Gutenberg for WordPress will break things. Long-term, that’s good.

Gutenberg, the new underlying platform for WordPress, will start being implemented early this year in the editor. There is considerable gnashing of teeth about this in some circles because some existing plugins will not work with the Gutenberg editor. The plugin code will have to be updated. Moreover, Gutenberg is not just for the editor, it will also be implemented for themes and plugins.

My thoughts: Gutenberg is way better than existing WordPress. Building complex posts and pages with lots of styling and options becomes easy. Everything will be drag-and-drop. Changes can be made with a couple of clicks. WordPress can either continuing being backwards compatible with years of sometimes bad code or it can reinvent itself with new underpinnings and be more than competitive with Wix and Medium. Based on Gutenberg editor demos I’ve seen, WordPress will soon have a more powerful editor than the competition.

Backwards compatibility will be sacrificed to do this. Users will be able to disable the Gutenberg editor, at least for now. Once Gutenberg is implemented in themes and plugins then disabling it will be more problematic.

Gutenberg might fracture the WordPress community. There could be a code split. Or WordPress could get through this coming bumpy period having created a new world-class version of itself.

WordPress has always been a project that prides itself on backwards compatibility, a choice that has left the codebase large, outdated, and full of technical debt. WordPress allows the software to be run on a version of PHP (5.2.4) that has been unsupported by PHP since January 2011! Developers have been calling for this to be raised for some time but it has been postponed under the banner of backwards compatibility and the ‘Design for the Majority’ philosophy because the “average WordPress user simply wants to be able to write without problems or interruption.”

But Gutenberg is quite a departure from this stance. The goal of the project has dictated the need to use modern technologies (React, REST API), and therefore it circumvents the problematic parts of core. Matt Mullenweg views this as a positive, perhaps not willing to admit the double standard here.

Time will tell if the Gutenberg project is a success. It certainly is powerful software and could be a gamechanger. Although I joked about not liking change, I see the value in it. It is necessary to grow and push forward. But only when the change is well thought out, initiated for the right reasons, and adopted in a sensible fashion.