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Gutenberg: the block editor for a better WordPress

It’s no secret that many people turn to WordPress when creating a new website. On average, over 500 new sites are built every single day using WordPress. Enthusiasm for WordPress is global, with more than 1,000 locally-organized Word Camp events annually. While there are many reasons for the software’s popularity, much of this new growth arrived on the heels of Gutenberg.

“Gutenberg” was the name given by developers to the WordPress 5.0 update. Released on December 6, 2018, this update included a major overhaul of the native editor within WordPress. Following the lead of other content management systems that had already moved to drag-and-drop systems, the block editor substantially changed the page- and post-editing experience of designers. Some people loved it, others were outraged.

And the anger from avid WordPress fans who use the platform professionally is understandable. People often don’t like change. And Gutenberg was a big one.

Since then, however, the murmurs have died down, the block editor has improved quite a bit, and many people have now embraced the Gutenberg world. Let’s take a look at why the new WordPress editor was the right choice, and how, from a technical standpoint, it was a 100% necessary change.

The block editor makes WordPress more user-friendly

The new block editor for WordPress was born out of the changing needs of internet users. In 2003, the year of the first public WordPress release, people were largely looking for ways to publish text content. Thus the name ‘WordPress’! Don’t forget, the iPhone wasn’t even introduced until 2007 — in 2003, we had the Nokia 1100.

In 2003 we didn’t have the same access to multimedia content creation that we do now. As time marched on, it became easier and more affordable for anyone to create high-quality videos and animations. WordPress needed to shake its reputation as a blogging platform and rebrand as an easy-to-use page builder.

WordPress Gutenberg blocks were developed to help any user share multimedia content easily and in an engaging way.

With blocks, you can insert, rearrange, and style multimedia content with little to no technical background. Instead of relying on custom code, you can add a block with just a few clicks. Novice users can build custom posts and pages that would have required an expert-level developer just a few years ago.

Lancaster, PA-based developer Matt Whiteley has worked exclusively in WordPress for more than 10 years. His company, Whiteley Designs, specializes in creating simple to modify, easy to update WordPress sites for small businesses and agencies. He sees Gutenberg’s biggest technical achievement as simply having the ability to visually edit your site on the back end so it closely represents the front end.

As Whiteley told us recently,

“As a developer, being able to create an editing experience for my clients where they can use core WordPress functionality to visually create dynamic pages quickly and easily is HUGE.”

He continued,

“Before the block editor was introduced the editing experience was essentially entering data into the WYSIWYG editor or custom fields with essentially no visual representation of what was being built until you previewed it on the front end. Now users can see what they are building as they build it, and it is wonderful.”

Blocks ensure WordPress remains relevant

All significant updates to the WordPress core since  December 2018 have included enhancements, fixes, and additional features for the block editor. Initially, there were technical concerns about the way blocks functioned, but those worries have been eliminated, for the most part, through subsequent updates.

WordPress 5.5 and 5.6 updates brought major improvements that squarely centered around Gutenberg. The drag-and-drop experience became much smoother with this update, which was crucial to maintaining support for blocks.

“With the introduction of the block editor, my use of page templates has virtually disappeared,” Whiteley maintains. “The block editor allows for creation of dynamic pages with endless layout possibilities using a single page template. Throw in the use of things like reusable blocks and block patterns and the ability to spin up unique page layouts is even easier.”

In addition to the text, image, and gallery blocks available from the very first Gutenberg update, the variety of available WordPress blocks, widgets, and embeds has skyrocketed.

  • Quote
  • Audio
  • Video
  • Table
  • Columns
  • Group
  • Media & Text
  • Shortcode
  • Latest Comments
  • Latest Posts
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • WordPress
  • SoundCloud
  • Spotify
  • Flickr
  • Vimeo

Recent Gutenberg updates made it possible to combine multiple blocks into a single column. This enhancement gives you greater flexibility when structuring your pages. It also adds design consistency and flow, because users can apply the same formatting options to all elements within the column.

WordPress blocks are better than Squarespace blocks

With the transition to Gutenberg, WordPress did more than simply make the platform easier to use. The block editor is, arguably, a revolutionary new way to democratize publishing.

Proprietary site builders such as Squarespace and Wix also use drag and drop editors. Email builders like MailChimp do, too. And to be fully transparent, they adopted a block-like builder experience before it became a core component of WordPress.

However, none of these mainstream site builders can offer the freedoms available through Gutenberg. WordPress contributors from around the world spend thousands, maybe even millions, of hours each year building free software that’s “designed for everyone.”  This “everyone” includes newbies, as well as advanced web developers, and all those in between. Since WordPress is an open-source platform, anyone with the right skillset can build their own custom blocks.

If you’re interested, you can find a very thorough Block Editor Handbook on WordPress.org to get you started. It outlines everything from setting up your development environment to Gutenberg architecture, to existing block APIs.

But maybe you aren’t the custom block developer type.

Luckily, multiple advanced developers have created plugins that, when installed, give access to entire libraries of premium blocks. Block library plugins include wide ranges of unique, custom-developed blocks that go above and beyond the native WordPress blocks.

For example, Genesis Blocks offers 16 unique new blocks, 26 pre-built full-page layouts, and 56 pre-built sections. PublishPress Blocks is another great library plugin, popular with e-commerce stores. It offers tools to display your latest WooCommerce products and choose from multiple layouts including grid, slider, and blog.

Another block innovation that makes WordPress Gutenberg a cut above the rest is block patterns. WordPress block patterns are curated collections of pre-arranged blocks that work together to layout content in unique and beautiful ways. Block patterns are designed to be ready-for-action with no realignment necessary, however, you can customize individual components once you’ve inserted a block pattern to your page.

Source: WordPress.org

The Future of Gutenberg

Whiteley argues that it will be very important to maintain backwards compatibility with previous versions of the block editor while continuing to expand WordPress Gutenberg features. “Over the past year and a half, it has become quite stable compared to the early version. As the block editor becomes more feature-rich and as new iterations become available it is important that sites built with previous versions continue to work as intended or it will discourage people from developing with the block editor,” he said.

Additionally, Whiteley predicts that the next big thing for Gutenberg is likely FSE (Full Site Editing). “I’m excited to see how the WordPress team integrates the block editor to be a full site editor,” he revealed. “Editing things like the header, footer and archive pages with the block editor will bring even more flexibility to the block editor and should be exciting to explore.”

The backbone of the Internet

As more and more people discover the simplicity and ingenuity of Gutenberg, WordPress has affirmed its reputation as the backbone of the internet. Some predict that soon, half the internet will be powered by WordPress. Developers are embracing the block editor, but non-techy businesses owners are happy with it as well.

“The editing experience is 100x better than using the classic editor,” Whiteley concluded. “I haven’t had a single client say anything like ‘Man, I wish we could just use the classic editor.’ It has not only improved my development workflow, but the experience for my clients as well, which is extremely important.

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