Recently, WordPress announced that it will unveil the new Gutenberg Editor as a core part of the WordPress 5.0 release, replacing the familiar TinyMCE text editor that millions of users know and love. This update will be the one of the biggest changes to the platform since its launch, so it’s important to properly prepare.
We are currently in version 4.9 of WordPress, and Gutenberg is currently in beta version 2 out of 4 rounds with no set release date. Fortunately, it is possible to test Gutenberg while still in development. By participating in early beta testing, users can give feedback to the dev team, better understand how much the update will affect their WordPress sites in the future, and get some experience and familiarity with the product before launch.
How to Prepare for the Gutenberg Editor Launch
The design and development team at The Brand Leader is already trying out the new Gutenberg Editor so we can guide our clients through this change as smoothly as possible.
If you’re interested in trying Gutenberg out for yourself, or getting your internal marketing team members to try it out, it’s pretty simple. First, download the Gutenberg plugin and then begin experimenting on a staging site. Of course, testing out the Gutenberg Editor first-hand is the best way to fully grasp all the changes and new features—but we’ve also put together an introduction to Gutenberg and the benefits and disadvantages we’ve noticed for those who want to dig deeper:
First, what is Gutenberg and how is it different?
Gutenberg is a new editor system in the backend of WordPress. It’s said to be the biggest change that WordPress will undergo in its history and is being developed to compete with platforms such as Wix and Squarespace. Gutenberg provides editing blocks that can be moved around, dragged and dropped in place, resized, customized, etc.
If you’ve ever used a page builder plugin, the concept of blocks, or pre-built modules used to layout content, should be familiar to you. The new Gutenberg Editor is designed to put the emphasis on the content and create a distraction-free editing environment.
While this interface is definitely tailored to users who aren’t experts at developing websites, as it stands now, it’s more cumbersome and restrictive for experienced web development teams. Gutenberg completely reimagines the way a site is edited and is more of a Visual Composer or page builder approach. However, the editor still needs a good bit of refinement to live up to the standards of things like Visual Composer or Divi. Since this is WordPress we’re talking about, we’re confident that they’ll work through a lot of the beta feedback and make refinements before launch so WordPress continues to be a developer’s platform of choice.
Can I begin developing in Gutenberg now?
Gutenberg is currently in beta. WordPress plans to have 4 stages of beta and then release the new editor in 3 stages in alpha. Gutenberg is in beta version 2.4, so right around halfway through beta testing. Gutenberg beta 2.0 has not gotten rave reviews. Quite the contrary, especially from WordPress developers. There are quite a few core bugs that WordPress is working through to fix many of the issues with this version of Gutenberg.
WordPress is offering the beta version as a plugin right now. They say Gutenberg will be a core feature of WordPress 5.0, but while it’s in beta, you can get it via a plugin install. The purpose of beta, specifically stated by WordPress, is to get feedback from users so they can fix, refine and adjust the experience for users before releasing it in version 5.0. The intent is for users to test the tool and see how they need to prepare and adjust when it releases. WordPress does not intend users to build entire live sites on the beta version, because it’s not fully developed. You can certainly play with it but WordPress would not advise that you launch a site live using Gutenberg until the official release.
When will Gutenberg be released?
We don’t know the official release date for Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0. Back in December, they projected that it would release in April or May, but we are closing in on May and there still hasn’t been any official announcement on a date of release and Gutenberg is only in stage 2 of beta testing. Gutenberg’s initial beta was released about 9 months ago and has gone through about 30 versions since (0.1, 0.2 all the way to 2.4 currently). They plan to do 4 stages of Beta.
We can, however, pick up small indicators of the release date. The first indicator is looking at the development logs on each beta version. Version 2 Beta has seen a ton of updates and revisions, which means they are fixing bugs (which is great), but also means there were a ton of bugs and had to make many more revisions than expected. However, they do say WordPress 5.0 will come out in 2018, though no release date has been defined yet.
Can I use the Classic Editor instead?
Although Gutenberg will be the default editor upon its release, there will be a plugin that will allow users to revert to the look of the Classic Editor interface. There will also be a block style within Gutenberg that will look like the current interface.
How is Gutenberg being received so far?
