Introducing WordPress’ Gutenberg editor to The Big Tech Question

I’ve been writing for The Big Tech Question (BTQ) website for some time now. It’s my first foray into serious journalism but it really lets me sharpen my teeth on higher quality writing – one that I can then use back at my job with Automattic too.

But the link between the two doesn’t end there. When I joined them they were using WordPress but hosted somewhere, well, not very good. I convinced them to move to and, now, I’ve moved them onto the Gutenberg (GB) editor. In this post I want to give a little more detail on why, how and what then happened!

First, the why. Gutenberg is happening. Probably by the end of the year it will be part of core, although you will be able to switch it off. There is a lot of negativity swirling around about this editor but that mainly appears to be around compatibility of existing themes and plugins – the new block based editing system itself is pretty sound and, from my own experience, I felt it would suit the journalistic requirements of BTQ.

With my background, it was no surprise that the owners of BTQ gave me admin access, although I’m always careful about my use of it – tempting thought it may be to add new features that I think will be beneficial, it’s NOT my site to tinker with. However, after directing them to the Test Gutenberg site, I convinced them to let me try it out on the site, once I’d confirmed that it wouldn’t make any different to the front-end of the site. We could switch it on, try it out and, if necessary switch it off. But, to be honest, there are enough plugins around to manage GB that fully switching it off was probably unlikely.

So, I set Monday (27th August) as the day of “go live”. First, I noted down the changes to the existing editor that their theme and plugins had made – I needed to see which of these didn’t move over to Gutenberg. BTQ had the following…

  • Meks Shortcodes plugin adds a button to the editor bar to allow you to select the new shortcodes easily
  • WP Review and Yoast SEO plugins add a number of meta boxes to the post editor
  • There are 3 additional options added to the Publish box – Publicize (part of Jetpack), Yoast and AMP
  • The theme adds a number of meta boxes to both posts and pages

I then activated Gutenberg and re-checked. And, yeah, there were some issues.

  • No Meks Shortcodes button on the editor. These shortcodes have been barely used up to now and, for now, I’ve directed the editors to the plugins’ instructions, which list them out. In time, once we move to GB fully, I’ll look for GB compatible equivalents (and there are many about)
  • The Publish box options have gone, which I guessed would happen. Jetpack doesn’t really work with GB (yet) – for now, you have to use the option to edit with the classic editor to change your Publicize text (I have to do the same on this site). AMP – mey, nobody was using this option. Yoast, well, they’ve recently released a new version of their plugin which makes good use of Gutenberg – meta boxes are still present a new icon in the top right of the editor allows you to view and edit essential Yoast options
  • The big issues, though, was that the theme meta boxes for PAGES were not appearing. They worked fine for posts. Before I’d gone ahead, I’d contacted the developers of the theme being used by BTQ and they’d confirmed that there would be issues with BTQ and were working on an update – good news

So, the only immediate thing was the last one. The meta boxes in question control the home page, and they did need to be available. I immediately turned to Gutenberg Ramp, a plugin created by my own team. This allowed me to have GB switched on for JUST posts. However, it also gets rid of the option to use either editor – I end up only being able to use GB for posts, which I didn’t want. In the end, I turned to Gutenberg Manager which allowed this AND has the added ability to control what blocks are made available to users – this might be something we want to pursue in future to restrict what writers can do with their articles.

And that’s how I left it. Posts are using GB, pages are not – I await a theme fix to resolve this. As well as looking at the Meks Shortcodes issue in due course, once we’ve settled into Gutenberg and are happy, I’ll start recommending some other GB-specific plugins that may assist them (the excellent Drop It plugin springs to mind).

So, why do this so early? Apart from the writers gaining the early benefits of Gutenberg this has allowed us to look and see where there are issues and gives us time to find solutions. If it was bad, we could have totally reversed out. Yes, I know we’ll be able to do the exact same come WordPress 5.0, but the timescales are dictated by us and not that particular release.

Lastly, I’m able to get some non-technical-user feedback. I’ve kicked off for some early feedback and will continue to do so again in the coming months – any issues highlighted I can feedback (as can anybody) to the project. The voices of users are being heard so it’s a good time to do it sooner rather than later.

For example, here’s the initial thoughts of Barry…

I like it in many respects. Makes it easier to do more creative layouts. I think it makes the CMS a bit more jumbled and people are making mistakes more often – ie. not putting ALT text on images, as Gutenberg doesn’t bring that front and centre. Overall, I think it’s a positive move, though.

So, in this case, Barry’s point about the ALT text… I’m going to look into this further, comparing the editors and, if necessary, will log something for the project. Is this worse than with the old editor? Whether it is or not, how can it be improved?

For now, this is where we’re at. I’ll keep this post up-to-date with progress and any further feedback. Of course, my own site has been running with Gutenberg for many, many months – in fact, I’ve recently moved to a Gutenberg-specific theme for maximum compatibility. But that’s for another day (and another post).

Update, 2nd September

Yoast breaks posts when you’re using Gutenberg 3.7.0. Apparently, a fix by Yoast is due tomorrow – for now, an article was converted back to the classic editor so that it could be published. I’ve since downgraded Gutenberg to 3.6.2 and that’s resolved the problem for now. My take from this – I shouldn’t be too hasty updating Gutenberg and maybe leave it a week.

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