Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Rant Time: It’s time for Gutenberg to go.

Posted in botch, business, rant by commorancy on October 9, 2021

woman in white shirt showing frustration

As the title may suggest and as a WordPress.com blogger, I’ve given up using the Gutenberg editor for articles. Let’s explore exactly the reasons why.

Gutenberg, Block Editing and Calypso

One of the biggest selling points of Gutenberg (the latest WordPress editor first released in 2018 and headed up by Matias Ventura) is its ability to have literal text blocks. Each paragraph is literally a square block that is separate from all other blocks. The blocks allow for movement with an arrow up and down. The point to this movement system is to allow for easily rearranging your articles. At least, that was the main selling point.

In reality, the blocks are more of a chore than a help. I’ll explain this more in a bit. When Gutenberg first launched, it replaced the previous editor, Calypso, which was released in 2015. Calypso loaded extremely fast (in under 3 seconds you’re editing). Typing in text was flawless and simply just “worked”. When Calypso first released, there were a number of performance issues, some bugs and it didn’t always work as expected. However, after several updates over the initial months, all of that was solved. The slowness and performance issues were completely gone.

Before Calypso arrived, there was the much older “black colored” editor that was simple text-only editor. Meaning, there was no ability to graphically place or drag-move objects. Instead, you had to use specific HTML tags to manually place images and use inline CSS to get things done. It was a hassle, but it worked for the time. The big update for WordPress was that Calypso would bring modern word processor features and a more WYSIWYG type experience to blogging. Calypso did that exceedingly well, but in an occasionally limited way.

Unfortunately, Calypso had a short lifespan of about 3 years. For whatever reason, the WordPress.org team decided that a new editor was in order and so the Gutenberg project was born.

Gutenberg Performance

The real problem with Gutenberg is its performance. Since its release, Gutenberg’s block-building system has immense overhead. Every time you type something into a block, the entire page and all blocks around it must react and shift to those changes. Performance is particularly bad if you’re typing into a block in the middle of an article with many other blocks. Not only does the editor have to readjust the page on every single keystroke entered, it has to do it both up and down. Because of this continual adjustment of the page, keystrokes can become lagged by up to 12 seconds behind the keyboard typing.

Where Calypso’s typing performance is instant and without lag, Gutenberg suffers incredible lag due to its poorly conceived block design. Gutenberg has only gotten worse over time. Unlike Wine which ages and gets better every day, Gutenberg gets worse every day. There are literally hundreds of bugs in the Gutenberg editor that have never been corrected, let alone the aforementioned severe performance issue.

Classic Editor

You might be asking, “What editor are you using?” Technically, I’m using Calypso inside of Gutenberg because there’s no other option than the antiquated “black editor”. When Gutenberg came about, they had to find a way to make old articles written in Calypso compatible with Gutenberg without having to convert every single article into the new Gutenberg block format. To do this, the Gutenberg team included Calypso in the block called the “Classic Editor” block. It’s effectively a full version of Calypso in a single block.

The Classic Block type is what I’m now using to type this and all new articles. I must also say that every character I type into the Classic Block is spot on in speed. No lags at all. Typing is instantaneous. However, with Gutenberg, typing words into a Gutenberg “paragraph” block can see text show up literally many seconds after I’ve typed it… sometimes more than 10 seconds later. I can literally sit and watch the cursor make each letter appear after I’ve stopped typing. It’s incredibly frustrating.

Few typists are 100% accurate 100% of the time. This means using the backspace key to remove a double tapped letter, add a missing letter or rewrite a portion of text is required. When you’re waiting on the editor to “catch up” with your typing, you can’t even know what errors you made until it finally shows up. It’s like watching paint dry. It’s incredibly frustrating and time wasting.

Editor Performance

Gutenberg’s performance has gotten progressively worse since 2018. By comparison, Calypso’s launch performance suffered when it was first released, taking 10-12 seconds to launch. The Calypso team managed to get that under control within 6 months and reduced the launch time to under 2 seconds. Literally, you could go from a new browser tab to editing an existing or brand new article in under 2 seconds. Gutenberg’s launch performance has remained consistent at ~10 seconds and has never wavered in the many years since it launched in 2018. And… that 10 seconds all for what? An editor with horrible performance?

Gutenberg launched with “okay” block performance years ago, but in the last 6 months, that performance is rapidly degraded. Literally, the Gutenberg paragraph block, the mainstay of the entire Gutenberg editor, is now almost completely unusable in far too many circumstances.

