Can we talk about Gutenberg and some of the toxic elements of the community?

Unlike so many of the articles on the subject of Gutenberg, I’m not going to review it. I’ve run it on my site for some time and think it’s great. As a non-JS (okay, I know a little) developer, it’s going to be a steep hill to convert my plugins but as a user, I think it’s an amazing improvement.

No, I want to talk about some of the toxicity in the community and discuss some of the conspiracy theories that accompanies this.

As a disclaimer, I work for Automattic, the company behind However, I do not work on the Gutenberg project and have no further knowledge than anybody else – views are all my own, etc.

For years, users have been clamouring for an improvement to the rather plain editor. Back in 2016, WP Tavern tackled this with a comparison of the WordPress editor with the others on the market, including Medium’s block-based version. Comments were overwhelmingly in favour of something needing to be done – this one, in particular, stood out…

I’m concerned that WordPress has been caught flat-footed while the world races ahead. MCE buttons, shortcodes, and even the customizer are way behind what others are doing. The post/page editor is one of the most critical part of WordPress. It is the face that WP presents to those publishing with WP on a daily basis. These are the people who ultimately decide if WP is the right solution to meet their needs. It is a serious problem that this part of WP is so primitive.

T Piwowar

And you can find lots of similar posts, with similar comments, when you go back a few years. People wanted an improved editor, particularly as the competition to WordPress were streets ahead.

Then, Gutenberg is announced – a major overhaul to the editor, which will also cause some plugins and themes to break for users, if changes aren’t made to support it. It’s released as an early Beta plugin. Based on reviews, for every person who loves it, one doesn’t. The problem here was that many of those leaving reviews were complaining about features that didn’t work, which is what you’ll always get with Beta releases (my personal thoughts are that reviews shouldn’t be allowed on for Beta versions – only the support forum should be used). Never-the-less, the Gutenberg team have been very responsive at cataloguing and recording reported issues and ideas. The key here, as with all WordPress releases, is that it’s a community effort – anybody can get involved, whether making code changes, talking about issues on Github or joining their meetings on Slack.

When it became known that Gutenberg would soon become part of core, and a “call to action” was added to a recent core release, the numbers of those installing Gutenberg vastly increased. As did the number of reviews, both positive and negative. Now out of beta, the product is looking more complete.

But, the toxicity of discussion around Gutenberg has also increased. Someone has even forked WordPress to ensure Gutenberg isn’t the default editor (which is an odd decision, given that a plugin exists – and will do for many years – to do just the same thing). Here are a few arguments that are made…

“There are thousands of terrible reviews of Gutenberg”

The score for Gutenberg is about neutral – around 2.5 out of 5, indicating there are about as many positive as negative. 

But we have to consider that most people only write reviews when emotionally charged – either positively or negatively. And generally the latter. For better or worse, the new editor rarely gets pulses racing that much – it’s really good but I’m not performing cartwheels. For anybody who’s worked in customer services, you’ll know that people are far more likely to ring with a complaint than to ring and compliment you. So, a large number of negative reviews is probably representative of a passionate minority.

That’s not to say they’re ignored in any way and the project team have been engaging with them as much as possible. Even then, though, that’s lead to criticism of a lack of empathy and cut/paste responses – which is unfair as you’re dealing directly with the designers and developers and not a marketing/support ream. And, yes, they’re having to plough through a lot of responses, so cut/paste responses is exactly what I’d expect.

“But admins have been removing negative reviews”

Volunteers who look after the forums (and that includes reviews) HAVE been removing some Gutenberg reviews, and usually the low rated ones. Why? Because some have been leaving diatribes on why this is the wrong editor, etc, without giving any specifics – i.e. a review without any points to make. As the admins point out, the reviews section is not your place to blog (just as if I’d written all of this as a Gutenberg review). They’re not singling out Gutenberg and will do the same for any plugin review.

If you write a true review, even if it a negative, 1-star one, it will remain.

