First Gutenberg Post: Why Can’t I Just Write!

WordCamp Milwaukee 2013 Logo

WordPress 5.0 is scheduled for release Thursday, December 6. Some people are terrified of this happening.  I don’t think I’m one of them.

I have turned on Gutenberg for this post. Let me know if weird things happen on the screen while you’re reading.

The one serious issue still in process for WordPress 5.0 is accessibility. For that reason, I don’t recommend that people with issues using a mouse use Gutenberg until a promised accessibility audit is completed. Everyone else should be able to upgrade with reasonable confidence. If you’re the slightest bit concerned with how Gutenberg might affect your experience, install the Classic Editor plugin.

As Matt Mullenweg, team lead on WP 5.0, was announcing the projected release date Monday, I was already writing this post about one writer’s Gutenberg experience. I will now pick up on that original idea. 

Complaints about Gutenberg’s Interface

Last week, Matt Mullenweg published his Gutenberg FAQ. This was a fairly well-reasoned response to his critics.

But a few critics showed up to demonstrate their anger in front of the boss.

There was one guy who responded that “WP is history, and so am I…I feel it is a HUGE STEP BACKWARDS! But then gotta keep all those barely educated millenials (sic) happy.” Unfortunately, he didn’t really explain what his problem with Gutenberg was. Perhaps it was because his website is on Blogger now.

Two other folks offered more constructive criticism, worth examining. Their criticism focused on the way you write in Gutenberg. Thiago writes:

Comment from Thiago on Matt Mullenweg's Gutenberg FAQ post. "Why can not I simply write the way I like, with justified paragraphs, with colors to highlight ideas, etc? My blog, my style!"
Comment from Thiago on Matt Mullenweg’s Gutenberg FAQ post

Paul Marsden has a similar complaint, taken a bit further.

Comment from Paul Marsden on Matt Mullenweg's Gutenberg FAQ post: "You are forcing humans to write in a new, non-intuitive, un-human, inhuman way."
Paul Marsden’s comment on Matt Mullenweg’s Gutenberg FAQ post.

If you haven’t yet tried Gutenberg, these comments might fill you with terror. Let me suggest trying this version of Gutenberg before you call it “inhuman.”

The Gutenberg Learning Curve

Marsden makes a good point about how the Comments editor works, but I’m not sure it applies here. It’s also true that word processors also present a blank screen and you just type until you stop typing. Gutenberg takes a little getting used to, but the height of the learning curve is about the size of a pebble in the road.

Writing

I’ve been using TinyMCE, aka the Classic Editor, in WordPress for nearly 15 years. When I first typed in a Gutenberg block some months ago, I thought it was a little weird that pressing Enter demanded that I select another block. Well, the developer team fixed that. Today, finish a paragraph and another paragraph block appears. If you’d rather have a heading just now, move the mouse to bring up a menu, or type a forward slash like this / (which it helpfully suggests) to choose a Heading block. By default, the menu will make that a Heading 2, but you’ve got options. 

Note: As I’m typing here (in a Paragraph block, by the way), I’ve got a couple suggestions for the team: It would be nice to have a Note block with a border around it to make it stand out. I could add some CSS to make that happen in the Advanced settings for this block (it’s right there on the right side of the editor page), but my CSS skills aren’t quite up there yet. It would also be great to have the Word Count information at the bottom of the screen, like the Classic Editor does. I’ll see if anyone else has filed that as a bug.

Images

My other favorite thing about Gutenberg over Classic is how easy it is to deal with images. Those comments up there? I took a screen shot, put it on the clipboard, and pasted it into the spot. An Image block was created, and I could change the positioning on the page. It just worked! I was hardly ever happy with how graphics meshed with text in the old editor.  You also don’t need a separate window to type Alt Text, and handle the other editing tasks to make the image look right.

If you just want to use something already in your Media Library, you have to create the block first, then choose from Upload, Media Library, or Insert from URL, just like you used to.

HTML, Blocks and Structure

But why can’t WordPress just let me write on a blank sheet of (electronic) paper? Why blocks?

One short answer is: Every web page you’ve ever seen has paragraph tags. Every word processing document has code of some sort hiding out of plain sight. Blocks in Gutenberg should make it easier for you to communicate. It may also have a benefit in that search engines can better find your content (though probably not immediately).

