Following several months of development, WordPress’s forthcoming new editor — named Gutenberg for the inventor of the printing press — is available as a plugin.
The plugin is still being developed and is nowhere near finished. WordPress hosting clients should not install Gutenberg on their production sites, because it’s likely to break things. That said, Gutenberg is well-worth taking a look at if you’re interested in the future of WordPress. Anyone who spends a lot of time in the WordPress editor is going to experience substantial changes to their writing workflows when Gutenberg is rolled into WordPress Core.
If you do take Gutenberg out for a spin, its development team are eager to hear about any bugs you find. You can report bugs on the project’s GitHub page.
Gutenberg has come a long way since we last wrote about it in February, and it’s worth spending some time thinking about the motivation behind the new editing experience and the problems Gutenberg is intended to solve.
As a writer, the writing and editing experience is important to me. If I wanted to, I could write everything in HTML, but burying the content in a forest of formatting and structuring markup isn’t ideal. The current WordPress editor offers an abstraction on top of the HTML approach, allowing writers to interact more naturally with their text while also providing much needed functionality like embeds, dividers, and other features that writing on the web makes necessary.
But, although WordPress offers a good enough editing interface, today, there’s room for improvement. Most of the features WordPress makes available to writers aren’t easy to find — they’re not discoverable in designer parlance. Using them takes writers out of the flow of their work to research shortcodes or futz around with formatting.
Gutenberg is intended to make it easy to both write and format a page in complex ways without having to reach for fragile shortcodes. With a few clicks and a bit of typing, it’s possible to create web pages that look like this.
The major change is from linear editing to a block-based experience. The page is divided into blocks, and each block has its own formatting options, controls, and positions on the screen. Making changes to a block is as simple as clicking in the block and editing it. Naturally, plugins will be able to add more blocks in the future.
One of the basic principles of web design insists that content should be kept separate from presentation, because it’s better to be able to control each independently. As a writer, I often choose to write in Markdown because I want to spend the least possible time messing around with formatting, leaving me free to focus on the message I want to communicate to readers.
Gutenberg mixes presentation and content, but it does so in a way that doesn’t impose much of a cognitive burden on writers. It also makes the WordPress editing experience intuitive to people who have grown up with WYSIWYG environments. We’re probably a few months away from Gutenberg being integrated into WordPress Core, but I for one am looking forward to being able to build beautiful layouts without shortcodes in an elegant modern editing environment.