We’re Adopting Gutenberg. Here’s Why

Illustration by Colombe Nicolas Illustration of Johannes GUTENBERG typing on a keyboard

Our future form editor is going to be in Gutenberg, also known as the Block Editor. 

In fact, we’ve already started working with it (screenshot below) and we hope to release a first version by the end of 2019.

In the near future, our email designer will also go down that route. More on that below.

A Year of Observing Gutenberg 

When Gutenberg was launched a year ago in late 2018 as the default post editor in WordPress, we took time to study its lines of code and features. 

We immediately asked ourselves:

  • Could it become the default editor for emails and forms in MailPoet? 
  • Is the code ready to be extended to a third party plugin like ours?

Gutenberg looked promising enough, but we wanted to evaluate the community’s reception. It was — and still is — quite divisive amongst users because of the user experience. A typical review of Gutenberg:

Forcing a change to users’ habit will always create an initial backlash. We witness this reaction when newspapers update their homepage designs or when Facebook overhauled its newsfeed, as examples.

Even at MailPoet, feelings about Gutenberg are mixed. Why? We used it to redesign this website and it proved to be a headache. Perhaps we were a little optimistic since it’s not yet meant to be a page builder, like Beaver Builder or Elementor. Gutenberg feels like a page builder that hasn’t fully grown out of its teenage years.

I’ve been writing in Gutenberg for well over a year myself now, and while it’s a bit buggy at times, my user flow is… flowing! I can publish easily and it behaves as I expect, or almost. To enjoy it, it’s was important to take the time to learn some of its tricks.

In the past 12 months, millions of people have installed a plugin that restores the Classic Editor to essentially disable Gutenberg. Yikes! Which a year ago begged the question: what if Gutenberg is deemed to fail in the long run?

Fast forward a year later (fall 2019) and the Classic Editor still gets 50,000 new installs per week. The co-founder of WordPress estimates that about a quarter of people are still using the Classic Editor in his annual State of the Word (youtube).

But Gutenberg is holding its ground and growing into its role as the default WordPress editor.

Why Gutenberg is a great choice

There are many reasons why we are standing by Gutenberg and are choosing to fully adopt it.

The user experience is improving thanks to solid backing

In the past year, the Block Editor has improved by leaps and bounds. It’s easier to use, faster to load, and less buggy, not to mention constant new features.

It’s not a surprising feat considering there are often nearly 40 people contributing at any one time to Gutenberg. Many of them are Automattic employees. Read: serious backing. Many volunteer contributors have been hired by Automattic, according to Riad Benguella.

It’s source code is well designed

There are 8 engineers working at MailPoet and not a single one worked with WordPress prior to joining MailPoet. 

None of them have anything nice to say about WordPress code. Rest assured, this is a common thread amongst developers.

With Gutenberg, cast this criticism aside!

Our team thinks it’s a well designed and modern application. While it’s a big project with a lot of lines of code, a developer can navigate the source and understand how it’s structured and find his or her way around without having to read documentation. That’s how modern application are supposed to be.

It’s going to redefine the WordPress user experience

Gutenberg will eventually allow you to edit your entire website, and not just a page or a post. This is what Wix and Squarespace have done so well and so have plugins, themes like Divi and Elementor. 

You will soon be able to edit your website without having to learn CSS or ask for a friend’s help. In fact, this could be the end of themes as we’ve known them. 

Extend this to MailPoet, and you could see how Gutenberg could be the next email designer.

Working on the Block Editor will allow us to contribute

MailPoet is a fairly large endeavor, one that has left little time for our team members to participate in other open source projects, starting with WordPress itself.

This has left us feeling on the fringe at times. It would have been quite satisfying to actually assign one of our team members to work on the core of WordPress. 

Adopting Gutenberg will throw our team members into the fray and allow us to not only improve MailPoet, but also make WordPress better.

Our email editor can be made in Gutenberg

Late in 2018, Gutenberg’s code was still entangled into the WordPress post and page editor. For us to use it outside this context required hacking the Block Editor. 

Earlier this year, one of the lead developers of the Gutenberg shared it as a standalone app on GitHub.

This was the cue we were waiting for to debate further about the viability of switching our email and form editors to Gutenberg. 

In September, one of our colleagues did a demo of Gutenberg (screenshot above). It took us 3 minutes to become convinced that Gutenberg was the way forward. The debate didn’t last long! The writing is on the wall.

Switching our email designer to Gutenberg is a fairly large project, especially since we want to ensure a smooth transition from the old to the new editor. We’ll first begin with the signup form editor to get ourselves warmed up.

First, we’ll change our current form editor

In MailPoet, we have a simple form editor that allows you to create fairly simple signup forms:

This editor has been a part of MailPoet since 2014 and has not evolved ever since. Its foundation was not solid enough to build on top of it, so it became stale (we were also working on other things because there are plenty of form plugins already).

Summary

Gutenberg is the future of WordPress. It’s normal to see initial pushback by users after nearly a decade of using tinyMCE, the default text editor since WordPress 2.5 (2008). 

We want to be a part of that future by using the Block Editor in our own plugin because it’s well designed and it’s actively being improved at a fast pace.

MailPoet doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel. In fact, we’d like to participate in the core of WordPress by working on Block Editor ourselves.

The first step for us is to use Gutenberg as our default signup form editor later in 2019. Then, we will begin working on the email designer.