We are finally (barring any last-minute delays) approaching the time when WordPress 5.0 is released. With it comes a certain new editor that has drummed up quite a lot of debate along the way. Unless you’ve been hiding under that proverbial rock for the past two years, you know that Gutenberg is going to transform WordPress the minute it’s merged into core.
Of course, this process would go off-script without some last-minute drama. There have been a number of calls from some in the community (including yours truly) to further delay Gutenberg in order to squash some bugs.
Speaking from my own experience using the editor, the bugs tend to be minor annoyances. I’ve found that some tasks aren’t very intuitive while others seem to be missing altogether when compared to the Classic Editor.
Add all of these little annoyances up and it makes for a sometimes-frustrating user experience. But this doesn’t mean that Gutenberg is fatally flawed. It just needs more time to ripen on the vine.
A Rush to the Presses
Gutenberg has been on the WordPress community’s radar since early 2017. In the time since, a lot of potential release dates were proposed. Therefore, there has been a lot of buzz and uncertainty regarding the effect it would have and how to prepare for it.
Understandably, there is some pressure on the development team to get Gutenberg officially launched. It’s the shiny new feature that should be showcased to the world. It proves that WordPress has matured beyond its blogging roots and is now a fully-sophisticated content creation tool.
One can only imagine the complexity of the work involved. Those who are building and testing the new editor deserve a collective pat on the back for getting so much accomplished in such a short window of time.
But this rapid pace of development also means that some usability and accessibility concerns aren’t being met. It certainly doesn’t seem like an intentional omission on anyone’s part. Rather, it’s a side-effect that goes along when speeding towards a fast-approaching deadline. Those little details can easily get lost in the shuffle or pushed aside while there are bigger fish to fry.
The result is that Gutenberg does many of the big things really well, but is still a bit rough around the edges. That should concern anyone who cares about the present and future of WordPress.
Looking for the “Right” Time
I think it’s fair to say that all software, no matter how polished, is imperfect. There are always going to be bugs. If there weren’t, we wouldn’t have much need for new releases.
All the existential debate aside, the question becomes: When is Gutenberg truly ready for release?
First, that decision is (thankfully) in the hands of people who know way more than me. Whatever timeline WordPress has put out, they have their reasons for doing so.
However, I do feel that the community itself plays a role here. Granted, there will always be wish lists and complaints regarding whatever is put out there. But when you have a number of people reporting on legitimate UX and accessibility shortcomings, perhaps it’s worth taking a step back and listening.
The stakes here couldn’t be higher for WordPress and those who depend on it for their livelihood. If even experienced users find frustration or that expected features are missing – should it still be released on schedule, bugs-be-damned?
The first impression Gutenberg makes on users could have an impact on their future usage of WordPress. Some won’t have the patience to deal with the pain points and won’t wait around for them to be fixed.
For freelancers and agencies, this may also make it harder to sell WordPress to clients in good faith. We choose WordPress because of its ease-of-use and the ability to tailor the experience to meet client needs. That’s going to be more difficult to do if Gutenberg is missing some nuts and bolts.
This can all be temporarily avoided by sticking with the Classic Editor. But with support slated to end in 2021, it’s not a long-term solution, either.
The Good News
The most positive aspect of this situation is that, in my view, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Gutenberg that can’t be fixed. As new releases of the plugin version have gone out, more and more bugs are getting squashed. That alone should give even the most cynical among us some confidence in what’s happening.
Perhaps the most important decision the powers-that-be have to make is determining how many of these issues they’re willing to live with at release. That, in turn, will have a lot of say in those oh-so-important first impressions from users.
It’s vitally important that Gutenberg work as well as possible when WordPress 5.0 is shipped. Whether that can happen within a tight timeline remains to be seen.