Gutenberg will push average users away from WordPress

Unhappy developer

I wrote this article because I felt enough wasn’t being said about Gutenberg.

Well, we all know that’s not strictly true. There’s been more written about Gutenberg in the last couple of months than on any other WordPress topic. It’s the most emotive subject ever for developers and designers and everyone involved in WordPress.

But I think there’s one area where there hasn’t been enough discussion and that’s the effect of Gutenberg on average end-users of WordPress. I think we will see a significant subsection of WordPress users totally alienated by Gutenberg, which will impact on developers, consultants and agencies.

What is an average WordPress user?

Matt Medeiros wrote a really perceptive piece about the role of the blue-collar WordPress worker in contributing to WordPress’s growth. Blue-collar WP workers, he contended, were the boots on the ground, the developers who built websites for clients.

Average WordPress users, to me, are the blue-collar worker’s end client. They’re the people, probably running a small business, who’ve just had a WordPress website installed and configured for them. They’re not technical, they don’t have a technical person in their team, and they don’t have a lot of time on their hands.

Average WordPress users wouldn’t know how to install a theme or plugin; they just want to keep their content up to date.

I think this group of people are going to really struggle with Gutenberg.

Gutenberg is not for average users

Around eight years ago, I started a web development company building sites for local businesses. At that time, many website owners were more or less held to ransom by web agencies and developers because whenever they wanted an update to their site, even just a simple content change, they had to make a request to their developer. This meant excessive costs and delays for even the most basic updates.

I felt that there was a real opportunity to create sites that users could manage and update themselves. It didn’t take me long to settle on which platform I was going to use: I became a blue-collar WordPress worker.

“Editing in WordPress is as easy as using Microsoft Word”

When I spoke to new and potential clients about updating their site, the analogy I used was that if you were happy writing a document in Word, you would be comfortable updating content in WordPress. I felt, and still feel, that’s a reasonable way of looking at it.

However, I didn’t anticipate the number of clients who struggled even at that level: adding a new post, editing the content, selecting a category were challenging activities for some clients. The sites I was building were not complex but often people found the whole WordPress experience overwhelming. I will always remember one client telling me that the reason they were going to another developer, who still worked on the chargeable update model, was that they “just couldn’t get on with WordPress”.

Gutenberg is going to make this worse.

The current WordPress editing experience is inadequate

There is no doubt in my mind that improvements can be made to the existing editing experience.

Let’s say you’re editing and updating a WordPress site at the moment. You’re not using a page builder or any other tool that adds non-native WordPress elements.

You go to your latest blog post and you want to do three things:

  1. Make a small edit to the content (say you’ve noticed a typo)
  2. You want to add a widget to your sidebar
  3. You want to update a plugin’s settings (let’s say you want to tweak your SEO plugin)

At the moment, you need to go three separate ways to achieve this:

  1. Click ‘Edit Post’ to edit the content and fix the typo
  2. Open the Customizer to add a widget and make other layout changes
  3. Go to the main dashboard to edit Settings

This is a massive pain in the neck. The problem is that Gutenberg doesn’t solve this; in fact, it makes it even more complex.

Gutenberg is brilliant for devs

Nonetheless, with all this said, I really like Gutenberg. I’ve spent some time playing with it: I’ve been through Zac Gordon’s Gutenberg Development Course and I’ve started building some simple plugins to create blocks. Gutenberg feels very exciting for devs and designers. It’s a native page builder.

There’s also some really interesting stuff from Weston Ruter here which looks at editing content via the Customizer. If there is the potential to see front-end editing via Gutenberg or the Customizer, then that’s going to be amazing. Amazing if WordPress is your day job.

But it doesn’t make it any easier for the average, non-technical user. In fact, if you are not technically minded, you are going to hate Gutenberg. It’s going to be intimidating and it’s going to put you off WordPress. If you make your money from WordPress, that’s going to affect you.

I feel the Classic Editor plugin is going to get extremely popular in the months to come.

One comment

  1. User image

    I know a lot of traditional web agencies (outside the WordPress hardcore community), that use WordPress now, and have built scores of WordPress sites in the last few years. Whenever I mention Gutenberg to them, they have completely blank looks on their faces. Will be real interesting to see how this plays out in the coming months.

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