Moving Forward with WordPress 5.0

This is post 4 of 4 in the series “WordPress 5.0 and the Block Editor”

The Project Formerly Known as Gutenberg. WordPress is changing and the first major step was the new block editor. These posts have chimed in on the progress of that project from early-stage alpha to post-release.

WordPress 5.0 has now been out for over a month and a half. After taking a fairly strong position against it’s release-readiness and following up with some thoughts on the project’s communications (or lack thereof), I feel like I owe everyone another update on where I think things stand with the new WordPress “block editor” (the name replacing “Gutenberg”).

Was WordPress 5.0 Ready When it Launched?

My blog post saying 5.0 should be delayed—which reached a much bigger audience than I ever expected—came out 21 days before the eventual release date. It was primarily in reaction to the first two beta releases.

Looking at the bugs I called out, I can say that the worst of them got fixed.

Of my big-picture concerns, none were ever really addressed. Those bigger hopes included:

  • Making the user interface designs less “flash-y” (as in, “things that flash”) and polishing the default view a bit more.
  • Comprehensive testing and auditing of each block to determine whether it should be included and if it’s ready.
  • Removal of at a few features that feel superfluous (Verse block) or unready (Columns block).
  • A clear explanation of project goals and release criteria.

The few minor-point releases that have followed (5.0.2 and 5.0.3) were very minor and most of the changes to the block editor so far seem to be focused on performance, issues that I think more systematic testing could have identified.

As someone pointed out (I think it was John James Jacoby on the WP Tavern podcast?), this new version had to be released eventually. That keeps me sympathetic to the decision, but my feelings about the communication leading up to the release haven’t changed or improved with time.

Where I’m At

With the holidays and a ton of client projects going, I haven’t spent much time with the new editor after my flurry of testing the betas and release candidates (RCs). I’m writing this post with it, but that’s my entire usage in 2019 so far.

All my maintenance plan clients are using the Classic Editor to disable the block editor, and I’m not even completely using it on my own sites yet. I’m planning to revisit the editor in February to see if I can move some simple sites onto it, but I’m not particularly optimistic.

I have a few sites in development that I hope will use the block editor, but the bugs and interface oddities still worry me. A site I’m launching next week (I hope!) won’t use it immediately. Each person only gets one first impression of a new thing, and I feel a responsibility to my clients that theirs is a good one.

Where the Editor’s At

Interestingly, most feature requests or bug reports I made have gone silent since the end of November. I currently see a lot of focus on WordPress’s next big project (updating Widgets), but I’m really unclear on what the plans are for improving this massive new feature that still needs so much attention. I wonder if there is community-wide burnout.

This new editor feels like it’s in limbo right now, with most people I personally know avoiding it for the foreseeable future. I’ve been convinced of the project’s direction, but it needs major improvements soon to win over the remaining skeptics and fill in the missing features that didn’t make it into 5.0. Where are the necessary revisions and improvements to the editor going to come from now that the urgency of the launch is gone?

Sadly but honestly, I don’t plan on being as involved in the development of the next iterations of WordPress for a variety of reasons. Most relevant to this issue, though, is that I invested a tremendous amount of time thinking about, writing about, and testing the new features and didn’t see much of a return. With one exception—I played a big role in proposing the “Style Variation” feature—many of the things I cared about most* were ignored or at not addressed. (Ed. note: Or did the way the project play out just make me feel this way? I’m not 100% sure.)

* Things I cared about, big and small, included: Accessibility, the Character Map, pixel-sizing, removing the Verse block and drop cap setting, fixing the Columns block or not including it in 5.0, and better documentation before release so I could try building things.

The new editor didn’t particularly feel like a tool built with my needs in mind despite doing my best to show up and contribute. But let’s not end on a low note…

It’s Time to Move On & Make This Work

WordPress 5.0 is out. The genie is not going back in the bottle. It’s time to figure out how to make this tool work for us, and restart a new, clear-eyed assessment of the editor.

In chatting with my colleagues on the WordPress Seattle Slack team, there’s general agreement that the transition to the new editor is harder for experienced WordPress users. With our built-up muscle memory and years-old expectations, it’s hard to find the new ways things are supposed to work. It’s time that I take my own advice to “let my software be my guide”:

We often search for online tools that work the way we want them to work in the abstract, but there are reasons to follow a tool’s lead and learn a new way of doing things. In a simple example, we don’t complain about light switches because they’re not buttons, we learn how to use them the way the designer thought was best.

Many of the assumptions the new editor makes simply don’t have parallels to the old editor, so just trying to behave the way I have until now isn’t feasible. The block editor opens up new abilities for my clients they didn’t have before, but I suspect it will also discourage certain designs or features that were easy to build before and harder now. In the coming months, my focus must be updating my own best practices and skills to align with this new world of WordPress.

Things have changed. Let’s make the best of it.

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