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

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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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More Time to Get Ready

So much for writing a daily post on WordPress 5.0/Gutenberg! I’m mostly managing to keep up with the plan to spend 15 minutes a day picking something up about the new release; mostly still a lot of reading. Writing about it is even harder to find time for.

Beginning to think a weekly roundup will do, but we’ll see if I can get more done this week.

Pushing Back the Release Date

Anyway, if you haven’t heard, we all have another week to get ready, as the WordPress 5.0 development team pushed back the release date from Monday, November 19 to Tuesday, November 27. It will be interesting to see if the date slips again.

It is my firm opinion that there is nothing magical about a release date. WordPress does not have to release a Gutenberg product so they can book a zillion sales by the end of the fiscal year. No one is anxiously awaiting the arrival of a shrink-wrapped copy of WordPress 5.0 under the tree in December. Matt Mullenweg has always maintained that Gutenberg would be released when it was ready. The team should stick to that.

On the other hand, Mullenweg told WordCamp Portland that “The hope is that the 5.0 release day is the most anti-climactic thing ever,” because so many sites have already decided to install Gutenberg, or stick with the Classic Editor (a version of the existing editor that is compatible with themes and plugins that are also Gutenberg-compatible). We can hope! I’m going to check out the video at WordCamp.tv too.

As I type this, I’m updating the Gutenberg plugin to v4.3. Still haven’t run into any trouble, but I haven’t exactly tried anything fancy yet.

Plan: Working Through “20+ Tips”

WPLift published a list of 20+ Tips for Gutenberg that will serve as a useful jumping off point for me, I think. Any technical article that starts with learning your way around the editor screen is an article that aims at being helpful to new users.

wordpress-gutenberg-editor-tips-1-1024x622

Alternative Editors?

While strolling through my Twitter feed last week, I saw this great chart from Birgit Pauli-Haack, and sent it around:

Of course, what this means is that if you decide you don’t like editing posts in Gutenberg (or Classic Editor, for that matter), you can use almost any word processor or gizmo that you can write with. Write in your preferred tool, copy and paste into the WordPress editor. See the complete chart in a readable version in the link to the Github project.

Birgit not only retweeted my retweet but also included it in this week’s Gutenberg Times update.

Well, back to testing the tips! If you’ve found something interesting and/or horrifying in your own Gutenberg tests, let me know in the Comments.

Previous Posts in the Series

Getting ready for Gutenberg

Getting Ready for Gutenberg: First Weekend

 

Getting Ready for Gutenberg: First Weekend

Sunday I wrote the first post in this series, “Getting Ready for Gutenberg.” It wasn’t the only thing I did to get ready for WordPress 5.0, though.

Getting News About Gutenberg

Nearly everything I know about WordPress 5.0 and the Gutenberg editor comes from two sources: WPTavern and the Gutenberg Times. If you want to be on top of all things WordPress, here’s where you want to start.

I do not know how Jeff Chandler (aka @Jeffr0) and Satah Gooding do it, but WPTavern takes its journalism very seriously. If it’s news in the WordPress World, the Tavern will have the story within hours. Here is everything they’ve written about Gutenberg in the last two years. It’s a lot. Their WordPress Weekly podcast is also helpful, though a little long for folks like me.

Birgit Pauli-Haack compiles and curates a weekly summary of Gutenberg news at the Gutenberg Times. She also shares much on Twitter. All in all, wonderful stuff. I spend Sunday afternoons reading and clicking on the site.

Getting Ahead of Myself

The other WordPress-related task I completed was to sign up for a one-day online course in designing Gutenberg-compatible themes presented by iThemes next week. From a user’s perspective, I fear that much of the content may be over my head, but I think I will learn something about Gutenberg guts, and perhaps hear what developers think. So it will be good.

If you happen to be a theme developer, you may want to check out the course too.

Monday: A New Beta

One thing I learned from WPTavern today was the release of WordPress 5.0, Beta 3. Got that installed on my test system Monday night. If you want to try it on:

  1. Install and activate the WordPress Beta Tester plugin on any non-production installation of WordPress.
  2. Go to Tools > Beta Testing
  3. Choose Bleeding Edge Nightlies to get the latest stuff. Click Save Changes. This is why you don’t want to put the betas where your live website lives — bad things can happen!
  4. WordPress will tell you there are updates. Download and install. You’ve got the new beta!

Tuesday, I’ll play with the beta a little bit when I’m not closely watching US Election returns.

 

Oh, and if it’s Tuesday, November 6, and you live in the United States — Go vote today! Vote.org will help you if don’t know how to find your  polling place and other critical information. WordPress is about democratizing the Web. Voting is about democratizing democracy.

Getting ready for Gutenberg

It’s November, and many writers are busy starting their novels during National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). While I wish all of them the best of luck, I want to honor a more recent tradition that seems to have fallen by the wayside in the last few years.

At the beginning of this decade, some folks who don’t necessarily write fiction decided to launch National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). They had the same basic goal as the novel writers: Write and post something every day during the month of November. WordPress joined in as an endorser some years after that, when I first got involved. It was mostly successful for me, in that I wrote an awful lot (we’ll let you judge how much of that was just awful — look for posts tagged NaBloPoMo and National Blog Post Month).

Eventually, NaBloPoMo went away. I didn’t continue the tradition, though there was nothing stopping me. But in 2018, I have a new reason for a big batch of posting in November: the impending release of WordPress 5.0. This is currently set for just two weeks from now, on Monday, November 19 (though it could still slip that date and many folks would like to see that happen).

What in heck is Gutenberg?

The central thing that makes this new release worthy of the major upgrade to v5.0 is the new post editor, codenamed Gutenberg. It’s been in the works since January 2017 and wants to revolutionize WordPress. There are many differing opinions about this.

When I logged in to WordPress.com to write this post, this graphic greeted me:

GutenbergInvite_Screenshot_2018-11-04 Dashboard ‹ Michael McCallister Notes from the Metaverse — WordPress

If you’re running a self-hosted version of WordPress on your own site, you’ve been seeing this for a couple of months, if you haven’t decided to test Gutenberg already.

Gutenberg changes the way you post mostly by introducing blocks of content, instead of just words, paragraphs and images.

How to get ready for Gutenberg

At the end of October, when I went to see if someone had revived the NaBloPoMo concept, it occurred to me that I still really didn’t know much about Gutenberg and the rest of the new release. I’d installed Gutenberg on my test system, but hadn’t done much with it. Life intervenes, and there are always other priorities. But suddenly the release was near, and I needed to get serious about learning it. Ah Hah!

I could spend the month of November trying to get a handle on Gutenberg, and share my attempt to get ready for the release with all of you!

So here’s my plan: I’m going to spend at least 15 minutes a day with Gutenberg, either hands-on with the editor or reading through other people’s takes and tutorials over the last year. I am coming at this with the profile of an ordinary user since I am seriously not an expert … yet. I hope that this month will allow us all to get on the road to being solid users of WordPress 5.0. In the worst case scenario, I’ll be one of the folks who question the sanity of the WordPress Core developers, but I hope not!

Whatever I do, I’ll report it here, ideally on the same day. I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

I also want to hear about your experiences with Gutenberg, and WordPress 5.0 generally, along the way. Have you tried the beta? What do you think? Does it work for you? What doesn’t work, and how can the WP team fix it?

Aside: If you live in the United States, do get out and vote Tuesday.

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?