On Thursday, the new version of WordPress — version 5.0 — dropped.
I’ve been using WordPress since 2004 and version 1.2. 5.0 is the biggest change in years. I’ve been through the introduction of themes, sidebar widgets, post formats (an idea to compete with Tumblr that never amounted to anything). 5.0’s change is an entirely new editor, codenamed Gutenberg.
Gutenberg launched last summer as a feature plugin so that users could beta test it. The idea of the Gutenberg editor, as I understand it, is to be a generally distraction-free, rich text writing experience. Under the hood, beneath the text, Gutenberg breaks the post up into “blocks.” Blocks can contain text, images, headers, and embedded content, then they can be dragged and dropped, and even formatted separately from other blocks.
Being someone who likes to tinker, I downloaded the Gutenberg plugin and, over the last sixteen months or so, some of the content I’ve created has been done with Gutenberg. Most hasn’t, partly because Gutenberg was a work in progress (and, especially in its early releases, could be kinda wonky), partly because I have a writing workflow that worked well with the TinyMCE editor in its text mode. For a short post (say, under 500 words) that doesn’t need much in the way of formatting, Gutenberg worked generally well as an editor. For longer posts, though, I like to compose in straight HTML in Notepad or an HTML editor, then paste it into the TinyMCE editor, and then do a polish aided by my browser’s spell check. (My HTML editor of choice for almost the last twenty years is Arachnophilia.) For an image heavy post, like one of a cemetery visit, I would insert all of my images into a post, then write my text around the image code.
Wrapping my mind around “blocks” took some time. I didn’t understand it for a long time, or even understand the point. “Every paragraph is block, separate from other paragraphs?” This seemed very strange to me, like the editor was imposing a structure on the writing before I had even decided on a structure. But what I learned from experience was that, unless I needed a block that wasn’t text — in other words, if I was simply writing, as I might in Microsoft Word — then the block structure didn’t matter. The Gutenberg editor, as a rich text editor, wasn’t weird and uncomfortable at all. And blocks didn’t affect the way posts displayed on the site; if a Gutenberg post is opened in the TinyMCE editor, one can see all sorts of tags added by the editor to define blocks and formatting, which WordPress’ the_content filters strip out, leaving the HTML codes behind, when the post appears on the website.
Nonetheless, I did install the Classic Editor plugin before upgrading to WordPress 5.0 so that I could continue to use the older TinyMCE editor. I can see use cases where Gutenberg will be useful, and I can see use cases where TinyMCE will be useful. Based on the way the Classic Editor plugin works, it looks like I will have to create a second user profile for myself, one set to use Gutenberg, one set to use the Classic Editor.
Thursday I upgraded to WordPress 5.0, and then did some cleanup of my install. (Namely, once 5.0 is installed, the Gutenberg beta plugin is no longer necessary, so I deleted it from my server.) Then, the last two days, every time I have logged into my WordPress dashboard there have been upgrade notices for themes and plugins.
Everything seems to be fine, everything’s gone off without a hitch. As for the website work I did last weekend, I’ve not had time this week, due to deadlines and disasters, to give it much thought.
This post was written with the new Gutenberg editor. Writing it was different from the way I usually work, but not significantly so. With use will come familiarity. I may never entirely abandon composition in Notepad — old HTML coding skills will never die — but if Gutenberg is the future of WordPress, it won’t be a bad one.