Some folks have noted that the menu of formatting options for writing is not at the top of the screen, always visible. In Gutenberg, those options are available with the push of a mouse at the top of each block. This can be a problem if you can’t use a mouse, but I’m confident this will be fixed soon.

As a writer, I think Gutenberg will make a positive contribution to democratizing publishing on the web.  I think we’re all going to be better at communicating with Gutenberg very soon.

I guess I can say that I, for one, am ready for Gutenberg! I’m hoping to learn more this weekend, watching at least some parts of the Livestream of WordCamp US. Get your free ticket here.

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Missing NaBloPoMo

For the last few Novembers, I’ve been posting at a feverish pace (for me, anyway) as part of National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). The goal is to post every day this month as a way to jump-start your writing and building an audience.

So this year, I’ve got too much going on, I’m afraid. Got some projects that may soon come to fruition, and I’ll be able to talk about them when we get there.

Tomorrow, I’ll be downloading a fresh copy of openSUSE Linux, now called openSUSE Leap 42.1, which I’m really excited about. I’m tidying up my current copy in breathless anticipation. This follows the (coincidental) installation of Firefox v42 today. As I tweeted earlier today (with the unforgivable error of getting Douglas Adams’ name wrong):

It’s a common lament: I wish I had more time to blog. What really bums me out is that I get a real good rhythm going during NaBloPoMo, and then I lose that momentum over the holidays. So I’m going to try something different this year, though I don’t really know what that will be yet.

Just because I’m not doing it, it’s not too late for you to start! November is a great time to start (or kick-start) your blogging habit. Click here to register. There are prizes!

If you participate, drop a link in the comments below.

Go look at some of my previous NaBloPoMo posts.

Coming Attractions

A reasonable amount of planning went into the posts for National Blog Post Month this year. Since some of them didn’t quite get done, we’ve got some good stuff in the pipeline to share in the coming weeks. As a way to shamelessly beg to keep all my new readers around, here’s what’s coming up soon at Notes from the Metaverse:

  • What’s Next for Firefox? This weekend, Frederic Lardinois at TechCrunch asked this question. From one outsider to another, I’ve got some thoughts on this.
  • A more complete review of Firefox Developer Edition, following up on my earlier quick look.
  • Biosgraphy and ello: Two newcomers to the social/blogging arena.
  • Playing with text editors: Text editors are a religious matter for some developers. After using the programmable text editor Atom for a bit, I hope to have some useful things to say about it.
  • The new crop of electronic magazines covering Linux: Linux Voice, the

    English: Full Circle Magazine Logo
    Full Circle Magazine Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    crowdsourced UK-based magazine is nearing its first anniversary. I’ve recently also become familiar with Full Circle Magazine (an Ubuntu-focused title) and FOSS Force.

  • Tux, the Linux penguin
    (Sorry, can’t ever resist) Tux, the Linux penguin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    I’ll still look for more community-based efforts (like the KDE Gardeners) to make free software better.

  • If my ambition to use all seven openSUSE Desktop Environment actually happens, I’ll surely write about it.

Usual disclaimers apply: Forward looking statements are not hard commitments. Other topics may intervene in the meantime. Also check MichaelMcCallister.com for posts about writing, building author platforms and the like.

Hope you have a terrific December!

Lessons from NaBloPoMo 2014

And so we come to the end of National Blog Post Month ). For the second year in a row, I (nearly) managed to post something here every day in November. Technically, this is Post #29 — there’s another one coming before the end of the day., where I commit to covering some of the technical topics I touched on this month. Last year, I finished the month with some lessons I learned; I’m going to do the same here. It’s not worth completing a challenge if you don’t learn something from it.
NaBloPoMo November 2014

By the way, if you’ve participated in NaBloPoMo, especially for the first time, I humbly suggest looking at that link to last year’s post. There’s some good stuff in there.

When choosing topics, social media is your friend

English: This icon, known as the "feed ic...
This icon, known as the “feed icon” or the “RSS icon” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I did a little more planning of topics this year (even though November snuck up on me again), but some of the better posts came as a result of reading other people’s stuff in my RSS feed and email. I even wrote one post that described my process, which was equal parts planning and serendipity.

While both BlogHer and WordPress.com offered topic prompts every day, I didn’t want to stray too far from the typical topics here just to complete a post. I’ll pat myself on the back, and declare that a good decision.