“Gutenberg is all about competing in the market”

“Matt said that Gutenberg is about catching up with the competition. That’s not competition for, its for”

That’s not 100% correct. When talking about better editor experiences, such as Medium, they are exactly the competition for As a platform, WordPress competes with other CMS’ that are available – Medium, Wix, Ghost, Drupal, etc. But, with 30%+ of the CMS market, competitors for also include other WordPress hosts – WP Engine, etc. The fact that Matt is talking about Medium, et al, as competition shows that he IS talking about

And this is the thing – if Gutenberg was all about Matt increasing marketshare for, he wouldn’t be making this available in core, as that makes it available equally for the other WordPress hosting competitors too as well as other platforms (developers have already ported Gutenberg to Drupal).

Although Automattic provide a number of their staff to the Gutenberg project, quite a lot of the team aren’t. If they thought they were slogging away on this for Matt’s private benefit, they wouldn’t be doing it. It does their work a huge disservice to suggest otherwise.

“But the majority of people agree with me”

A lot of people think that if a few people on a forum agree with one of their views, that must mean that the majority of people are behind them. I see this a lot, and it’s a faulty assumption.

At best, you can assume that anybody who has agreed with you does so. That doesn’t necessarily scale up. 

“They ignored my issue”

If you find a bug and report it in Github, chances are it’ll be looked at and fixed. Got a good idea? The project will consider it, depending on many different factors (how useful it is, time to implement, etc).

However, writing up some extreme request (“I WANT THIS TAKEN OUT OF CORE”) and then finding it doesn’t get implemented, is not indicative of the project ignoring everyone.

“This can’t be put in core, as it still has over 1,000 open issues”

Yes it does. But “issues” is the term used by Github, but actually includes requested enhancements and general discussion. What this doesn’t mean is that there’s 1000 bugs. And of those that are bugs, most will be minor.

The reality is, if any large project such as this didn’t release their product until they’d got rid of all bugs, it would never see the light of day. Other big live projects, such as Yoast, have more reported issues than this. The important thing is that the big “show stopping” bugs are fixed.

That toxicity

Let’s get back to what I mentioned at the beginning – the toxicity. The conspiracy theories are, sadly, indicative of today and so is the way people are dealing with this. Those working on the Gutenberg project have a lot of negativity and down-right nastiness to contend with and it’s totally unacceptable, whatever your views may be.

I made a mention of the toxicity on Twitter recently and, as a tongue-in-cheek finish, said “after all, it’s just an editor”. Somebody then went to the bother of visiting this site and responding (using an invalid email) to it by commenting on an unrelated post (which I binned). His issue was actually with that line about it being an editor. Here’s some of it…

Gutenberg will be a whole pagebuilder. No “Classic Editor” plugin will prevent that. Gutenberg (phase 1) will be forced upon all via WordPress 5.0. Gutenberg (phase 2) will come next. 

In this case, he’s wrong. I wasn’t referring to some far-off version but Gutenberg as it is now. But, even if it does become more of a page-builder, it’s still an editor. What a weird thing to take issue with, though?

They also refer to Matt as “your boss”, so I guess they know I work for Automattic. Which explains this line…

Maybe “they” told you something else, face the facts now and please do not spread misinformation.

Tin-foil hat conspiracy theories.

But this is nothing to what I know those involved (and some not) with the project get. Here’s a small sample of something sent to one of the (voluntary) forum moderators, via his email (which isn’t in his profile)…

And it really makes me angry to see this – not helped by the fact that the person who received this is such a nice person.

Or there’s this comment received on WP Tavern

The reality here is that Gutenberg is coming. When WordPress 5.0 hits, it will include Gutenberg by default. If you don’t like it, install the Classic Editor plugin (which you can do now, in preparation, if you wish).

But a new editor is exactly what the community has been asking for years to have. It’s the future and we really need to embrace it.

And if you don’t agree but you’re not actively doing anything about it, other than whinge in forums, then who do you have to blame? As I’ve said before, this is a community, voluntary project (as is all of WordPress) – not having time is not a sufficient excuse if you’re gaining the benefit of WordPress from other’s hard work.

One response

  1. Times like this I really want more options than liking a post. I like what you have said but the subject matter makes me very unhappy.

    It is possible to disagree with people or even absolutely hate new thing X without being a dick about it and taking it out on other people. That people claim to belong to a community, then abuse other members of that community like this makes me believe the community they are supposedly so passionate about is a community the consists of a handful of abusers and not the community the rest of us belong to.

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