Benjamin Intal A Blog About WordPress Plugin Development & Business Experiences

A Page Builder Creator’s Opinion of Gutenberg

Gutenberg.

People say it’s a page builder killer. And being that I’ve created my own page builder (Page Builder Sandwich – which is currently having a major rebuild btw), I’m obviously concerned.

How will it impact my business? My competitors’ business? Will it kill all page builders?

I don’t know. But if it does then I’m in big trouble.

Last time I checked out Gutenberg, it was just a short demo and wasn’t available for download as a plugin. That was a long time ago, and I’ve been thinking that I need to check it out ASAP to see whether I should be worried or not.

I don’t know much about the current progress of the project. From what I know  and what people are saying, Gutenberg is the NEXT WordPress.

Trying It Out

I downloaded Gutenberg from the WordPress plugin directory and tried it out. Here’s my first impression:

Everything’s suddenly in blocks. This is quite different from how it was before, where it was a text editor.

If you’ve used a page builder, then it’ll feel familiar. Page builders kinda do this as well, mainly because it’s easier to manage different types of content in a “blocky” manner, because it becomes more of a visual experience that.

It looked sweet, and somewhat looked like the Customizer – and it blends well with how WordPress looks. I like things that blend with the existing UI, so this is definitely a plus.

But it felt a little weird using it. I wrote this article using using Gutenberg to get the feel and experience of it… and it felt a little off. I guess it’s because it takes some getting used to. A mixture of trying to grasp something that’s totally new, especially since everything turned into blocks.

Apart from taking some getting used to, I had some issues using Gutenberg as well. There would be times that the block editor would get in the way of writing the content itself, which I’ll dive into further:

Some Usability Issues

One annoying thing about it is that the page keeps jumping around. It sometimes scrolls a bit or jumps to the end of the article, or back towards the start.

It happens because I usually highlight things to delete/move them around when writing an article. And sometimes I highlight more than one paragraph. With Gutenberg, doing this highlights the entire block and the cursor loses focus, so when you press the up/down arrow keys, the page scrolls.

Try and do this while editing:

  1. Put your cursor near the end of the article and on the end of a paragraph there,
  2. Hold shift, press down, release shift (it will highlight the current block and the next block)
  3. Press up.

After this, you’ll see that the cursor will move to the very top of the page and, scroll. Similarly, it will scroll down when you highlight upward and press down.

Another thing is that the undo and redo doesn’t work correctly. Your undo/redo initially works on the current block you’re in, though. So if you type something in one block, type another thing in another block, then focus back on the previous block and press undo… you won’t undo the last thing you did, you’ll undo the last thing you did on the current block you’re in:

Undo/redo needs some fixing.

These aren’t game-breaking issues though. These things CAN be fixed – and this is why Gutenberg is in a “beta plugin” form. I’m sure someone will address these issues before the release.

In the end, I was able to write my article with Gutenberg. So I suppose I’ll just have to get used to having having my content split in blocks.

But being that this is the NEXT WordPress, I’m not sure I like this better than TinyMCE. It’s certain that my next article won’t be written with Gutenberg.

I was expecting Gutenberg to be a glorified version of the current editor… perhaps something like Medium’s editor.

 

It’s a Backend Page Builder

After writing a good chunk of this article in Gutenberg, I found that it’s more like a page builder than a direct replacement of TinyMCE.

(For now) It acts like a traditional page builder too. It looks cool in the backend, but when you view it, it’s totally not what you expect it to be.

Here’s the backend Gutenberg editor, and my default post looks great (so far):

Here’s what the default content looked like.

But then previewing that post with the Twenty Seventeen theme gives me this:

Here’s the frontend preview.

Having your output not match what you typed in backend isn’t something new though.

TinyMCE does this too – most backend editing tools will do this as well. However, I didn’t notice this so much when editing with TinyMCE. The difference probably is that Gutenberg gave me the illusion that it’s a WYSIWYG editor, even though it’s not. It needs the help of the theme for that.

The way forward would be for themes to be compatible with Gutenberg, so that the front-end output would match the created one in the backend.

