It’s time to explore Gutenberg: the reckoning

Demolition of a building in Brisbane, Australia

Yes, it’s largely a dirty word in the Wordpress community right now and that’s exactly why I am currently beta testing it. I’ve also been spending a lot of time trawling through the Github repo issues and comments where developers are angered, incredulous and trying desperately to point out the shortfalls and potentially massive ramifications of Gutenberg becoming part of Wordpress core.

The install experience

I downloaded the Gutenberg plugin and placed it in the plugins folder. When I activated the plugin, I noticed the word Gutenberg in the left sidebar of the Dashboard. It said Demo, I thought “Great, let’s try it out.”

Eek… every time I hovered over what looked like a page builder-type block, the block would jump down. So I thought, let’s open one of my existing sandbox site pages (note: Gutenberg is only for dev sites at present).

The Gutenberg install gone wrong. The UI looks like a mess.

Same thing — jumpiness, everywhere. Nothing felt stable. I looked around and thought “This can’t be it, the UI is terrible and there’s no way this is ready for release, not even for beta testing. I’ll have a look at some screenshots on the web and compare.”

Sure enough, my version was dramatically different to the screenshots I found. Mine looked like it was missing a stylesheet. I deactivated the plugin, added it via the Plugin Directory, activated it and went to the Demo again. A lot better, no jumpiness this time and the UI looked more complete this time. Advice: choose the Gremlin-free option, install it via the Plugin Directory.

Some observations

Some plugins are ordered incorrectly: I use Advanced Custom Fields (ACF) regularly in my Wordpress custom builds, so the first thing I noticed was they appeared after the SEO plugin I had installed (which is normally at the very bottom)… why?

The block options are hidden: All of the actions for creating the page blocks are hidden under a “+” plus sign. It’s using the hamburger design mentality but studies suggest it’s much better to show options than hide them. There is plenty of room for a visually-rich toolbar displaying the available blocks, given there isn’t a great deal of them. I’m wondering if it’s possible for plugin developers to extend the Gutenberg editor by including much loved extensible blocks.

Some blocks show an error: The first time I clicked on a block (an ordinary paragraph which had converted into a Paragraph block), a message said:

Block error message.

The error didn’t resolve, even after hard refreshing the page. Which meant there were entire blocks which I couldn’t edit.

It takes three clicks to edit as HTML: To access the original Text (HTML) editor (rather than Visual), you need to select the individual block, click on its individual setting icon and select Edit as HTML. Maybe there is a way to turn on this view for the entire page that I haven’t seen; I sure hope so!

A new Paragraph block is created for each hard return: This is technically correct but is very different to how we currently use Wordpress. To have a number of paragraphs contained within the same block, you need to choose the Classic Text block.

Drawing board opportunity

As a Wordpress trainer, I have found the Status & Visibility section of a page or post to be one of the most confusing and time consuming areas to learn. Gutenberg is a perfect opportunity to not only revisit but completely pull apart the terminology used and approach it differently.

Instead, this particular section has been duplicated under the Update button, with no additional help cues or explanation. It also means you have to hit Update twice before this action can be completed, resulting in more clicks than is necessary and likely less confident users.

Next stop: Gutenberg?

I’m keeping a close watch on comments from other beta users to learn about more perspectives and experiences. Given the current average rating is 2.6/5 stars and only around 3,000 active installs (out of a total of 58,054 downloads at time of writing), it appears Gutenberg has a long way to go before we see its release into 5.0 core.

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