Since it was launched as a blogging tool in 2003, WordPress has remained fairly true to its original architecture. The addition of plugins in 2004 gradually bolstered the platform’s versatility, enabling users to construct increasingly complex or multi-faceted websites. And yet, users from the early 2000s would find today’s user interface and adjustable templates reassuringly familiar.
However, that’s all about to change. WordPress websites are becoming ever more complex, underpinning almost 30% of the world’s live sites. As a result, the team behind WordPress believes the existing template framework isn’t sufficiently flexible. Templates also prioritize text ahead of more contemporary features like image galleries or embedded video clips. Since the long-term goal is to make every WordPress site fully customizable, work has been underway for some time to create a minimalist – yet immensely flexible – interface. And it’s finally arrived, in the shape of the Gutenberg editor.
Named after the 15th-century German inventor who developed the first mechanical printing press, Gutenberg heralds a minor revolution. Out go the familiar (if limited) generic templates, and in come the blocks. Each block represents an element on a webpage, and dozens of default elements are included:
- Images or galleries
- Video clips
- Audio files
Each block represents a compact and robust segment of code, which can be endlessly repositioned and edited without affecting its stability. Users drop blocks wherever they want, resizing each one to suit. It’s a far more modular approach than before, but the end result should ensure that every website is truly bespoke, rather than a reskinned version of a generic template. Blocks are also better suited to building mobile-optimized sites, compared to the landscape-oriented desktop interface adopted by most existing templates. Needless to say, users will be able to generate their own blocks as plugins.
While many WordPress loyalists have expressed concern (and even contempt) for Gutenberg, first-timers should find site construction considerably easier when presented with a blank screen and a swathe of pre-programmed code blocks. This instantly abolishes many of today’s technically challenging functions:
- Meta fields
- Pasted URLs
- Post formats
- Theme options
- Tables requiring third-party plugins or HTML code.
Abolishing these should expedite the process of creating a working website, in which text is expected to carry diminishing importance. Sites will be better able to adopt the streaming videos and dynamic images favored by modern designers and consumers, rather than slabs of text wrapping around a right-justified photo. Users are able to edit the entire document’s metadata and settings or customize individual blocks separately. It’ll be far simpler to drag and drop content into placeholder blocks, especially when using a mobile device. After all, editing on the fly shouldn’t necessitate a desktop login these days.
The bigger picture
Gutenberg’s rollout represents the first stage of a three-pronged plan to revolutionize site-building and customization. Throughout 2019, further steps will be rolled out to move users towards the principles of full site customization. In the meantime, glitches and challenges are still being discovered in real-world usage. Users with WordPress version 4.8 or 4.9 may install and use Gutenberg, though feedback to date has been evenly split between one and five-star reviews. The classic WordPress editor remains available for now as a free plugin, but Gutenberg will supplant it as the default editor supplied in WordPress version 5.0. Despite many objections from within the WordPress community, most users will adopt this new editor in the coming months, as work continues on launching the second generation of this world-leading content management system.
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