I've been watching the development of Gutenberg closely since June 2017, it was when I noticed that it's going to be so much more than just an improved editor. I've also been a vocal critic of the Gutenberg introduction since then. This is not because I don't like the idea behind Gutenberg or because I'm against it. For the record, I actually like Gutenberg in its current state and I can see how it's opening up many new possibilities for WordPress.
However, what I don't like is how Gutenberg has been introduced (unclear roadmap, vague information, missing details, etc…) and especially not how fast it's being introduced. I've often heard that Gutenberg needs to be introduced quickly because WordPress has a problem with the competition. I've even read that in a year or two WordPress will be irrelevant if Gutenberg won't be included soon. To be honest, I don't agree with these theories.
- WordPress market share
- It's all a matter of perspective
- Gutenberg will be the future of WordPress
- The cost of making small businesses ready for Gutenberg
- The human side of things
- Outlook on the great new world with Gutenberg
WordPress market share
I may be completely wrong, but I don't see that WordPress (at least not the open-source project) will have a problem with the competition soon. It's dominating the CMS market with a whopping 60% market share and round about a 3rd of the internet is running WordPress. The market share of the so called competition is so far away that it's even hard to find, often far below 1%. They have their own problems to deal with.
That leaves the question who's market share are we talking about? I know that some people in the community argue that it's rather about the market share of WordPress.com. I've expressed similar concerns in the past and I won't go down that route again. However, actually most of the WordPress businesses out there are doing absolutely fine business wise (including us). I don't see that changing within the next few years. But Gutenberg changes everything and I feel that the impact of Gutenberg on existing WordPress businesses is heavily underestimated.
It's all a matter of perspective
While watching the discussions around Gutenberg, I noticed that people who express their concerns are often quickly called out as “being afraid of change”. I don't think that this is reasonable when you take the major paradigm shift that comes with Gutenberg into account. I think it's all a matter of perspective.
It's interesting when people who are not running a product based WordPress business, or not even a business at all, tell business owners that being concerned about Gutenberg is wrong. It's easy to say that with Gutenberg everything will be fine if you're going to benefit from it or if you've nothing to lose. You may be even running an agency and look forward to Gutenberg so that you can charge your clients to fix or update their sites.
However, if you were running a highly profitable product based WordPress business before Gutenberg for years, Gutenberg then turns your whole business around and you're not even sure what exactly your business is going to look like after the transition, then things probably are a bit more complicated. I think it's perfectly legit that business owners are concerned in such a scenario, at least when they care about their own business.
I think this doesn't have anything to do with “being afraid of change”. Change actually is a good thing, without change there is stagnation. However, there is a huge difference if you make a business decision when time is right because you notice an issue while running your own business or if someone else makes that decison for you. With Gutenberg some business owners may feel that they've lost control over their own business, as they are forced to adapt in a certain time frame while this was not even their own decision. Tony Perez said it pretty well in his recent blog post:
If I were the plugin / themes shops I would be rightfully concerned and upset. It's this feeling of frustration, and possibly betrayal. As a small business, there is already limited time and resources to support the needs of acquiring new customers, let alone supporting the ones you have, and now there is new requirement that feels extremely exhausting.
The real question I would be asking myself is not whether I can support it, but rather what does it do to my product category when it becomes standardized in core? My general feeling is that the WordPress business landscape will be look dramatically different in five years. Where does your product / business sit?
Gutenberg will be the future of WordPress
Gutenberg will be the future of WordPress, and that pretty soon, whether we like it or not. In his State of the Word 2017 Matt Mullenweg has made that pretty clear. He'll also keep his core lead hat on for another year to ensure that nothing gets in its way. That means we're All-in into Gutenberg and we now need to do everything to make the best out of this situation. There is not much time left to prepare for this.
It's worth mentioning that Gutenberg really has come a long way since its initial release. The Gutenberg team has done a great job, especially under the special circumstances. The editor can be used very well now, although there still are some unsolved issues. But I'm sure that the team will keep polishing Gutenberg until release.
I also see that the communication and documentation by the Gutenberg team has greatly improved. This was one of the main issues a few months ago and it was causing lots of frustration for developers. It's hard to recode your products and make a shift to Gutenberg if you don't know what is necessary and where things are going next. Props especially to Tammie Lister who's basically responding to each Gutenberg review on WordPress.org. Dealing with all these 1-star reviews must be tough, especially if you keep repeating yourself.
