Have you ever been frustrated that you couldn’t line up three photos side by side in a WordPress post? Have you ever tried to design a WordPress homepage but gave up when you couldn’t arrange your content in a custom page layout?
I remember back in the day when I was first using WordPress. It drove me crazy when I couldn’t create the pages designed the way I wanted them.
People say WordPress is easy to use and, it is. But, up until the last couple of years, when all of the theme-specific options and page-builder systems started to sprout up, it hasn’t been easy to create a customized website design – if you weren’t a WordPress designer or developer.
Now there is big news that we hope will make things so much easier when WordPress Version 5.0 comes out in a couple of months. This update will replace the old WYSIWYG editor with an all-new editor named Gutenberg, that will bring drag and drop type, page-builder functionality into WordPress itself.
I think this could be a good thing. I hope it is a good thing. But even so, hundreds of thousands of people who make their living with WordPress or who rely on their WordPress sites for the businesses are in for a wild ride until things settle out.
I had a software company years ago, and I know that significant changing functionality in a mature software product is dicey. It’s like having to modernize a historic and well-loved building, keeping everything people love and adding the new features in a way that enhances rather than detracts from how it was before.
In the same way, having legacy code hampers developers, who have to work on, around and within the existing code and engineer a smooth transition for the adoption of the new version of the software by its existing user-base.
One extra wrinkle is that WordPress is an open-source software product with hundreds of people weighing in on, working on and waiting for what is undoubtedly the most significant change to WordPress ever. As you might expect, that can be a good thing, but it could also potentially lead to disaster.
In 2003, nineteen-year-old Matt Mullenweg and a British web developer, Mike Little launched a user-friendly open-source blogging software which was the initial version of what has become the worlds most popular Content Management System (CMS). Today, WordPress websites account for 31.1% of the entire CMS market, while the former market leaders Joomla and, Drupal combined account for less than 5% of market share.
WordPress, developed for use by end-users, was able to make its CMS features friendly for end-users from the get-go. Whereas Drupal and Joomla, both built by developers for developers, haven’t been able to re-engineer their software to be easy enough to compete with the new kid on the block.
Now WordPress at 15 years of age, is not the new kid and has experienced some competition itself. Knowing that there was a significant number of do-it-yourselfers frustrated with their inability to design attractive WordPress sites, companies such as Wix, Weebly and, SQUARESPACE brought to market easy, drag and drop website builders to meet that need, and have pumped lots of dollars into marketing them.
WordPress continues to dominate the market since many businesses who try using these programs come back around to WordPress when they find they need more functionality or performance than these simple platforms provide. But, WordPress can’t afford not to take action to address the frustration of non-designers and end-users while they are still able to hold on to their lead. I’m sure Drupal and Joomla weren’t that worried about WordPress when it came on the scene fifteen years ago.
WordPress theme developers being on the front line with their clients felt their building frustration with not being able to customize WordPress. This realization started a movement among theme developers to offer clients first theme options and then entire drag and drop page builder systems, built right into their themes that give regular folks the ability to create beautiful, robust WordPress sites without writing code.
The fact that these themes were often bloated, slow-loading and could break a site when uninstalled didn’t matter a bit to their clients. These themes were and are still selling like hotcakes. And now many of these “drag and drop” page-builder systems are available as plugins for use with any theme.
Although this one-off page builder development has allowed non-designer/developers to build websites themselves, the myriad of systems out there has created a bit of a wild-wild West scenario. WordPress users and designers often have no idea how to vet and decide on a system to use for their own or their client’s website. And, WordPress developers in the community also have been forced to take sides or start their systems for simple page design.
If the WordPress developer community had and showed more empathy for designers and end-users, they could have created something more workable long ago and avoided this crazy milieu with its patchwork of one-off page builder systems. But better late than never. WordPress is now bringing simple page design functionality into its core code.
What does it mean for all of these page builder systems? If Gutenberg is successful, many of these theme developers will not make it. Some of these page builder developers will start porting their goodies over to Gutenberg, creating their own functionality “blocks”.
The news came out just today that webhost, WP-Engine purchased StudioPress. The 60+ StudioPress child themes designs rely on widgetized home pages. If widgets remain a thing, you should be able to use the widget as is or customize a widget area using Gutenberg Blocks. Or, they might just have the home pages recreated using the Gutenberg editor and forget the home page widget system altogether. Only time will tell.
What does it mean if you have WordPress website or one built with a page builder? We don’t have a lot of information about the state of development Gutenberg will be in it’s first released. But, here are some things we do know:
- WordPress version 5.0 will include the Gutenberg Editor which will use “blocks” to design a page or post. If you’ve ever used Visual Composer or Beaver Builder, you will have some idea of what I’m talking about.
- Gutenberg is being designed to dramatically improve an end-users’ experience with content creation in WordPress. It’s not merely a better editor. That old tired editor will disappear altogether, and its replacement will be a full screen where you can drop types of content blocks to create your page designs.
- Once Gutenberg’s been released, and you update your WordPress version, it will be the page content design system that you’ll see in your WordPress installation. Don’t panic. You can choose to continue using the old editor by downloading it as a plugin from the WordPress Plugin Repository.
- If you’re using an existing page builder, you will likely want to use the old editor until Gutenberg’s functionality can replace the page designs that you currently have and, you’re ready for a website refresh.
- With Gutenberg, there won’t be a need for using widget areas to define the home page designs the method used by the StudioPress Genesis Child Themes. Instead, the child themes may be recreated using Guttenberg editor’s blocks. This method would allow StudioPress to offer their beautifully designed themes while increasing the end-users’ ability to edit them.
- WordPress is using best practices to design this new editor to eliminate the sins of some of the existing page builders. For example, Guttenberg keeps the content available to download and import into another site. And, Gutenberg won’t break your site if you decide not use it anymore.
- The Gutenberg editor is available now as a plugin from the WordPress Plugin Repository.
Go ahead, download Gutenberg and give it a try. But since it’s not ready for Prime Time quite yet, please try it out on a staging or test site for now.