Right now, according to ManageWP, WordPress is used by over 74 MILLION sites around the globe. However, only 122,000 people have downloaded the Gutenberg plugin as of today and only around 8,000 of those folks currently have it active on their site (they install Gutenberg as a side addition to the Classic Editor in WordPress). Also, the plugin reviews aren’t very good. It’s ranking 2.7 stars out of 5, with half of the reviewers giving it 1 star.
However, as we mentioned before, the new interface is only halfway through development, and the way content is managed on WordPress has always developed in pieces over the years. We look forward to seeing how the WordPress team uses the feedback they receive in the beta testing phase to improve the final product.
What’s are some of the new features in Gutenberg?
Many of the new features as well as answers to other questions can be found in the Gutenberg Handbook. Since the product is still in development, some of these features may change, or additional features may be added, between now and when the editor is released—the information here is correct as of the date of this post.
The biggest difference between the Classic Editor and Gutenberg is that the new editor is based around the concept of blocks. When users add images, they use an image block, when they add text, they use a text block and so on. Blocks can be configured using the Block tab in the right-hand toolbar and moved around independently. Users can also create custom blocks.
In addition to blocks, another major change is the layout of the interface itself. Since the editor aims to be content-driven, most of the menus and options are hidden by default so users can focus on the content they’re working on without distraction.
Minor additions include tables and buttons, which are now part of WordPress by default, HTML anchors that can be linked directly to a block, additional alignment and embed options, and a new ‘Table of Contents’ sidebar.
What does this mean for my current site?
Gutenberg uses a framework called React, a fairly new framework that will require plugin creators to update or recode their plugins to be compatible. WordPress has always taken on the approach of extreme backwards compatibility, but Gutenberg is a step away from that, essentially eliminating backwards compatibility.
The majority of the plugins that we use are tested, tried and true and run by very large companies. However, there are plugins that don’t get constant weekly updates made to them. The good news is that plugin creators are aware that Gutenberg is coming and so they need to adjust and make updates to their plugins before it releases. Currently, most plugins are still working on the compatibility issue, so building a site to be Gutenberg compatible right now (while Gutenberg is in beta) is not ideal and may not even be possible because of those current compatibility issues.
It’s always good to test and be prepared for new web developments, particularly in the WordPress arena. However, it’s never a good idea to develop on a beta platform or with a tool in beta testing. There are far too many bugs, restrictions and errors to allow for a stable and clean build. It’s like moving into a house that’s being built but hasn’t been finished yet. Sure, you could live there, but it’s not going to be pleasant, you’ll probably get rained on and you won’t have access to all the necessary features of the house required for daily living.
However, we are going to ensure that we can build within and alongside Gutenberg when the alpha version is released, tested, refined, and stable. The release of the alpha version is still unknown, but we can most certainly guarantee that it won’t be before May.
Suggested Action Steps:
- 1 Test Drive Gutenberg Beta.
We’ve got a staging site setup that we are testing Gutenberg on. Since Gutenberg is still in an early stage of beta, we aren’t doing a ton of extensive testing since there are bugs. However, we’ll continue to test and monitor as new developments come out.
- 2 Stay Updated on the latest news and release dates.
We’ll keep track of the WordPress 5.0 development cycle and news on Gutenberg as well as plugin updates on Gutenberg so we can keep track of changes and bug fixes they’ve done.
- 3 Continue Building with the Classic Editor Until Gutenberg proves it’s stable.
Gutenberg isn’t intended for production sites right now, just staging sites for testing. We’ll continue to work with the current supported editor and the plugins that we normally use. Gutenberg is still undergoing development, so it allows more time for those plugin developers to do what they need to do. We’re still in the early stages of Gutenberg, and it will take more time after the launch of Gutenberg for all the bugs to be ironed out and for all plugins to catch up.
Until that time, we will use and recommend that all our client use the Classic Editor, which will be supported well past the launch of Gutenberg. We certainly do not recommend building any site on Gutenberg when it’s in beta, and to be safe, we are going to wait at least 3 months after the official launch to ensure the versions they release are stable and bug free.
Conclusion: Overall, Gutenberg is a huge shift from the traditional, very popular editor they now offer. It shows some promise but also has some downsides and will require some adjustments. It’s very much still in testing and not meant for production sites right now. However, we’re sure WordPress will put in the work to make this launch a success.
We also know that WordPress is providing an officially supported plugin that lets you turn off Gutenberg, to maintain the Classic Editor. If any site does upgrade to WordPress 5.0, this is a good option as users move forward and become comfortable with the new release.