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Post Editing Is Broken

Today, the editor is broken and we need a revolution to correct it.

By now I’m sure most of you have seen Gutenberg. And I’m sure you all have a lot of opinions about Gutenberg and why it’s absolutely not needed. You may also have read conversation about how we totally need Gutenberg, and it’s part of the long view of the future.

I’m going to tell you something that may be difficult to accept.

We need Gutenberg because post editing is broken.

The Visual Editor is Limited The Visual Editor is Limited

The current visual editor, which uses TinyMCE, is incredibly limited. It’s awesome, as you can make a WYSIMWYG (What you see is mostly what you get) post, but it can be really hard to get layout and design flow to look ‘right.’ And if you want to insert custom content, you’re left using embeds or shortcodes.

I love shortcodes. But. They’re weird and complicated and no two work exactly the same way. People don’t always document them, they’re not discoverable, and they can be incredibly obscure to use. Which ones take input and which are nested and so on.

This means that advanced customization of post content is left to templating engines in those page-builder plugins, which either have to re-jigger the whole screen (like Gutenberg) or utilize a complex nesting of shortcodes (like that other plugin you’re thinking about). Neither is a great experience for users, especially when no two page builders work the same way.

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The HTML Editor is Cryptic The HTML Editor is Cryptic

If you’re not a developer or someone who read the original HTML 2.0 spec book (hardcover, y’all), then HTML may be a beast you don’t understand. It’s complicated, it has a lot of weird quirks, and you’ll hear people tell you to use tables (or not), or use divs (or not), or only troglodytes use spans and colors.

Basically it’s confusing unless you know HTML, and that means if you’re not an advanced user or a designer/developer, you’re screwed. You’re expected to learn a whole new suite of complex arcana just to make a table with today’s WordPress. Or you use a plugin and then you find out the semantic HTML it used was problematic, and you have no idea how to fix it.

Anyone who supports end-users who know MS Word and not WordPress have dealt with this drama. It’s real, and WordPress is still struggling to address it. Which is why we have Gutenberg in the pipeline.

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Gutenberg Isn’t Perfect Gutenberg Isn’t Perfect

None of this is to say that Gutenberg is perfect. I’ve had experiences with exactly how hard it is to wrangle. Building new blocks is crazy hard if you’re not using simple reusable blocks like my favourite spoiler block:

Warning: Spoilers Ahoy!

If you want to make a complicated nested block it’s frustrating. You have to decide what flavour of Javascript you want to use and how to build it. Let’s be honest here, folks, it’s tough to be a developer in this new land.

And as a user it’s no picnic either. It’s a lot of change and kicking yourself out of old habits and into embracing the new. Which we’re all generally terrible at. You have to shift from a fundamental concept of “Big Chunk of Content” and into “Smaller Blocks of Content.” Meta boxes and data like we add with ACF and CMB2 isn’t perfect yet either. Heck, I can’t even customize my Jetpack sharing with Gutenberg yet.

But. As we use Gutenberg and as we inch forward, we start to see the progress. I can still insert tables via HTML inside a Gutenberg post. I can build (or hire someone to have built) a block to tweak things to my heart’s content. Things may be hard, but they’re possible.

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You Must Break a Bone to Set It You Must Break a Bone to Set It

When I was 11, I broke my arm. And I remember the feeling of abject horror when the doctor told me they’d have to break my arm again in order to set it. I used some language they’d never heard from a child my age. And it hurt like hell. It was the most pain I’d been in my young life.

My arm never worked the ‘same’ way afterwards either. Oh sure, I could do pretty much everything, but I had to compensate and learn new ways to do other things. I don’t have full rotation in my wrist still, though it’s much better, which meant I had to change how I did certain motions. Like typing, that hand rarely rests on the keyboard. In short, I had to adapt. 

The current editor is imperfect and broken. In order to fix it, we must shatter it and move forward. It hurts, it’s a struggle, but if we push each other, we can do this. Continue to criticize the things that are missing (not being able to hide taxonomies from use, for example), but do so in a way to help it forward.