Is my Wordpress site compatible with 5.0 'Gutenberg'?

 
gutenberg.png

Wordpress 5.0 Guetenberg: Caution.

Introduction

This post is stimulated by an email we received this morning from an emminent Wordpress Theme developer. They are obviously concerned that there are issues with their commercial template offers and the new version of Wordress 5.0 ‘Gutenberg’

The email from a nameless (but very large) Theme Retailer said......


"Does my theme work with Gutenberg?

Maybe! We're happy for you to try out your theme with the new Gutenberg editor — many of our simple themes work just great. But for now we're officially recommending that you use the Classic Editor plugin with any of our themes. Right now our email support will not cover Gutenberg.

Why have you made this decision?

Don't get us wrong, we love what Gutenberg brings to the table! But we feel that our themes and Make builder are much better suited to the classic editor right now. For this reason, we're giving people what we think is a win-win option: to use classic editor where it works best and to switch per-post/page to Gutenberg where they'd prefer the new editor."


Background

Wordpress is a great place to build websites. There. I’ve said it.

There is no denying that a database driven web site with baked in permission groups and hierarchy and a superb blog engine is very attractive. I've build lots of commercial applications using an application Stack based on it.

Wordpress 4 and earlier had a basic native page and post editor which required advanced skills to make nice pages. Themes, Plugins and Widgets from hundreds of different suppliers vied with one another to offer a plethora of different approaches to building and maintaining modern web pages. It is regarded as a core Wordpress strength that you can customise it in any way you wish.

Squarespace and Wordpress are converging?

Wordpress and Squarespace are similar up to a point. They both use templates (or Themes) to help users create the structure and layout of their content, they can both look superb, they both allow end users to manage complex website management tasks.

Gutenberg changes Wordpress

The introduction of Blocks in the Gutenberg interface makes it increasingly like the Squarespace interface, and it's a massive step forward in creating a common experience for Wordpress users. Before Version 5, Wordpress relied upon other applications or coding knowledge to create something as simple as two columns or responsive blocks of content.

There are key differences though. Wordpress Templates can fundamentally alter how Wordpress works, the menus on offer, even the layout of the core product. In previous versions the theme you used could make Wordpress almost unrecognisable to another Wordpress user familiar with a different theme. Some themes were so complex that you were, in reality, learning how to use a theme, not how to use Wordpress.

Wordpress has the additional capacity to add ‘Plugins’ and ‘Widgets’ Which at face value is an amazing ability that makes Squarespace look quite restricted. In reality it further compounds the previous point - with each plugin or widget making a version of Wordpress more and more individual (and harder to learn and maintain)

In Squarespace the product remains constant - templates alter the look and structure of Squarespace - but not how it works. Squarespace facilitates 'Code' blocks which effectively does the same thing but externally, rather than modifying what Squarespace does.

Evolution causes problems

Wordpress has evolved through 5 Prime versions and many thousands of decimal updates and in almost each and every update, the Template, Plugins and Widgets all need to be updated to reflect the new version. Sometimes Plugin Developers don't bother to (or can't) update, themes creators can find Wordpress going in a direction they can't cope with, or a direction that wipes out their raison d'etre.

With the new editor in Wordpress Gutenberg we think there will be a lot of incompatible themes, plugins and widgets. It remains to be seen how many websites need to be rebuilt.

The sad truth is that as Wordpress evolves and without expertise in your business, the end user can find themselves with a good site one day and something that simply does not work the next.

This would not be a problem if the version of Wordpress that a site was built on remained fixed, which you can do if it’s on your own server… but if you’re on a community or commercial server the options to remain on an old version are limited. WP Engine for example will update the version of Wordpress automatically unless you expressly tell them not to.

So a website that works fine one day, can be insecure and with parts that are inoperable the next.

The Squarespace approach.

When Squarespace update, be it a template, or a set of features, the whole ecosystem moves forward together. You can rest easier in the knowledge that your site will carry on working and you can focus on evolving your site at your own pace - not in a panic determined by the vagaries of Wordpress announcements.

You might find that a key feature you need is moved to a different price point, and you pay for what you need. the true price (or cost) is a complex equation that will differ in each case but it's wise to factor time, capacity and other development requirements into this calculation.

The key difference between Squarespace and Wordpress is philosophical. It's really the fundamental approach that defines Squarespace and it stands comparison in the Apple vs Microsoft approach to computing.

Microsoft vs Apple = Wordpress vs Squarespace

Apple created a secure ecosystem of Operating System and Products that offered security and reliability at the expense of infinite flexibility, and you paid the price. Microsoft was an operating system that any vendor could create hardware and software for. They found this caused endless compatibility and user issues (installing 3rd part drivers for Printers, Scanners, Plotters etc etc.) Microsoft have followed a path of increasing consolidation - From Operating System, they offer software that works better with their OS, recently they have started to offer hardware that works better with their software, and their OS...

Microsoft have adopted the Apple approach of a single ecosystem being stronger than an Operating System alone and a market free for all. It seems that Wordpress are following a similar path to Squarespace and in 'Gutenberg' that has effectively standardised the block model editing and in the process marginalised many core offerings from Theme and Plugin providers.

Conclusion

I started by saying I like Wordpress. I will conclude with the same sentiment- it's a fabulous place to work. Hundreds of thouand's of great websites have been created in Wordpress and if it's your job, your hobby, or if you really know how to get under the skin of your template and you have the skills to keep it all going, it's great.

It is likely that if you have a site built using a page builder type Theme or Plugin, that you'll have to carry on using the classic editor which will be slowly less relevant over time. The answer to the intial question 'Is my site compatible with Gutenberg?' will depend on how many plugins you use, whether your Theme is being updated, and whether the Plugins and Widgets you use have been updated to be compatible with the new version.

We would advise that you get a website health assessment by the team that built it for you, and expect to have to pay for the time required to check out everything. It's a significant amount of work.

If you just want to build a beautiful, robust and long lasting site, that's easy to maintain, leaving you free to get on with other jobs, you might consider Squarespace.

Chris Bampton
The Isoblue Partnership. December 2018