It's obvious that Gutenberg definitely will open up interesting new possibilities for developers, which is exciting. It has the potential to change the way people create and consume content tomorrow. Morten Rand-Hendriksen even goes that far to take VR or AR into account as way to consume the content of the future. With that said, there are interesting times ahead. Ok, if you want to read more praise about Gutenberg, there are other articles for that. 🙂
The cost of making small businesses ready for Gutenberg
When you start a business, you usually have a plan. You know what your product is going to be and who your target audience is. You then start developing your product for the particular purpose. Usually your customers decide how your product will evolve and you listen to their needs and struggles. You then make decisions on how you're going to change your product based on customer feedback. This decision is made by you, as the owner of your business.
With Gutenberg on the other hand a 3rd party has made this business decision for the whole WordPress ecosystem. You can spend lots of time complaining about that, but it usually won't make much of a difference. The only thing you can do is rethink your business. That means you need to deal with it and try to make the best out of it. The cost for the Gutenberg transition has to be paid, in reality by each WordPress business that wants to stay in business.
I've always been an advocate of small WordPress businesses as I think they are very important for the ecosystem. The thousands of independent developers, consultants, agencies, freelancers and more are what made WordPress what it is today. You can also call them the blue-collar WordPress workers and some would argue that they are responsible for a large portion of the current WordPress market share.
The human side of things
I think it's crucial that we don't forget the human side of things. Great leadership also means caring about people. It's not only about dictating what needs to get done, it's also about listening to the concerns, struggles and fears of the people within your responsibility. It's not a secret that burnout is a common thing in the WordPress community.
Many small businesses in the WordPress ecosystem are often only a one-man show. These businesses are neither venture capital backed, nor do they have an armada of developers who can take care of the additional workload related to Gutenberg. However, these many many small businesses have made WordPress what it is today, they contributed many of the 50k+ plugins and thousands of themes on WordPress.org.
It's not uncommon that these small businesses often generate only $3k-5k monthly revenue. This isn't much to make a living, especially not if the business owner is located in the United States or in Western Europe. We've actually acquired 3-4 of these businesses in the past few years because the developers gave up their business. A 20-30% drop in revenue for these people means fight for survival. They don't have the luxury to think highly strategic, they're trying to pay their rent next month. Who's going to tell these folks that they don't need to be concerned?
I see a risk where these people rather move away from WordPress and get a new full-time job somewhere than investing in an uncertain future. They simply can't afford it. The cost related to Gutenberg is real, it's not a theoretical event. Each and every business in the WordPress ecosystem needs to pay for it, whether they want it or not. Some can afford it, others won't. We may even see a new flourishing ecosystem under Gutenberg, I'm actually pretty excited about that. However, if we're honest, it's all pure speculation at the moment and it may also come different.
What if you have that great idea for this awesome new Gutenberg block, it may even become highly successful and sell extremely well. But it also may end up in core at some point, if the particular authority notices that this is something many people want. I expect that adding new functionality to core will become easier than ever before because of the standardization that is introduced with Gutenberg. What are you going to do then? Start from scratch? Another reset of your business? I think this is a thought you need at least to be aware of.
Outlook on the great new world with Gutenberg
How will the WordPress ecosystem look like a few years from now? I think it's hard to tell, but I feel it will be very different from what we have today. We may see SaaS companies like WordPress.com flourishing because they finally have the page builder in core to compete with their competition. New promising blocks may be added to core to simply extend this all-in-one site builder. Will we still see a rich ecosystem of many different themes and plugins?
I'm not sure if the majority of the ecosystem will survive this change, at least not the small product based businesses. I'm confident that the big guys will still be around. We'll also probably still have WordPress themes and plugins, but I think they will play a different role than today. I think the number of actively maintained and compatible themes and plugins will heavily decrease. There is a great post on WPShout about the possible consequences for the ecosystem.
I hope you don't get me wrong, this post isn't supposed to be a rant. I'm not suffering from Gutenfear and actually I'm pretty excited about the future. However, I also think it's important to raise awareness about the many independent developers out there who live in uncertainty while trying to find a way to survive this scenario. Don't forget about these folks, they are the WordPress community too.
Gutenberg has the potential to become something great. At the same time it may also divide the WordPress community and kill a large portion of the ecosystem. Some even suggest that forking WordPress or at least a soft fork would be the way to go. I think it's important that we don't forget about the responsibility that comes with WordPress, we're talking about 29% of the internet. That doesn't leave much room for experiments.
I think introducing Gutenberg slowly while leaving enough time (not only a few months) is the least that can be done. That would give the ecosystem a chance to adapt and rethink businesses. Gutenberg could be included in core, but not activated by default. Instead it could stay a plugin for a while, until the adoption has reached a point where making it the default would be appropriate. However, I'm afraid that's not going to happen. What are your thoughts?