I took the plunge a couple of weeks back and dived in to the new WordPress block-editor, which they’ve called Gutenberg, after Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg (1400 – 1468) who invented the printing press for the west. This post is written using the new system.
I didn’t do this lightly. My main irritation with software is the way that developers keep chopping and changing established systems, at times purely – it seems – because of the commercial need to present novelty, an issue that reflects not just money but also market share and attention. Familiar ways of doing things get thrown aside and users are forced into learning curves that stifle productivity.
Another gripe is the way that we’re slaves to whatever parameters and capabilities the corporate masters of the programmers deem we should have; we work in the way focus-groups and social engineers insist we must, or we hit the highway. That’s inevitable, given the nature of it: software is a tool, and each program has its features. You can’t make a hammer turn into a ruler or a saw. But it still annoys me to hit limits that somebody else has built into a system because of their own philosophy – these days an ‘averaged-corporate’ one – which doesn’t take account of individual approaches. Especially mine, but hey…
On the other hand, often a major change introduces something that is incredibly useful and amazing. So I am both excited and wary about anything new. Enter 2019. Enter Gutenberg.
It didn’t take me long to figure out how Gutenberg works; I’ve worked with block editors before – essentially, they are front ends for HTML coding – and this one was pretty much in the same league. It’s also straight-forward, and intentionally so I suppose. It didn’t take me long – maybe half an hour – to run some tests and figure out how to do about 80 percent of the stuff I’d been doing in other ways previously. I expect I’ll discover other stuff as I go along.
Once I’d come to grips with what Gutenberg could do, it also didn’t take me long to spot people using it. Drop-cap, for example, is a nice classic typographical effect for an opening paragraph that I like. Such beasties are possible with HTML, but fiddly. The block editor does them with a switch that applies per-block.
WordPress’ engineers have also made swathes of text colour easy to achieve, per block. This is another thing possible in HTML via hex code, and quite flexibly if you do it the hard way. With hard-coding using hex values, you can apply colour letter by letter. Gutenberg’s user-friendly UI doesn’t support that degree of fidelity, but if you dig under the hood, you can still apply custom HTML coding. However, most users don’t. So I’ve seen posts with whole blocks of coloured text, often switching from colour to colour (hex number #00ff00 to you… which because of the general style applied by the blog theme I’m using might appear as lower-case o’s on some systems and configurations, but actually they’re zeroes. Just saying).
Personally I find main-text colour switching a bit irritating from a reader perspective, though I guess it’s inevitable that people will use the up-front capabilities of any new piece of software. I still remember, years ago, when Adobe InDesign came out with an easy way to add drop-shadow to anything. Instantly, designers were creating a ‘drop-shadow’ look everywhere. (Don’t get me started on Photoshop layer blend options and modern book covers…)
So yeah, I just picked up WordPress’s Gutenberg and barrelled on with nary a pause. Partly it’s because I speak geek fairly well, and I’ve been working professionally in the writing/editing/publishing business for over (cough cough) 35 years, one way and another. I’ve seen a lot of software roll past and in that sense, this is just another one. My main gripe is that the scheduling feature doesn’t mark up a ‘future calendar’ of where posts are going to appear, as the old did. Or maybe it does, and my software doesn’t display it because I am a total paranoid about security settings.
However, in general, I’d say Gutenberg is easier to use and more versatile than its predecessor. Up until now, a fair number of my posts have been composed in a word processor and pasted into WordPress’s older text editor for final styling and illustrating. But with Gutenberg, maybe I’ll start composing more blog posts natively in it. We’ll see.
Have you tried it out yet? What were your experiences?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2018