There’s not much middle ground on people feel about the changes wrought to WordPress 5 with the Gutenberg Editor. It’s endless rabbit/duck season arguments.

My own modification of the Rabbit Season / Duck Season GIF. Good luck with sourcing, licenses here, but I go with the fair use argument from Public Knowledge.

The people who love Gutenberg without qualms are Matt Mullenweg and the people who still work for WordPress trying to make the thing work. The people who hate Gutenberg are pretty much most people who used it prior for any length of time before December 2018. Left out are people who are just starting using WordPress for the first time and say, “well this is how it works, so I have to figure it out.”

My first reaction (after like an investment of 15 minutes of effort) was like most of the haters.

And as I have done on a number of other sites I built for others, I quickly slapped on the Classic Editor plugin so I could get back to “productivity.”

Thanks though to a nudge from my colleague Andy Rush, I decided to do more than a fly by and cry run through Gutenburg.

I have been using Gutenberg editor here since mid December. I am not here to praise it too much or to bury it. But as someone dedicated to helping others use the platform, I don’t see a value in ostrich-heading in the sand about it.

And while Gutenburger still flummoxes me, I have gotten as proficient as I was before, and do have some appreciation for the new interface. I cannot say I am fully loving it yet, but it’s not a blog stopper for me.

I am a bit eyebrow raising at people in this field of learning, who indignantly act as if they cannot possibly learn a new interface. I always wonder how they would accept that attitude from students. There is also a bit of forgetting how long it took them to get so proficient at the WordPress interface they cling to now. It was not instant. At some point it was new and confusing.

And it’s also like 15 years old. There is so much back and forth of composing to previewing in the so loved Classic editing process.

It just takes time.

And that’s the thing, the change is so big, it’s a shock. And I am not quite advocating that this radical a change was needed, I am accepting that this is the direction WordPress is going. I know some people are hopping on a different train to stay with what will end up a fork; I am leery of that as a long term ride.

So let’s bite into the burger.

Blocks are not as much a headache as they first seem. Likely 90% of blog writing is doing what I am doing here, composing text, maybe adding hyperlinks. There is not a flow obstruction, you just hit return like you did before, and keep on writing.

The big change is that the Classic Editor that is so loved and clung to pretty much put all the tools up there in a icon buffet, although you only use a few of them at a time. The idea of blocks is putting fewer tools on the screen at a time.

I did find I work better with View option (via the three dot menu upper right) for tools at the top.

With the little menu that popped above each block, if you ever type a paragraph with like more than 4 sentences, or a longer list, you find the toolbar much too far away from the text (especially problematic for adding hyperlinks). It’s not quite the contextual editor of Medium.

A huge shortcoming to me is what is called the Classic Block, the approach Andy Rush suggested to me. It’s only the classic Visual editor, the one I never used. What I really want, especially if I need to edit an old post, is the classic HTML editor. That is nowhere to be seen in Gutenburg, the only thing I get is pure HTML.

I like what the quotation block can do, including now a larger display option. but even more, that there is by default a place indicated for a citation, which can be hyperlinked, is a subtle nudge to attribute your quotes (damnit).

The quote block says, Hey Write a citation!

Quote someone else’s work and include a citation. Choose between two different styles for displaying quotes on your site.

Go Gutenberg

By the way, Go Gutenberg is a super useful reference, better than my approach of guessing my way through the interface.

I also really like the newer way the image uploading works. In the so Coveted Old WordPress, you ended up making choices for settings, captions, links, in the place you upload, away from the place you edited.

It’s better than a new puppy. Maybe.

I find it much more flexible than before, and what I really like better is the way I can fully edit the captions, including adding links.

All the settings I need to editing my uploaded image are right here, not tucked away in the media library. Plus look, I can have full rich text captions, without plunking in straight up HTML.

Another thing you get are nice web site embeds, definitely if they are WordPress sites (it might just need to be a site that provides Open Graph summary tags) but to get a card type embed for a site, I just plunk down into a new block a regular URL like  and I get

That’s kind of nice, eh? Not huge, but nice.

