Enough with the Gutenberg Drama

let's embrace the change and look forward...
gutenberg drama

The Gutenberg drama started on June 22nd. On that day, the Gutenberg Team released the Gutenberg plugin in beta for testing.

The drama is not over yet, but we are confident it will be soon enough.

If you use WordPress for work or hobby, you must have heard about this new editor called Gutenberg. A team of contributors is working on it right now.

If you haven’t, let me explain what it is in few easy points:

This is the old editor

This is Gutenberg

1) It aims to improve how we generate content with WordPress.
2) It’ll use Content Blocks (sections) and replace the existing post editor screen.
3) It will be included in WordPress core, starting from version 5.0. (later this year).
4) It is one of the the biggest change in WordPress in a long long time.
5) It is a big deal. Many think it’ll allow WordPress to shine for many more years (us included), others that it’ll sink the project.

If you want to know more about it, feel free to download it and test it. Or you can read one of the many reviews that popped up since its release.

Gutenberg Drama, before the beta release

There has been no Drama before the beta release. But it’s worth reporting what happened.

I first heard Matt Mullenweg talk about the need for a new editor in December 2016, during the State of the Word 2016.


After that, I read about the project at the beginning of this year, when I stumbled upon this post by Matt on make.wordpress.org/design/.

However, he had already started talking about content block editing a long time ago. In fact, over 3 years ago, he showed few slides about this plugin during a previous State of the Word.

If you find and watch that video, you’ll realize that he considers the WordPress editor his “white whale”, literally. (and this could be one of the main reason why we see so much drama)

At the very beginning of January, Matt assigned the editor project to Matias Ventura and Joen Asmussen. Respectively as tech lead and design lead.

Joen, who is a design Wrangler at Automattic, was already involved in the development of the experimental Content Blocks plugin.

Few days later, Joen started the conversation about what makes a great editor.

The conversation went on with a second post about the new block based editor.

At the beginning of February we saw the 1st post about the initial editor blocks prototype editor testing.

Followed few other posts about results of users testing. Like this one, or this one with more details here.

We are at the end of April, less than 2 months away from the 1st beta release.

Some got involved in testing and reported their feedback. However not that many compared to the massive users base WordPress has.

Other like us just lurked.

Up to that moment, 100% of the feedback in comments and blog posts about this project were on the positive side.

Nobody expressed any harsh critics or asked to kill the project. I believe because everyone felt involved.

The only person who shared a little concern, speaking on behalf of Theme (and plugin) developers is Ahmad Awais.

He suggested to make the process as transparent as possible, to make sure the community would know what to expect from this new editor.

His message was very important to me and in my opinion, it didn’t receive all the attention it deserved.

Gutenberg Drama, after the beta release

June 22nd finally comes and the Gutenberg team released the plugin in beta. The shitshow begins.

While for the first 6 months the project received mostly positive feedback and everybody welcomed it with enthusiasm, things drastically changed.

Several negative reviews and blog posts started to appear. There were some constructive and positive comments too. However the overall judgement about the project had flipped from mostly positive to radically negative.

Just to name a couple, Chris Lema didn’t understand the point of Gutenberg: http://chrislema.com/misunderstanding-goal-gutenberg-writing-experience/

At wpmudev the writer literally asked not to include it in WordPress Core. https://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/gutenberg-editor-wordpress/

A lot of users who installed and tested Gutenberg, were less than happy. They expressed their disappointment about it in the wordpress.org plugin directory too. over 60% of the reviews are extremely negative. Less than 25% of reviews are very good.

The majority of critics raised the following points as the main reason for loathing the project:

1) It is imposed by Automattic. (Matt’s company and also the largest contributor to the WordPress project)
2) It doesn’t really help creating content or provide a better user experience.
3) It isn’t backward compatible.
4) Because currently it doesn’t handle metaboxes, it will break countless themes and plugins.
5) It should remain a plugin for whoever wants it.

It doesn’t matter that the Gutenberg Team has been extremely receptive to feedback and suggestions.

That they keep releasing new features to fix whatever the community expressed concerned for.

That they’d never dream of releasing something that breaks countless themes and plugins. (so they say)

That they assured it will not make into core until is ready and even then, users will be able to disable it.

A lot of people keep referring to Gutenberg as something unwanted.