In it’s current state, it’s really a backend page builder plugin if you think about it. It has all the basics of a page builder:

  • It has a plus button to add content
  • You can drag content around (or in this case move content up and down)
  • You can change a block’s design settings

First impression of Gutenberg: It’s like a bare-bones backend page builder that plugins extend with blocks.

A Suggestion About Blocks

One concern is that the writing experience feels hindered by the block system. It feels like Gutenberg was built as a page builder first, then as a tool to write content second. I think the writing experience needs to be fixed.

I feel the way to go here is to have the editor be as smooth as Medium’s editor.

To fix this, I think not everything should be in blocks. A block can just be any non-pure-text content (like images or shortcodes). Text can remain as normal paragraph text that I can type in easily and do whatever I can do with it right now with TinyMCE.

If done this way, I could still highlight text as I would normally, and I can move text around and navigate using my arrow keys easily too.

Say Goodbye to Shortcodes

Since it’s all about blocks now, I think Gutenberg is also telling us to say goodbye to the Shortcode API.

Moving forward, everything would now be blocks and developers should embrace the new Block API

Although there are some discussions on shortcode support. I think the contributors are leaning away from shortcodes.

Shortcodes would still “work”. They’ll be rendered in the frontend like always, but plugins/developers would need to convert their shortcodes into blocks if they want to stay relevant inside the editor.

What’s the Point?

My initial thought was that if Gutenberg were to replace TinyMCE in WordPress 5.0, then Gutenberg should be a super cool content editor ala-Medium instead of a page builder.

A content editor where the writing experience is superior and smooth as butter.

But I don’t think that is the main point of Gutenberg.

Matt made a blog post a few months ago: “We Called it Gutenberg for a Reason” and said there were challenges with WordPress:

…user frustrations with publishing and customizing, competition from site builders like Squarespace and Wix

I guess the main goal is to become a site builder.

Conclusion

Initially, I thought that Gutenberg was a glorified TinyMCE editor. But it isn’t.

Gutenberg IS a page builder. Which means that new WordPress site installs or upgrades will have a built-in page builder in it.

Developers can, and will create plugins that will provide 100 new blocks. Pair those with the new built-in Gutenberg page builder and that may render some of the tried and tested page builders and other plugins obsolete.

It might even pave the way for WordPress to become a site builder.

Will it kill page builders? Maybe.

People had a reason to use page builders in WordPress pre-Gutenberg, primarily because is was hard to layout content. Post-Gutenberg, the only way people would still use a third-party page builder is if it gives them a new or good enough reason to.

When will it kill page builders? Not any time soon. I don’t think Gutenberg is anywhere ready for prime time yet.

Plus, it has a lot of things that need to be fixed (including the ones I mentioned above). The writing experience needs to be enhanced as well.

Personally, I think that if they merge it into core and nothing’s compatible with the new block system yet, then people might go bonkers. Perhaps this would delay Gutenberg from arriving too quickly.

It’s inevitable though, expect Gutenberg to be merged in the future and page builder plugins who aren’t ready to have a hard time coping.

I guess the only way forward for me and Page Builder Sandwich is to innovate HARD and wish for the best.

About the author

Benjamin Intal

Benjamin is an avid WordPress plugin developer, a full-stack developer, owner and lead developer of Gambit, creator of Page Builder Sandwich, and creator of more than 30 WordPress plugins in CodeCanyon. Follow me on Twitter @bfintal

2 comments

    • If you do a search right now in the plugin directory for Gutenberg plugins, there aren’t any. This is a new niche that isn’t fulfilled yet, so business-wise it’s definitely a good idea to be first in there.

      I’m definitely thinking about being an early adopter and putting out a Gutenberg plugin. As for the timing, it all depends though on how final the API is. Gutenberg is in “super-active development” mode right now. There’re a lot of commits everyday: https://github.com/WordPress/gutenberg/commits/master and it’s changing constantly so putting out a plugin now might just make it prone to breakage. I’ll probably start something when it reaches a stable state.

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