Gutenberg, the new WordPress editor is scheduled for release on November 27. I hope for the best. I really do.
But I’m bracing for the worst.
I’ve used and built sites with WordPress for a long time. I’ve drunk a lot of the WordPress Cool-aid over the past decade. Along the way I’ve had my share of quarrels with it. But for all these years, it’s been one of the best things going.
With Gutenberg, that changes. At least for me. A lot of the posts I see tread on egg shells to say that “Gutenberg is great and has a lot of potential, but…” Let me be completely honest. I absolutely hate it.
There, I said it.
I get what they’re trying to do. I can even see that some of the things Gutenberg does, or tries to do, could be useful. But to me, the whole architecture is a mess, and I can’t see how it’s going to get anything but messier as it progresses. It’s like a cancer.
This is not a personal issue with anyone. Lots of people have put countless hours into it. They believe in it. They’re doing what they think is right and good. I wish them well. But I hate it.
Every time I’ve tried to use it – and I’ve tried it several times at various stages of its development over the past year, and as recently as last week – every time has ended in frustration and cursing. And then, after a good cry, when I’ve turned it off, I’ve found it’s inserted a mess of code within HTML comments within post data. It makes a fucking garbage dump of content.
It’s been suggested that Gutenberg is trying to imitate Wix and SquareSpace where you can drag and drop anything anywhere. For some people, that’s great. But I’ve long hated Wix and SquareSpace because that’s the only way to put content into them, and it frustrates me to no end. To me, it’s like being trapped in the old world of Microsoft FrontPage.
Maybe I’m extra averse to React because it came from Facebook, a company I have less and less respect for every day, and I don’t want to have anything remotely to do with it. But whatever my feelings about its origins, the extensive use of a proprietary library in an open source project remains, in my mind, highly suspect.
But, maybe it’s all for the best that this is happening.
Off and on for the past year and a little longer, I’ve been looking at other platforms. I have yet to find one that I really like very much. So I’ve been sticking with WordPress, and have the Classic Editor plugin installed on every site I work with.
The good news is, the core team has agreed to maintain the Classic Editor for 3 years. The bad news is, they’ve agreed to maintain it for 3 years. Which means I have about 3 years to transition to other platforms.
There are a few possibilities.
ClassicPress is a fork of WordPress. They promise a more “democratic” development process. I’m not sure what that means, exactly. But what is clear about it is that within a few versions, it will become its own distinct thing. What I’m most curious about is whether, free of the WordPress restrictions on back compatibility, it will invest substantially in paying off the tremendous burdens of technical debt WordPress carries. Will they gradually upgrade the minimum PHP version to 7.1, for example? Will they refactor all the cursed globals WordPress is notorious for? Will they refactor all these global functions into proper testable classes with real namespaces? Will they transition to PSR filenames? If so, it may become better than the original.
I’ve also dabbled with the October CMS. I’m even using it for one of my other blogs. It’s built on the Laravel framework, and there are a lot of things I like about it. But for typical client sites, it’s not there yet.
As for other mature CMS platforms, Drupal and Joomla are still the 2 obvious candidates. And of those 2 Drupal has always seemed to me far more powerful, and its user interface has come a long way. Even so, it’s far less intuitive for non-power users to get around.
Leaving the PHP world behind, Ghost has a lot of appeal. Really, for blogs, news and info sites, it’s probably the best thing going right now. Built on Node, it’s wicked fast and easy-peasy to write in. Downside: it doesn’t have e-commerce support yet.
WordPress has done a lot of good for a lot of people. It’s been a good run for me. I hope my reservations about the impending release prove unfounded. But my gut says that when millions of people log into their dashboards on November 28 and wonder what the hell happened to their site, and why is this new thing so damn hard to use, WordPress’s climb to “running 30% of the web” will have peaked. Certainly, from a business perspective, it will have lost any claim to be considered an “enterprise-level” platform.
Yes, I’m still going to be using WordPress. For a while. I’m not jumping ship right away. But I’ll be trying out other platforms. And when I discover platforms that are well suited for specific website needs, you bet I’ll use them.
What’s clear is that there’s not one size that fits all any more when it comes to websites. Using WordPress for everything – can it really be that 30% of the web is that homogeneous, or have we been trying to shoehorn so much into a single platform that it’s finally reached its breaking point – has probably always been a less-than-stellar idea, and we’re just now waking up to that reality. Some sites need “blocks.” Others clearly don’t. And it’s a good developer who knows the difference.