A quick look at forums, message boards, and Twitter make it clear Gutenberg is a sore subject with many WordPress developers and users. That’s to be expected. It is new (and change, especially when there is a learning curve, sucks). Then there is the issue of what it will break.
Which leads back to why. Why is so much being invested in Gutenberg? The answer matters if for no other reason than knowing WHY a change is occurring or needed does impact how we view it. It’s simple human behavior. We can get behind change and push through if we know and ‘buy into‘ the reason.
One of the prevailing thoughts centers on the fact that Wix, SquareSpace, Weebly, and other WordPress ‘competitors’ already have block editing systems. Even Medium and LinkedIn have simplified their content creation this way. For WordPress to remain competitive, maintain market share, and grow, it must follow suit.
This makes perfect sense for WordPress.com which caters to the DIYer and those wanting a simple way to create a quick, inexpensive website. With WordPress.com being the revenue-generating source for Automattic, updating the editor to be more user-friendly to stay competitive is logical. That rationale doesn’t hold water for me when talking about WordPress.org and self-hosted sites. Update the editor for .com and leave .org alone.
The concept by Clayton Christensen focuses on the ability of new entrants in a market disrupting the status quo by changing the way things have always been done. Market share leaders tend to become complacent over time and fail to innovate. Blockbuster is a prime example. They were so entrenched in the market they failed to recognize the threat of start-ups like Netflix. When they finally did, it was too late.
The idea has been raised that Gutenberg is a disruptive innovation on the part of Automattic. It’s a sound theory. Gutenberg is a major shift in not only how we create and edit content, but in how we design and layout websites. Gutenberg goes beyond ‘keeping up’ with the competition and it makes it harder for a new player to create something which could threaten WordPress’ market share.
Sound theory, maybe…. If it was innovative.
Page builder plugins provide this functionality now. Many themes have their own tools to add this capability and…
One of the beauties, and for many, the appeal of WordPress is its open source ecosystem. We have a functional system which can be tailored and customized to each user’s needs, preferences, and whims. Adding more to the core instantly brings up all of the arguments about rooting Android devices to take full advantage of the software and remove ‘bloatware‘ which hogs resources. This disruptive innovation could limit flexibility and lead to users looking for alternatives.
Yes, innovate. Create something new. Build on what you have created….or move in a new direction. Don’t screw up your current product/service/offering as part of that process.
At what cost?
The potential to alienate current users doesn’t come solely from limiting flexibility.
Gutenberg breaks a cardinal rule of website development and security – always test in a staging environment when introducing something new (or updating something old). As Jocelyn over at Mozak Design states, ‘1 tiny update could have BIG consequences‘. And Gutenberg is a BIG update!
During closing remarks Q&A at WordCamp Portland (3 Nov 2018), Matt Mullenweg stated other projects have been sidelined due to available resources. He added that 5.0 was ‘just the start’. Matt stated (I’m paraphrasing) ‘We’ll likely see updates every couple of weeks’. The gentleman sitting two seats away made a reference to Microsoft’s constant updates. That left me thinking ‘It’s bad enough I can’t go two weeks without having to restart my computer. Now you want me to update WordPress every time I log in too?’ How long before that gets old?
This is in addition to concerns over accessibility, broken backward compatibility, and a new editor which, quite frankly, is quite clunky and cumbersome. (Yes, I know it’s early in its development).
Further, consider that there are bigger issues facing WordPress – namely security – not being addressed. Then there is the myriad of content editors currently available, that Gutenberg could remain an editor as a plugin rather than part of core), and that this is something which has been in the works for some time. I cannot accept the idea that Gutenberg is merely:
(A) the result of competition or innovation to head off competition or
(B) that it is merely a new design tool or an editor (as Matt himself referred to it during that #wcpdx Q&A).
The cost, in either case, is too high.
So why Gutenberg, and if not an editor, then what is it?
How we consume content is changing
It should not come as a surprise that mobile access to websites continues to grow. A study by Stone Temple Consulting published in May of 2018 showed a ‘faster than expected shift from desktop to mobile visits’ in looking at US website traffic.
According to the study, which looked at 1.9 trillion visits in 2016 and 2 trillion in 2017, mobile visits increased by 6%. The prediction was that by the end of 2018, roughly 2/3 of all website visits in the US alone would be done through mobile devices. More telling were the next 2 observations:
1) Time on site from mobile devices grew from 40% to 49%.
2) Mobile Bounce Rate dropped from 52% to 47%.
We are clearly doing more than accessing content more on mobile devices. We’re consuming it on them. Mobile isn’t the only way content access and consumption are changing and how we do will continue to evolve. One has only to look at Virtual Reality, heads-up displays, and other in-car systems as prime examples.
We need to change how we publish content
This need and shift are not new.
Four years ago, Google had us start focusing on ‘mobile friendly’ with their new testing tool. This later shifted to the need for responsive website design. While most likely adopted these as a way to keep ranking in search, Google was obviously thinking ahead.
Before mobile friendly, we made the shift to complete mobile versions of our websites….those wonderful ‘m.’ versions.
While these shifts were primarily focused on the ability of our content to be accessed in new ways. they were still changes to HOW we published content.
Looking forward, we need to focus on how content within websites is and will potentially be consumed.
For me, this is ‘Why Gutenberg’ and why it makes sense so much has been invested in it, to the exclusion of other concerns. I believe Matt was thinking forward and the reason Gutenberg is part of the core.
Gutenberg IS the new WordPress
The use of a block editing system tied to the core of WordPress isn’t about making it easier to create content. It allows for the delivery of content which specifically addresses a search query based on the device used.
Think about searches on mobile devices. Without getting into the differences in what shows in SERPs for a mobile and desktop search, look at how the content is delivered. In both cases, links in SERPs brings up an entire page. Responsive websites mean we can read the content delivered. It does not address the fact that it is still necessary to read an entire article to find a specific answer (or do a second search within the article once accessed).
This is revolutionary.
Update (28 Dec 2018)
Clients using the Jetpack plugin received an email this morning about the new WordPress experience stating they were ready. Take a look at the language they chose to use:
They did not refer to it as the Gutenberg editor. In fact, if you follow the link, not once in the article on WordPress.org on the editor does it ever mention Gutenberg!
This is the first time I have seen the editor referred to in this way (and it comes more than a year after I first discussed this and a month after this article was first published. Given that Jetpack is an Automattic company, this ‘clarification’ of the editor is straight from the source.
Gutenberg will impact SEO
As a content creator, you need to get behind and embrace Gutenberg. Changes in how content is consumed (and published) means it is inevitable that how content is ranked in SERPs will change.