WordPress Gutenberg update evaluation

3 min read


With the imminent release of the new Gutenberg editor in the next major release (scheduled for release before the end of 2018) WordPress will be undergoing its biggest change since the ability to create custom post types was introduced in version 3.

To give you an idea, version 3 came out in June 2010 – 1 year before Snapchat existed and a full 9 months before Internet Explorer 9 launched.

Gutenberg is much more than just a new text editor, it is a fundamental shift in how we code and manipulate what users see and how they interact with content in the WordPress admin area. Suddenly overnight, 8 years’ worth tutorials and StackOverflow (an extremely popular developer support site) are effectively wrong.

Commercial plugin and theme developers are facing the prospect of having to write large chunks of their offerings for what seems on paper very little gain.

It is fair to say the plugin has not been well received by the WordPress community to-date. Whilst many agree it is a very good editing experience, akin to services such as Medium and the Ghost blogging platform, it seems the vast majority of feedback suggests it is something that WordPress does not need. Afterall there are already a large number of visual editor plugins if you really want this kind of editing experience.

At present Gutenberg does not seem ready for commercial use and we will not be using it in the foreseeable future and here is why.

Gutenberg is an accessibility nightmare and signifies a massive step backwards at a time when accessible standards are more important than ever. In March 2018 the WordPress accessibility team had this to say about their own editor;

“Gutenberg still needs extensive work to meet basic standards, like keyboard accessibility and semantics. Especially for screen reader users, Gutenberg, as it stands right now, is a dramatic step back in usability”.

On the 17th September the accessibility team released the following notes from a team meeting they held;

“The Gutenberg team has started working on some of the UI issues, however many of the accessibility issues are still there with no great progress. There are still about 100 issues open, 12 of which are breaking for the merge milestone”.

Accessibility and inclusiveness are hugely important to us and when an internal team is so damning of its own products future accessibility it is too much to ignore. Some more eyebrow-raising quotes from the meeting;

“One of the most severe issues is the keyboard accessibility. The keyboard tab order is unpredictable. The tab order for and backwards is not the same. Publishing a post is a puzzle and the date picker is unreachable with a keyboard only….

…Because the extensive use of icons, voice recognition users have to guess the accessible names for buttons to activate them”.

On the 9th October, the WordPress Accessibility Team Leader stepped down, citing ongoing issues with making Gutenberg accessible.

“While the Gutenberg team has worked hard to implement some fundamental accessibility features (e.g. focus management, navigate landmark regions), the overall user experience is terribly complicated for users with accessibility needs at the point the new editor is barely usable for them.

The main reason for this lack of overall accessibility is in the overall Gutenberg design, where accessibility hasn’t been incorporated in the design process.

Feedback from accessibility users has been constantly evaluated and Gutenberg is actually a regression in terms of accessibility level, compared to the previous editor.

This highlights the issues with an immediate adaptation of the Gutenberg editor and reinforces our decision to delay adaptation until the technology has matured and the open source community has had a chance to rectify its accessibility issues. We will review again in the not too distant future.

In the meantime, we have / will be installing the “Classic Editor” plugin on all supported client sites. Whilst clients will not notice any difference, the Classic Editor plugin suppresses any notices about trying the new Gutenberg editor, and once launched will keep the existing functionality all are familiar with.

Find out more about the Gutenberg editor, and give it a try at https://wordpress.org/gutenberg/

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