What I learned about Gutenberg at WordCamp US 2017

Usability testing

I volunteered to proctor Gutenberg usability tests at WCUS. In part, it seemed like an easy way to help out since I've proctored a lot of usability tests over the years for work and I know the drill. But I also had my own interests; I wanted to talk with the people most closely involved in Gutenberg in a place other than a very busy Slack channel, or Trac. Not to come at them with an agenda, or negativity, just a chance to talk and find out more.

I helped out with a few tests and as I was heading out to go to sessions I wound up in conversation with a couple of Gutenberg folks. I admitted that, as a developer on a heavily customized site that uses CMB2 all over the place, Gutenberg scares the shit out of me.

I know there's FUD out there, probably a lot of it, about Gutenberg, particularly for developers. But it also seems like there's hand-waving when it comes to the question of custom meta boxes. There's no clear path forward for a site like ours. There's no certainty over what our admin site will look like the day that we install 5.0 with Gutenberg as the default editing experience.

I was… somewhat reassured by the conversation we had. At the very least they seemed genuinely concerned and interested in making me feel heard. It is easy to discount the need for good communication within a community, especially around big changes like this one. But making people feel heard, and at least saying the right things back, does count for something.

In response they tried to make me feel that everything will be okay, and gave me two things to do:

  • Test our site with the Gutenberg plugin, and
  • report on the make.wordpress.org slack, in the core-editor channel, our findings.

Morten Rand-Hendricksen's Gutenberg session

I made a point of attending "Gutenberg and the WordPress of tomorrow" at the end of the first day, despite hitting the wall earlier in the day and being exhausted. Of course, Mor10 is a fantastic speaker and that helps a lot.

I found this talk to be more positive and encouraging than I expected. Rand-Hendricksen seems to be excited about the Gutenberg future and the possibilities that it presents. It was the first time I think I've heard anything really concrete about Gutenberg being a positive future for WordPress. By the end of the talk, I was still in doubt about my site's future, but felt a tiny spark of…  I can't say excitement, but something other than fear, negativity, and a complete lack of understanding of the vision for WordPress.

The State of the Word

In the State of the Word I heard and saw two things that made me feel so much better about my site's future with WordPress.

The Growth Council

I've long felt that WordPress did not care about enterprise usage of WordPress as a CMS. This always seemed strange to me, since Automattic VIP makes its money from this very type of client. There's also a significant number of people doing WordPress work for these kinds of big companies, aside from VIP. But when market share is cited as the one, golden metric by which the success of WordPress is measured, enterprise usage of WordPress doesn't seem to count much toward its success. Enterprise grade requirements for WordPress don't seem to be very important in the context of this metric, and the priorities of core development have seemed to reflect that.

In the SOTW, Matt announced that the Growth Council will meet for the first time next week – and that it would include both an enterprise team and a consumer team. This is the first time I can recall any formal acknowledgement of enterprise users mattering to the WordPress OSS project. There's no guarantee this will result in… anything… but formal acknowledgement of the enterprise is a good first step.

The Gutenberg Demo

After a few remarks about Gutenberg, Matt called Gutenberg engineer Matias up to the stage to do a live demo. I had used Gutenberg in a test site before proctoring the usability tests, so I was already familiar with its functionality, or so I thought. What I did not realize was that although I had sorted out fairly quickly the basics of how to use it, I had only scratched the surface.

In the hands of a power user, Gutenberg sings. Things that we've worked hard to implement using CMB2 and shortcodes, Gutenberg allows the user to create effortlessly, no shortcodes, just in the flow of the content. I can honestly say that this is what our users want.

How do we move the work we've done into the Gutenberg way of doing these things? I have no idea. What I came away with, though, is that we'll actually want to.

The SOTW is up on wordcamp.tv, and I recommend you watch the demo yourself. It starts at around the 41 minute mark.

This does not mean there are no problems. There are still problems. This is just the first time I've felt that we won't be left out in the cold, wondering if we should rebuild everything in Drupal. This is also the first time I've felt that Gutenberg might represent a real step forward in a direction that will benefit us, not just bloggers.

By the way…

I'm writing this using Gutenberg. Of course.