As you probably have noticed, a lot is going on at the moment and it seems WordPress is slowly trying to reinvent itself. While this is great and surely necessary to make it future proof, it also raises some questions and concerns. Does WordPress development go into the right direction? Is it clear what WordPress wants to be? Or does WordPress even have a marketing problem?
The Gutenberg approach and what users really need
The most exciting WordPress news in 2017 is Gutenberg – the brand-new editor which probably will ship with WordPress 5.0 and which currently is available as a plugin. It’s great to see that the editor in WordPress will be updated after all those years. However, the Gutenberg approach also raises lots of concerns amongst developers and confusion about what WordPress wants to be – to say the least.
There recently have been lots of posts on WP Tavern about Gutenberg and this seems to be the hottest topic in the WordPress community at the moment. While most people agree that WordPress needs to evolve, there also are disagreements of how this should be done. Today I stumbled upon a comment by Rick Gregory on the recent WP Tavern post:
It’s up to core to act like a product team and do the market outreach and research. Too often you all come off as a bunch of engineers without any product experience. For example… comments and feedback on… GitHub? In make.WordPress? Both of those are fine if you’re a developer but are not conducive to having non-developers give feedback. Stop being developers and start being product people. At least some of you.
While this comment probably may be a bit too harsh, since core developers usually are doing their best to ship great stuff, it also outlines some valid points.
What is the future of WordPress?
To be honest, for me the current approach goes too much in the direction of WordPress.com. While this may not be a surprise since Matt Mullenweg is lead and other Automattic folks are involved as well, I’m not sure if this is the right thing to do. Yes, WordPress.com is a blogging platform and probably many of the things they implement there make sense. But is this the right direction for WordPress core? Isn’t it great that WordPress core has become so much more than a blogging tool?
With that in mind, this whole Gutenberg approach definitely seems to make sense from a blogging perspective since the writing experience may be better than with the current editor, although there still are some hiccups. But is making this the standard in WordPress core the right direction? As some of you may have noticed already, Gutenberg currently breaks stuff that is crucial for millions of self-hosted WordPress sites (e.g. meta boxes) and it’s not sure yet how this will be solved.
Breaking things like that is the worst nightmare for thousands of theme and plugin developers. It means that countless hours of development work are down the drain and developers need to recode their products. While it’s understandable that core needs to get rid of some backwards compatibility to evolve, it probably wouldn’t be a great idea to break things that are crucial for thousands of sites.
WordPress.org is not WordPress.com
With that being said, while WordPress.com is a blogging platform, this doesn’t necessarily apply anymore to self-hosted WordPress sites. What makes sense on WordPress.com doesn’t necessarily make sense for WordPress.org. People do so much more with WordPress than just writing blog posts, they run ecommerce sites, business directories, Q&A sites, social networks, etc… Some self-hosted sites may even not use the editor but solely work with meta boxes or other stuff.
The current Gutenberg approach seems to downgrade WordPress from a highly flexible CMS to become a blogging tool, again. Yes, WordPress.com may have an issue to compete with Wix, Medium or Squarespace and surely Automattic investors want to see ROI. But is this necessarily a problem of WordPress? Does WordPress really need to compete with these platforms or isn’t it so much more?
How should WordPress evolve?
Does WordPress need a better editor? Oh yes! Should WordPress break functionality that does not apply to regular blogging? Definitely no, since this functionality is a crucial aspect of WordPress as well. WordPress isn’t anymore just about blogging. One of the main benefits of WordPress are the thousands of available themes and plugins so that people can extend their site to become whatever they want. WordPress isn’t WordPress.com and people don’t just blog.
WordPress has become what it is because of the many small theme and plugin developers who have developed great stuff. It probably would be the worst mistake in WordPress history to sacrifice this. I’m confident that core developers will have that in mind while taking things forward. But it’s also understandable that there currently is lots of confusion and uncertainty amongst developers.
With that being said, the comment by Rick Gregory has a valid point. A crucial aspect of marketing is doing research and ship stuff that people really need. What people need isn’t necessarily what developers think they need. That’s why it’s important to ask users for feedback before making decisions that will change their life. Has WordPress a marketing problem? Well, at least the PR for Gutenberg could have been handled better with a clear statement and roadmap.
Update August 2017: While Gutenberg still is a very controversal topic, in the meanwhile the developers have made a statement that the Meta Box API won’t be deprecated. However, how meta boxes will be handled by Gutenberg is still under discussion and there hasn’t been a final decision yet.