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Matt Mullenweg discusses the past, present and future of Gutenberg

Stanislav Kormov Responds to Mullenweg Interview

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re asking AWP Members to write formal responses to each interview of this series. See here for the full series list. The interview is embedded here first, then see the response below. Thanks to Stanislav Khromov for this response, and for being an AWP Admin who volunteers his time to curate great conversation and content in our Facebook Group.

The Interview

AWP Gutenberg Interview Series with Matt Mullenweg
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The Response

Last week we welcomed our final interviewee in the Advanced WordPress Gutenberg Interview Series, Matt Mullenweg, and this post will be a summary and analysis of his interview.

Matt Mullenweg needs little introduction, being the creator of WordPress and a strong driving force in the ecosystem for the past 15 years. Aside from being a stalwart in the community, he is also the release lead for the upcoming WordPress 5.0, which will be the first release to include Gutenberg.

The birth of Gutenberg

In the interview, Matt discussed the original need gave birth to Gutenberg – the difficulties users had with the TinyMCE editor, and the many dozens of alternatives that spawned up around it, including a plethora of page builders that eschewed TinyMCE altogether.

“We wanted users to be able to do things easier. Not spend a ton of money on plugins and writing a bunch of custom code to accomplish their needs.”
~ Matt Mullenweg

Backward compatibility concerns

When asked about the current state of backward compatibility in Gutenberg, Matt was very positive about it, saying it would even be possible to disable Gutenberg in specific cases to avoid breaking users site, although that would not be ideal as users wouldn’t have access to the latest and greatest developments. Matt also stressed the importance of community participation, saying backward compatibility was more of a community challenge than a technical one.

Understanding the fears behind Gutenberg

It wouldn’t be an understatement that while Gutenberg has been praised by many, the overall response has been a mixed bag. The plugin currently holds a 2.7/5 average score across 362 reviews on WordPress.org.

Matt put the emphasis on listening to the user feedback and understanding where potential worries are coming from – questions from clients, fear of existing code breaking, or misconceptions about the feature set, stability, and compatibility.

“Gutenberg is moving faster than anything within WordPress for the past five or even ten years. Direction changes are done quickly.”
~ Matt Mullenweg

Gutenberg will be released “When it’s ready”

A recurring question that came up during the interview was the Gutenberg release date. It’s been previously stated that Gutenberg will be released with WordPress 5.0, and the “April of 2018” date has been floating around in the community, mostly because it would be the natural release date based on previous releases. Matt said that no date has been set and that Gutenberg will be released “When it’s ready”, emphasizing the need to have it widely used in the community before release as well as dogfooding it within Automattic. Matt is, of course, no exemption to this, saying he has been using Gutenberg on his own blog for a long time.

While 5.0 will not be released before Gutenberg, Matt said that some larger features that would have typically gone into a major release could be put in 4.9: “We don’t want to hold major improvements or bug fixes from the WordPress community.”

Matt still stressed that concerned developers should “stick with April” as their guideline for the release date.

The planned roll-out of Gutenberg

Another hot topic was the planned roll-out of Gutenberg. Matt said we have not yet reached the “wider testing phase”, meaning only a limited number of early adopters are currently testing Gutenberg. He said there would soon be a push to include more people in the testing and urged the members of Advanced WordPress to join in. He also discussed testing Gutenberg on WordPress.com, which would allow it to reach a huge audience. “We want to beta it there, in parallel to a coming .org push”.

Matt noted that the feedback loop is critical, saying early testers of Gutenberg on WordPress.com would have a direct way to contact Automattic in case of any issues.

The three phases of Gutenberg development

Matt got into the far future with his ambitions for Gutenberg and the concept of blocks, saying the current iteration of Gutenberg is only the first part of a three-phase plan that will start with overhauling the editor and continue with replacing the menus, widgets, and customizer with the same blocks concept. For the final phase, a new theme that showcases the possibilities Gutenberg affords is planned.

“I’m going to see this through to the end.”
~ Matt Mullenweg

What can the community do moving forward?

Many of us have asked ourselves how we can help with Gutenberg, and Matt stressed that one of the most important parts as it currently stands is community outreach – to talk about Gutenberg in meetups and other WordPress-related places.

Closing and reflections

Gutenberg has been a contentious endeavor, perhaps more so than any other in the 15-year history of WordPress. Although I’ve personally been fond of the idea of improving the editing experience from the beginning, I have been critical of several implementation-specific parts of Gutenberg. Specifically, the choice to introduce new tooling to the post edit screen and forcing the developer community to adapt to modern JavaScript framework standards.

It’s a tough balance to juggle the positives and negatives that will come with Gutenberg, but it’s hard to deny that WordPress needs to stay modern and adapt to ever-changing user needs. Whether Gutenberg will be perfect or not on release isn’t the important question. The important question is how we will keep WordPress relevant and increase its market share past 30% in the coming five or ten years to realize the vision behind WordPress to democratize publishing through open source. For that vision, Gutenberg will be key.

There’s always risk involved, but between the choice of stagnating and moving forward, it’s clear we need to do the latter, and as we have showcased here for the past several weeks, we have some of the most passionate and dedicated people working on realizing a new future for WordPress that will benefit both users and developers in the long run.

And so our interview series comes to a close. It really feels like this talk was the perfect crescendo to the interview series. We did get a lot of clarification about the Gutenberg release schedule as well as some musings about its future.

Thank you for following along with the Advanced WordPress Gutenberg Interview Series. You can watch all of the episodes on the Advanced WordPress YouTube channel.

Featured Image credit

Stanislav Khromov works as a developer at one of the largest media houses in Sweden, specializing in high-traffic WordPress sites. He has been involved with WordPress since 2009 and has contributed to WordPress in various ways including plugin development, blogging and podcasting.

One thought on “Matt Mullenweg discusses the past, present and future of Gutenberg

  1. Thank you for this interesting interview, more like these are necessary to prepare the WordPress world for the major upcoming changes.

    And because you wonder about ..“April of 2018” date has been floating around in the community, .. ” – that date was mentioned in “Matt Mullenweg: State of the Word 2017” at ~54:50, full stream at e.g. https://wordpress.tv/2017/12/04/matt-mullenweg-state-of-the-word-2017/

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