I have been testing the WordPress 5 Beta’s since they came out and prior to that I had installed the new Gutenberg plugin on a test website just to get a sense of what is coming in WordPress and I have to say that the future of WordPress is a concern. Many might say that Gutenberg is the future of WordPress and that I should just accept that fact and get over it but I have clients and their websites to worry about and it seems Gutenberg and Automattic have placed their priorities ahead of the many voices that have asked them for a different direction.
Who is Gutenberg for?
There are many different types of WordPress users and I will admit there is a section of WordPress users that Gutenberg is perfect for. It is for small one or two person blogs where the writers are also the designers and editors and every other role there is imaginable. WordPress with Gutenberg is WordPress trying to turn itself into Wix or Squarespace. This makes perfect sense for WordPress.com, since those are a couple of the major competitors for WordPress.com. Gutenberg will give people the ability, whether good or bad, to have more graphical control over their content. Gutenberg is the MySpace for WordPress. Writers will be able to add funky background colors, drop caps on paragraphs and all sorts of special graphical elements.
The following tweet was meant to showcase what can be done in Gutenberg.
What can you do in 137 lines in #Gutenberg? pic.twitter.com/zLINZGMXMe
— Dennis Snell (@dmsnell23) November 15, 2018
I have to admit it does show what is possible with Gutenberg, except is that what people need? Are we going to get WordPress websites full of shaky sketches, constantly changing blocks with different background and foreground colors? If this is the future of WordPress then WordPress needs a new vision. Ultimately the mixing of content and presentation is a bad idea, and Gutenberg is making that mistake. If someone can show me an example when mixing content and presentation ever worked out well in the long term I would love to see it.
Who is Gutenberg NOT for?
Any organization that wants to maintain some semblance of design consistency and control over the final product. Any organization that uses WordPress to write, publish and manage their content knows how difficult it can be to maintain a consistent style and presentation. Multiple writers and editors producing content and publishing offers more to manage and maintain. Call them enterprise uses if you like, but if you have a team of more than two or three writers Gutenberg presents a major challenge not an opportunity. Editors already have enough work to do managing the content from writers, the last thing they need to do is spend time and money removing graphical flourishes writers might add using Gutenberg. To be blunt, giving graphic control to writers, who are not graphic artists, is a bad idea!
The other bigger issue is if you have any kind of custom work that was done and plugged into the old editor then Gutenberg is not for you. For example, I have several clients that have custom shortcodes that were created for them to manage specific elements on the page. The shortcode is inserted using a button that is added to the editor, and before some Gutenberg fan comes along and says you can do that in Gutenberg, the answer is yes, it could be done in Gutenberg. But who is going to pay for it? The client is already happy with how it functions and does not need it updated. The bloat to turn that specific function into a Gutenberg block goes from under 500kb as a simple shortcode to over 12mb as a Gutenberg block and that is before it even has the same functionality. In short if it is not broken there is no need to fix it. The cost and time required to switch to Gutenberg is not worth it.
Gutenberg Requires the JSON API
I like the WordPress JSON API for the most part it is a very useful tool to make WordPress into more of a framework instead of just a plain old CMS, but some clients feel the JSON API exposes to much and we turn it off all together, and make it impossible to access. WordPress 5 with Gutenberg takes that choice away from you. Gutenberg relies on the JSON API to do saves and autosaves, and is simple not usable if you have disabled or block the JSON API. This is going to become even more of an issue as WordPress moves forward since more of the administration of WordPress will be done through the API. This is more of a concern than even Gutenberg honestly, since it will soon be impossible to run a WordPress installation without the API. For some clients this is simply not acceptable and we are already starting to look at alternatives to WordPress.
It is pretty clear that WordPress and Automattic are going to continue to push Gutenberg not only into core for editing but also further along into managing more of the WordPress admin, so what is a WordPress user to do. For the time being the best thing to do is to install and activate the Classic Editor plugin. This will buy you time so you don’t have to deal with the mess that is Gutenberg for the moment. WordPress has announced that the Classic Editor plugin will be supported until December 31, 2021. There is no word however what happens when Gutenberg starts making its way into other admin sections. The Classic Editor might be expanded to account for these additions or WordPress might have to be abandoned sooner rather than later.
The Classic Editor plugin is not a permanent solution, and there was a call for a Long Term Support (LTS) version of WordPress (More info) but in the end the ticket was closed and marked won’t fix. That means that to have a LTS version of WordPress will mean switching to the new fork of WordPress called ClassicPress. ClassicPress is based on WordPress 4.9.x and will not include Gutenberg. Version 1 of ClassicPress will not be a big change from the current WordPress so things will continue to work as people and clients expect. ClassicPress has also setup a structure for users to participate in the decisions moving forward for ClassicPress. Some of the largest problems with Gutenberg have not been technical problems but problems with people not feeling heard and appreciated, and basically being ignored. ClassicPress is possibly the best option for current WordPress users that just want their websites to keep working like they are after WordPress 5 is released.
At this time I recommend that WordPress users install the Classic Editor plugin and do not upgrade to WordPress 5. This is especially true if you have any custom work that has been done to your website. In the long term I personally plan on moving to ClassicPress and will be moving the majority of my client installs to ClassicPress when I know that it is stable and will continue to be supported. This has not been an easy decision, I have loved working with WordPress but this new direction has shown how little Automattic seems to care about the community that has helped build up WordPress.
P.S. This post proudly not written in Gutenberg.