Some went as far as predicting a fork of WordPress. A guy even took the time to write a “poem” titled A Visit from St. Gutenberg. Very few noticed that the original title of the review was a lot less funny:

“Catastrophe how to destroy WordPress in 2 weeks”

Personally I’ve never seen a free plugin built by reputable developers getting that many negative reviews in such a short period of time.

How could this happen? How could the consensus switch so abruptly?

Failing to promote early participation

A similar situation happened when the plugin repository was re-designed.

Not too many people contributed to the initial design and prototype. The beta version was available for testing for several months, however users provided feedback in limited amount.

In that case, the team didn’t even use the feedback initially received to improve the UI/UX. 🙁

When they finally made the new design public, a lot of negative feedback started coming from all directions and in particular from users of the Advance WordPress Group on Facebook.

The community got so vocal, that whoever had worked on the re-design had to make the changes requested.

Do you see a similarity?

How to avoid this in the future? Getting out of the echo chamber!

The number of people that contribute and participate on the make.wordpress.org website is limited.

Even if they reach an agreement, the rest of the community will perceive that as the opinion of a small group of people. Not as large consensus.

It’s highly probable that they’ll become hostile to the change, because they felt excluded from the decision making process.

The argument : “if they don’t want to feel excluded, they should participate” is shortsighted to say the least.

Unless you enjoy doing the job, only to change most of it after you start getting feedback, you should do an extra effort to get more feedback before starting to develop.

The website make.wordpress.org is a bit intimidating to me. It could be the same for many others.

Established contributors form a community that doesn’t appear to be “very inclusive”.

It is very unlikely that someone will provide valuable feedback when feeling intimidated.

For example, when we ask for feedback through the Advance WordPress Group on Facebook, people are a lot less shy and tend to express their opinions freely.

The ThemeForest forums are very active and mainly populated by Theme designers/developers and more generally, WordPress users.

All people that would have probably loved to express their opinion, if asked.

There are plenty of other places where feedback could be gathered and I think this is what Ahmad Awais was trying to convey.

By the way, you should read his post about Gutenberg and the boilerplate he built for it, while expressing few doubts about the projects, his attitude towards it is definitely constructive:

I am still making up my mind with how Gutenberg will fit in the WordPress core. There are so many things which are both good and bad about it. So, instead of ranting about it, I wanted to do something more productive. And I went ahead, studied the source code, received a lot of help from Gutenberg contributors, to finally build a Gutenberg Boilerplate project.

Now what?

We need to change people’s perception and convince them that Gutenberg will bring positive changes.

Providing constructive feedback is vital, hating is useless. Whoever thinks that ranting about Gutenberg will make it go away, he’s delusional. (You’ll still be able to disable it!)

Aristotle used to say: “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet”. The Gutenberg team is doing such a great job that I think they’ll win over the majority of users before the official release.

Gutenberg, while not perfect, is already a lot better than the old editor. Just think about this: if a user wanted to split some text in 2 columns before, you had to give him HTML and CSS.

With Gutenberg they’ll be able to do that by themselves and this is just a tiny example.

Copy and paste from Word or Google Docs is not only possible, but it works like a charm Please stop saying that it doesn’t work!

You can move from Visual to Text editor like before and Gutenberg outputs very clean HTML.

If you test the plugin today, you’ll notice that most of the point raised in negative reviews have already been fixed.

The Gutenberg team promised that WordPress 5.0 will not be released until Gutenberg is ready.

Metaboxes won’t be ignored, developers are working on finding a solution for metaboxes.

There will still be an option to disable the whole thing if it’s really not needed!

In my opinion, the only smart thing to do is to embrace the change. Provide as much valuable feedback and contribution to the Gutenberg team and especially: please stop with the Gutenberg drama! 🙂

In the next post we will share our future plans for the Gutenberg editor. Especially how we intend to integrate our plugins with it.

What do you think about the Gutenberg plugin and the Drama generated by its beta release? Let us know in the comments down below!

Published by Paolo

Paolo Tajani is the co-founder and growth hacker of AyeCode LTD. With his business partner Stiofan, they are the makers of the GeoDirectory, UsersWP and Invoicing plugins for WordPress. Paolo developed his first WordPress website in 2008. In 2011 he met Stiofan O'Connor and together they started building and marketing successful themes and plugins for WordPress. Today their products are used by +100.000 active websites.

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