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WordPress 5.0 is just around the corner and with it comes a major update to how you manage content: the new Gutenberg editor. This post is a summary of Studio 24's policy on Gutenberg and what we're doing to review this new technology for our clients.
The quick TL;DR version: Studio 24 has already researched the impact of using Gutenberg and plans to re-test the software in early 2019. At present we recommend not using Gutenberg and sticking to the Classic Editor. We plan to publish updated recommendations in Feb 2019. We’ve also added some useful links to WordPress 5.0 resources.

WordPress is an open source project, sponsored and influenced in a large part by a commercial company called Automattic who run services such as WordPress.com and WordPress VIP.

The project was kicked off by Automattic’s CEO and the founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, who wrote a post in January 2017 with the mission statement of Gutenberg:

The editor will endeavour to create a new page and post building experience that makes writing rich posts effortless, and has “blocks” to make it easy what today might take shortcodes, custom HTML, or “mystery meat” embed discovery.

Matt Mullenweg, WordPress

In simple terms the idea is to replace the ubiquituous WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) content editor with a more interactive user interface which allows users to build content from different types of blocks.

The reference to shortcodes has for a long time been the way to get more complex content into WordPress pages, however, at Studio 24 we don’t tend to make much use of shortcodes for our client sites. 

You can see a demo at https://wordpress.org/gutenberg/

It’s a great idea and one that resonates with how we build sites at Studio 24. For a long time we’ve used a component design approach to allow clients to build pages out of different components (such as a quote, or set of images side-by-side). At present we use a mix of plugins to achieve this in WordPress (FewBricks and Advanced Custom Fields). Gutenberg could replace this with native functionality.

However, it’s not all good news. This represents a very major change for WordPress, for good intentions, but one which may come with a lot of complexity on how to build custom website designs, how to migrate from an older version of WordPress and how to manage content for users. 

We tested this back in June 2018 and found a high barrier to entry to using Gutenberg. Simply put, it’s damn complicated and introduces complex JavaScript programming to what has previously been a front-end job: building the look and feel of a website. This complexity makes it harder and more expensive to build and maintain. And we even found it difficult to guarantee we could replicate the front-end look and feel in the Gutenberg editing system, due to differences in the HTML and CSS of the tool.

The end result back in June was that using Gutenberg could potentially triple development costs for custom designs built for websites using Gutenberg – not something we are prepared to recommend for our clients.

Gutenberg has changed a lot since June though it’s still technically complex, has potential usability issues, and currently has serious accessibility issues that won’t be fixed for launch. That alone exludes the use of Gutenberg for any mid-to-large sized organisation (not withstanding accessibility is a legal requirement in the UK and elsewhere).

The launch date for WordPress 5.0 has been much vaunted, it may be released later this week on 6th December, it may be mid-to-late Jan 2019. Personally I think they should wait until early 2019, we certainly don’t plan to update any client sites with WordPress 5.0 this close to Christmas. Find out more on the WordPress 5.0 release plan.

At present we advise to not use Gutenberg. Sites will run fine with the Classic Editor and until Gutenberg is released it is difficult to fully advise our clients. However, long-term we believe moving to Gutenberg is a requirement of using WordPress. So a strategy will need to be put in place.

Progress is good, though the evolution of Gutenberg has been fraught with poor communication with the community and missed opportunities like accessibilty. I sincerely hope the project has a successful launch and we look forward to investing more time developing with and getting more involved in Gutenberg in 2019.

Some useful links from other resources on the web: