Support » Plugin: Gutenberg » More Flexibility Would Make It Better

  • What was one of the things that made WordPress great in the first place? The ability to customize, both in core and through plugins. Gutenberg isn’t a great editor yet. It has the potential to be a great editor, but not if it veers too far away from that principle.

    During the thirty-six years in which I was a teacher, I was always an “early adopter”–someone who jumped on new technology as soon as it came out and often ended up promoting it to others. I’m mentioning that to point out that I’m not afraid of change. However, my first exposure to the Gutenberg editor horrified me.

    The key thing the developers need to keep in mind is that everyone’s mind doesn’t work in the same way (something I picked up from all those years in education). The diversity in the reviews indicates that clearly–the block editor fits the mental style of some users but not others. Some people want simplicity, with only the options they absolutely have to have available. Others want every conceivable tool in arm’s reach. Some like Gutenberg as a page builder replacement. Others applaud it as a way to eliminate page builders in favor of a simpler paradigm. Clearly, they’re not seeing it in the same way.

    When I started experimenting with Gutenberg, I didn’t find it distraction-free. I was distracted wondering why the editing window was so small and where all the controls had gone. I was distracted by having to figure out how to wrap text around an image–doable in the end, but cumbersome compared to the classic editor. I was distracting figuring out how to make the column block work with more than two columns. Instead of offering an upfront choice, the way page builders have been doing for years, Gutenberg requires a user to click on an (invisible) point to select the column block and configure it for a different number of columns. Click in the wrong place, and a user selects the content of one of the columns instead.

    As I worked, I got faster at some of these operations, but certain things were inherently slower. Having to mouse up to the top of the screen to get some basic options is slower than having them in a TinyMCE toolbar right above where I’m writing. Using the classic block (which can’t be made the default without another plugin) overcomes that, but it excludes all the third-party elements. For them, I have to scroll through the blocks–if I’m lucky enough to be dealing with a plugin developer who has already adapted. If not, I have to go find a shortcode and come back to the page or post I’m editing, either way chewing up more time than I should have to.

    I’m not even a big fan of the block metaphor to begin with. As an English teacher and writer, I see a document as an integrated whole, not as a group of individual blocks. For some things, it really doesn’t matter. An embedded PDF, for instance, is probably going to be full-width, so having it in its own block is no big deal. On the hand, having elements like images, around which text is often wrapped, be in separate blocks is more cumbersome. Even small video windows might have had text wrapped around them before. Since blocks can’t typically nest inside other blocks, getting the same format that would have been easy in the classic editor is a real chore in Gutenberg.

    In the end, I got Gutenberg to work for me by working around it. Essentially, my pages and posts are Elementor templates in a Gutenberg wrapper. As long as I can do that, I’m OK. I can edit much faster that way than I can in Gutenberg. I have the classic editor plugin for situations when the block editor throws up an error message. (Those are becoming less frequent as plugin developers become more aware of the possible JavaScript conflicts). I have TinyMCE Advanced, so that if I want to use Gutenberg, it will default to the classic block and have customized TinyMCE to my liking. That also creates an editing experience better for me than Gutenberg provides alone.

    To make Gutenberg better, I’d advocate a more flexible approach to development. One man’s feature-rich environment will look bloated to someone else. And what to one man looks simple will to another look stripped down. What I’d suggest would be basically the same interface as the default, but with a lot more room for user customization. In an ideal world, people who found the classic editor more useful should be able to configure themselves an experience close to that. People who love Gutenberg can leave it alone. People can create all kinds of in-between experiences.

    If Gutenberg facilitates that flexibility (or at least leaves the door open through plugins, as it seems to now), I think all will eventually be well. If not, there will be a lot of dissatisfied people, some of whom may even leave the WordPress ecosystem completely. The mixed, but low-average reviews on this plugin, plus the millions of installs of plugins that either re-enable the classic editor or disable Gutenberg, support the idea that one size does not fit all.

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