If you’re looking to type a single short paragraph article, you might be able to use Gutenberg. Typing an article like this one with a large number of paragraphs of reasonable length means slower and slower performance the longer the article gets, especially if you need to edit in the middle of the article. That’s not a problem when using the Classic Block as the article has only one block. It’s when there’s an ever growing number of blocks stacking up that Gutenberg gets ever slower and slower. Gutenberg is literally one of the most horrible editing experiences I’ve ever had as a WordPress blogger.

Gutenberg’s Developers

As a user of Gutenberg, I’ve attempted to create bugs for the Gutenberg team in hopes that they would not only be receptive to wanting these bug reports, but that they would be willing to fix them. Instead, what I got was an ever growing level of hostility with every bug reported… culminating in myself and one of the Gutenberg developers basically having words. He accused me of not taking the right path to report bugs… but what other path is there to report bugs if not in the official bug reporting system devoted to Gutenberg’s bugs? This one entirely baffled me. Talk about ungrateful.

Sure, I’m a WordPress.com user, but the WordPress.com team doesn’t accept bug reports for Gutenberg as they have nothing to do with Gutenberg’s development. They’ll help support the WordPress.com product itself, but they don’t take official bug reports for sub-product components. In fact, I’d been told by multiple WordPress.com support staffers to report my bugs directly into the Gutenberg project bug reporting system. That’s what I did. I explained that to the developer who suddenly became somewhat apologetic, but remained terse and condescending.

Let’s understand one thing, WordPress.com is a separate entity from the WordPress.org Gutenberg development team. The two have no direct relationship whatsoever, making this whole situation even more convoluted. It’s a situation that WordPress.com must workout with WordPress.org. As a blogger, it’s not my responsibility to become the “middle man” to communicate between these orgs.

Any development team with this level of hostility towards its end users needs to be reevaluated for its project values. Developers can’t develop in a bubble. They need the feedback from users to improve their product. Developers unwilling to accept this feedback need to be pulled from the project and, if their attitude does not improve, be jettisoned. Bad attitudes need to be culled from any development project. It will only serve to poison the end product… and nowhere is this more abundantly clear than in the Gutenberg editor. This editor is now literally falling apart at the seams.

WordPress.com is at a Crossroads

At this point, WordPress needs to make a choice. It’s clear, the Gutenberg editor can’t last. WordPress.com must make a new editor choice sooner rather than later. Gutenberg is on its last legs and needs to be ushered out of the door.

If that means re-wrappering the entire editor so that the Classic Block becomes the only and default block available, then so be it. I’d be perfectly happy if WordPress.com would make the Classic Block not only the default editor block type when entering a new editor, but the ONLY block type available. After all, everything that can be done with individual blocks in Gutenberg can be done in the Classic Block.

Then, refocus the Gutenberg development team’s efforts to improving ONLY the Classic Block. Have them drop the entirety of development for every other block type from that horrible Gutenberg editor product.

Blocks and Gutenberg

Let’s talk about Gutenberg’s design for a moment. The idea behind Gutenberg is noble, but ultimately its actual design is entirely misguided. Not only has Gutenberg failed to improve the editor in any substantial way, it has made text editing slower, more complex and difficult in an age when an editor should make blogging easier, faster and simpler. All of the things that should have improved over Calypso have actually failed to materialize in Gutenberg.

The multiple block interface doesn’t actually improve the blogging experience at all. Worse, the overhead of more and more blocks stacking to create an article makes the blogging experience progressively slower and less reliable. In fact, there are times when the editor becomes so unresponsive that it requires refreshing the entire editor page in the browser to recover. Simply, Gutenberg easily loses track of its blocks causing the editor to essentially crash internally.

None of this is a problem with the Classic Editor block because editing takes place in one single block. Because the Classic Editor is a single block, Gutenberg must only keep up with one thing, not potentially hundreds. For this reason, the Classic Editor is a much easier solution for WordPress.com. WordPress.com need only force the Classic Block as the primary editor in Gutenberg and hide all of the rest of Gutenberg’s garbage blocks that barely work. Done. The editor is now back to a functional state and bloggers can now move on with producing blog articles rather than fighting Gutenberg to get a single sentence written. Yes, Gutenberg is that bad.

