As human beings, we’re instinctively resistant to change. When we’ve followed the same routine for many years, the prospect of any change seems unsettling. And that’s exacerbated when comfortable familiarity has been a hallmark of the product or service we use, or a key factor underpinning our continued custom.
Those unfamiliar with website building might struggle to comprehend why the introduction of Gutenberg into WordPress last year proved so controversial. Yet the introduction of a new block-based editor was a fairly radical change on a platform which had evolved gradually and organically in the fifteen years since it replaced the defunct B2/cafelog blogging utility. This measured evolution helped WordPress to become the content management system of choice for over a quarter of all websites currently in existence. Alongside the prevalence of plugins (standalone program fragments designed to perform a specific task), WordPress’s intuitive interface has been used by millions of people on a daily basis.
Something old, something new
Traditionalists can still use the rebranded Classic Editor, now available as a plugin until its scheduled deletion in three years’ time. Yet there’s no doubt that if Gutenberg and the classic template editor had been presented as side-by-side options in 2003 when WordPress made its debut, Gutenberg would have been the favoured choice. It effectively replaces the HTML-based interface of yore with a system of modular content blocks, ready to be dropped into position on a web page. Images can also be dragged and dropped, while multimedia content from sites including YouTube and Twitter may be directly embedded.
At a stroke, the limitations of those generic page templates have been abolished. In their place come distinct elements, from lists and image galleries to paragraphs and buttons. Rather like plugins, each block is a robust standalone code segment, waiting to be inserted into an otherwise blank page. The team responsible for rolling out Gutenberg in WordPress want every site to become fully customisable, creating fewer homogenous results than the present template system sometimes permits. Recent block choices are shortlisted for convenience, too.
There are several significant advantages of adopting Gutenberg in WordPress:
1. There’s no need to learn HTML terminology before implementing functions like pasted URLs or header text.
2. Without the requirement to add instructions in < > brackets, there’s less risk of a typo causing formatting issues (such as everything below a list being accidentally numbered).
3. Blocks may be endlessly repositioned or resized without affecting the site’s stability. This is particularly relevant for tables, which previously required plugins or HTML.
4. Images receive greater priority, reflecting the modern vogue for sites which prioritise graphics and multimedia over slabs of body text.
5. The drag-and-drop simplicity championed by many WordPress advocates is enhanced, and it’s easier to edit a whole page’s metadata or settings at once.
6. Gutenberg’s block-based nature makes the construction of mobile-optimised portrait websites feel easier than it did via the older landscape interface.
7. Because Gutenberg requires less on-screen coding, it’s feasible to design a website on a tablet for the first time. Users can even make edits from a smartphone.
There’s no question that the introduction of Gutenberg into WordPress represented a culture shock among audiences who’d grown comfortable with traditional page editing techniques. A slew of recent one-star WordPress reviews attests to the strength of feeling among WordPress loyalists. However, Gutenberg is here to stay – and similar to the revolutionary mechanical printing press it’s named after, things will never be the same again.