Another small thing that I find speeds me up is the access while editing to the most recent blocks I have used, so rather than reaching up into the toolbar to add an image, the block is right there where I am typing.

While composing I can quickly add blocks of the type I have used most recently, in this case uploading an image, embedding a URL, or a quote.

Another surprise, and one that was always the bane of my copy/paste existence, was how copying web content from another site often dragged along extra CSS and styles from the source site. Like if you copied anything from a Google Doc, you got all kinds of span crusted CSS or you inherited the styles of the source doc.

The new editor does a better job of cleansing pasted text than before. But wait, there is more…

One of the things I was worried about was the kind of copy/paste I do with what my flickr cc attribution helper tool generates, the one I use creates attribution formatted as HTML. In my first months of Gutenburgering, I assumed I’d have to go into the raw HTML to paste in, then switch back.

Let’s say I want to use it on an image of a Scary Black Pigeon. I get this blog of HTML generated:

Almost by accident I saw what happened- I pasted the raw HTML into a new block… and I get this automatically:

That is amazing! (well I think so). Raw HTML into a paragraph block renders fully.

One thing that bugs me constantly in this new editor is how formatting sticks to the last thing in your editor. So of I add a hyperlink here then everything I type in later gets linked

Ugh. I have to remember to put a space our a period after some text, then link it. Sometimes I end up making a new block below with a . which I then backspace to clear the hyperlink.

I was also dismayed to now have the button in the paragraph editor for code <code>.....</code> that I like to use to indicate things like function names or HTML. Almost be accident I learned that in the paragraph editor, you can use the MarkDown syntax of putting a ` before and after text to turn it into code formatting.

(actually I found too this works in the old Visual Editor).

Okay, these few things are likely not compelling enough for anyone to jump into Gutenberger land. And it’s certainly not everything there is.

I have a feeling that with every block now “tagged” with a structure/class that Gutenberg adds, there is potential for some better site wide CSS changes. And I have not even started looking into the world of adding new blocks, I am thinking of maybe something to do what my flickr attribution tool does (?). It has nuked some of the older stuff done via custom meta boxes.

But frankly, I think the hysteria and indignation is overblown. If it were that hard to change we’d still be typing codes into WordPerfect. People who have gotten versatile in a platform hate to wind back to a learning mode. And if it tastes bad after the first bite, they walk out of the restaurant in disgust.

I am not saying you have to love this interface. I still cuss at it. After all, you can just wait a few months or years to learn it before they phase out the Classic editor. You will be in the same position then. Or you can bail now and try Ghost or Wix or Squarespace or Jekyll or whatever- you will still have to migrate all your stuff and learn something new.

I’m in the practice of learning, so if I was afraid/leery/reluctant to learn something new, what does it say? I am bigger and better (I hope) than my tools. So plow on or jump ship or just keep the head in the sand. Or gamble on a forked version being viable 10 years from now.

But don’t be all indignant about things, if you don’t like the software, write your own.

Have fun with that.

Featured Image: I took the Gutenberg image from the first WordPress plugin that made it available. I have struck out to find the source of it, and poop on WordPress for not providing a source. I then inserted it in Photoshop, with some fine tuned masking, to the burger Image by Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay shared under their own funky license (kind of like CC0).

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. My premise is that they built a tool to do a thing that I don’t do. I write in WordPress rather than trying to build pages in some modular fashion. I happen to write in the HTML editor. I’m pretty happy there.

    I wouldn’t want anyone to dismiss something because it’s new/different but I also wouldn’t want anyone to start using something just because it is new.

    I’m not mad that a new thing was made but I am disappointed that the new thing seems to have come about from some messed up priorities that are more about making money for a few people than doing good things for the larger community. I am looking at some interesting options for Gutenberg and ACF integrations and I think it is a much better way to guide shortcode patterns.

  2. For any post longer than a paragraph or two, I write it up with Markdown (vim for the win!) and paste it into the WP post when completed. This workflow works pretty well for me, but I don’t know if that will work for others. I find both the classic and Gutenberg editor too cumbersome for long articles.

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