Y’all were interested in what I wrote

As with last year, NaBloPoMo raised the general interest in Notes from the Metaverse. The most popular posts from the last 30 days remained the technical ones:

Just one of these posts was not written this month. My Installing openSUSE 12.1 post from a while back is still pretty useful for v13.2, and I hope those who read it agree! All of these could be considered “technical,” and nearly all about open source software (though I don’t think the comet-lander was running KDE Plasma Desktop).

I also made some new friends this month. Welcome to all my new followers!

Y’all are too busy to comment

Notes from the Metaverse has always shrived to be an interactive space, where readers can comment on the material they read. It largely fails in that mission, but I understand. People are busy.

I am happy that some of you are getting comfortable with the Like button, though. Using that standard of popularity, here’s what you liked best:

Summing Up

I enjoy most of the process of NaBloPoMo, and will undoubtedly take part again next year. I think you should too. I’ll repeat myself just this once: Last year, I wrote (and stand by):

Congratulations to all those who successfully completed the NaBloPoMo challenge. To those who feel like they fell short: it’s really all about the effort. Life intervenes. But please keep on posting! Writing every day is essential for anyone who considers themselves a writer; blogging offers the opportunity to publish every day too–take advantage of this as often as you can!

 

John J Jacoby: Making a living scratching your itch

It’s one of the mantras of free and open source software (FOSS): Software is born when one developer tries to solve their own personal problem. That is, the developer is “scratching an itch,” not being assigned to code something after some corporate marketing department spends weeks/months/years trying to figure out what the world (or at least a significant market share) needs or wants.

A more difficult problem is when a project becomes popular, scratching a lot of people’s itches. The software gains features, develops more bugs, attracts more users (each of whom may have their own ideas of what the software should do), and … takes more time to work on. Time that the volunteer developer(s) just don’t have, because they have to pay the rent/mortgage, feed the family, and similar daunting tasks.

One solution to this issue is for companies to assign coders to a particular project full- or part-time. But sometimes the needs of a company change (as when Canonical reassigned Jonathan Riddell, Kubuntu’s lead developer, away from the project), and the developer has to return to volunteering for the labor of love.

Getting Community Support

BuddyPress Logo
BuddyPress Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We now come to a most interesting potential solution to this problem: John James Jacoby’s Indiegogo project. JJJ (as Jacoby goes by on the Twitterz and elsewhere) has been the lead developer with BuddyPress (a social networking layer over WordPress) and bbPress (WordPress-based forum software) for nigh on to forever. As a result of his talent and skills, he got hired at WordPress’ parent company, Automattic, and worked there for some time. Over time, BuddyPress, bbPress and a sister project, GlotPress (translations for WordPress) begin to suffer from lack of attention.

English: Logo of the software "bbPress&qu...
Logo of the software “bbPress” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Making a long story shorter, John believes that with six months of sustained, concentrated attention on these three projects, he can make a difference in these areas:

  • Query and caching performance improvements to both BuddyPress and bbPress (to help them power the almost 20 million user profiles and the immense amount of activity going into them from all the support forums)
  • Media & Attachment support in BuddyPress
  • Per-forum moderation in bbPress to help with plugin & theme moderation on WordPress.org.

This piece at WPTavern shares more of the story. My favorite quote:

WordPress is more community than software, yet the software that powers the community has nobody working on it full time

 

 

At WordCamp San Francisco in October, he was encouraged to seek community funding for this project. After some thought and planning, on November 11, the 30-day campaign went live at Indiegogo.

As happens so often with crowdfunding projects, JJJ hit 80% of his $50,000 goal in 48 hours. Since then, it’s been a little slack. Now he’s got another $6000 to go for the full six months.

Valuing open source developers

Just last week (before I knew about this campaign), I wrote about the value of open source communities. Now the WordPress community has the opportunity to prove its value in concrete put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is terms: Can it fund a developer (or more than one) to complete essential tasks without having to sacrifice on his/her standard of living? Can you make a living just scratching your itches?

John James Jacoby lives pretty close to me, and we’ve met a few times at WordPress Meetups and WordCamp Milwaukee. He is a terrific guy, and unquestionably devoted to the success of BuddyPress and WordPress. We should be able to come through for him in the coming days. I also hope that this followup idea from Josh Strebel from Pagely to make this type of crowdfunding project more formal and more permanent makes some headway in the process. Yeah, I’m going to kick in a pittance too, right after payday in 7 days. Maybe you have a payday coming up too? What is WordPress worth to you?