibility regulations for staff, this may be a problem.
Gutenberg was introduced into core without proper and full accessibility testing.
The failure to give sufficient consideration to accessibility led the Accessibility Team Lead to resign (https://rianrietveld.com/2018/10/09/i-have-resigned-the-wordpress-accessibility-team/) and in advance of WordPress 5’s launch the accessibility team stated “we believe that Gutenberg is less accessible than the existing classic editor” (https://make.wordpress.org/accessibility/2018/10/29/report-on-the-accessibility-status-of-gutenberg/). In comments following that article, Joe Dolson of the accessibility team made clear “the editor does *not* pass all WCAG 2.0 AA criteria”
This is a key point, not just for accessibility, that Gutenberg’s development did not meet WordPress’s own coding standards
All new or updated code released in WordPress must conform with the WCAG 2.0 guidelines at level AA.
To say the reviews of the new editor have been mixed would be an understatement. It seems to have polarised users and at least on WordPress’s own reviews pages, been running at more than 3 to 1 against.
Gutenberg, having been forced on users in WordPress 5, is not a typical plugin as reviewers have not necessarily chosen to use the plugin but had it imposed on them. But even taking that into account, the star rating of under 2 is poor. Given that 1 stars is the lowest option, 3 stars would represent a neutral rating (not 2.5 as I read in a blog by an Automattic employee). Prior to Gutenberg becoming part of core, the rating was at around 2.5, indicating a significant proportion of those who’d tested the editor had issues with it, and it was a rating that was dropping, not improving. Any balanced assessment would have concluded that the plugin was not likely to meet the 80% approval threshold new core features are meant to achieve.
The rule of thumb is that the core should provide features that 80% or more of end users will actually appreciate and use. If the next version of WordPress comes with a feature that the majority of users immediately want to turn off, or think they’ll never use, then we’ve blown it.
WordPress Philosophy (https://wordpress.org/about/philosophy/)
Four months on from launch, reviews of Gutenberg remain mixed, but largely negative, with the rating dropping below 2 stars.
And that’s despite some negative reviews giving it 5 stars – the default rating – by mistake. And moderators finding reasons to delete a significant proportion (5-10% by my reckoning) of 1 star reviews.
There are about 24.8 million websites running WordPress (https://trends.builtwith.com/cms/traffic/Entire-Internet) and of these, by 9 April 2019 only 43% have upgraded to version 5.x.
With over 30% of WordPress sites sticking with 4.9, that’s around 7.8 million sites. Some of these will be like the quarter of WordPress sites still on old versions of WordPress that for various reasons don’t get updated, but it seems likely that a significant proportion are doing so to purposefully avoid Gutenberg.
For the 10.7 million sites that have moved to WordPress 5+, there are a number of ways of avoiding Gutenberg. The Classic Editor plugin has over 4 million active installations and Disable Gutenberg 200,000+.
Gutenberg can also be disabled in other ways which it’s not possible to quantify, and conversely the Classic Editor plugin can be used selectively, so some users may be using Gutenberg for some Posts / Pages. Therefore, usage figures can only be a rough estimate.
Assuming two-thirds of the 24.8 million sites are being actively maintained, that’s 16.5 million sites and of these, 5.8 million have chosen to stay on 4.9, while around 4.5 million of the 19 million WordPress 5+ sites are at least in part disabling Gutenberg.
That’s a total of 8 to 9 million of the 16.5 million actively maintained sites, about 50%. Even an optimistic interpretation would find it difficult to argue that its uptake is higher than 60%, and it could be below 40%.
Whether the new editor is a huge misstep by WordPress or just introduced too early, time will tell. But on its own terms, the WordPress leadership “have blown it”.
The new editor has potential but needs the bugs fixed and accessibility improved with some urgency. Thought should also be given to long term maintenance, beyond the promised 2020, of the Classic Editor. This isn’t about holding on to the past or resisting change, the fact is for many use cases the Classic Editor meets users needs better than the new editor can and probably ever will. The new editor fits with some use cases but not others – which is why making it part of WordPress core, rather than continuing it as a plugin, was questionable.
We are working with our WordPress clients to chart the best way forward for each of them. There is no one-size-fits-all solution here, each client has different needs and will need a tailored approach. For now, most of our clients are still using the Classic Editor; two-thirds of those who have tried the new editor have reverted.