Bad Design

Worse, however, is Gutenberg’s block design idea. I really don’t fully understand what the Gutenberg team was hoping to accomplish with this odd block design. Sure, it allows movement of the blocks easily, but it’s essentially a technical replacement for cut and paste. How hard is it really to select a paragraph of text, cut it and then paste it into a different location? In fact, cut and paste is actually easier, faster and simpler than trying to move a block. Block movement is up or down by one position at a time when clicked. If you need the block moved up by 10 paragraphs, then you’re clicking the up button 10 times. And, you might have to do this for 5 different paragraphs. That’s a lot of clicking. How does that much clicking save time or make blogging easier? Cut and paste is always four actions. Select the text, cut, click cursor to new location, paste. Cut and paste has none of this click-click-click-click-clickity-click BS. Of course, you can cut and paste a whole block, but that sort of defeats the purpose of building the up and down function for movement, doesn’t it?

Instead, I’ve actually found in practice that Gutenberg’s alleged more advanced “design” actually gets in the way of blogging. You’d think that with a brand new editor design, a developer would strive to bring something new and better to the table. Gutenberg fails. The whole cornerstone and supposed “benefit” of Gutenberg’s design is its blocks. The blocks are also its biggest failing. Once you realize the blocks are mostly a gimmick… a pointless and a slow gimmick at that, you then realize Calypso was a much better, more advanced editor overall, particularly after using a Classic Block to blog even just one article.

Change for Change’s Sake

Here’s a problem that’s plagued the software industry for years, but in more recent times has become a big, big problem. With the rush to add new features, no one stops to review the changes for functionality. Product managers are entirely blinded by their job requirement to deliver something new all of the time. However, new isn’t always better and Gutenberg proves this one out in droves. Simply because someone believes a product can be better doesn’t mean that the software architects are smart or creative enough to craft that reality.

We must all accept that creating new things sometimes works and sometimes fails. More than that, we need to recognize a failure BEFORE we proceed down the path of creation. Part of that is in the “Proof of Concept” phase. This is the time when you build a mini-version of a concept to prove out its worth. It is typically at the “Proof of Concept” stage where we can identify success or failure.

Unfortunately, it seems that many companies blow right past the proof-of-concept stage and jump from on-paper design into full-bore development efforts. Without a proper design review by at least some stakeholders, there’s no way to know if the end result will be functional, useful or indeed solve any problems. This is exactly where Gutenberg sits.

While I can’t definitively state that the Gutenberg team blew past the proof-of-concept stage, it certainly seems that they did. Anyone reviewing Gutenberg’s blocks idea could have asked one simple question, “How exactly are blocks better than cut and paste?” The answer here is the key. Unfortunately, the actual answer to this question likely would have been political double-speak which doesn’t answer the question or it might end up being a bunch of statistical developer garbage not proving anything. The real answer is that this block system idea doesn’t actually improve blogging. In fact, it weighs down the blogging experience tremendously.

Instead of spending time writing, which is what we bloggers do (and actually want to do), we now spend more time playing Legos with the editor to determine which block fits where. As a blogger, an editor should work for us, not against us. Spending 1/3 of our time managing editor blocks means the loss of 1/3 of our time we could have been writing. Less time writing means less articles written.

Because blogging is about publishing information, speed is of utmost importance. Instead of fumbling around in clumsy blocks, we should spend our time formulating our thoughts and putting them down onto the page. For this reason, Gutenberg gets in our way, not out of our way.

At a Crossroads — Part II

Circling back around, we can now see exactly WHY WordPress.com is at a crossroads. The managers at WordPress.com need to ask this simple question, “What makes our bloggers happy?” The answer to this question is, “A better and faster editor.”

Are Gutenberg’s failings making bloggers happy? No. Since the answer to this question is “No”, WordPress.com managers need to realize there’s a problem afoot… a problem which can be solved. Nothing requires the WordPress.com platform to use Gutenberg… or at least the block portions of it. Because there exists a solution in the Classic Block, it would be simple to launch Gutenberg directly into a locked-in version of the Classic Block and not allow any further blocks to be created… essentially dumping the vast majority of Gutenberg.

This change reverts the editor back to Calypso and effectively does away with Gutenberg almost entirely. Though, this is a stop-gap measure. Eventually, the WordPress.com managers will need to remove Gutenberg entirely from the WordPress.com platform and replace it with a suitably faster and more streamlined editor, perhaps based on a better, updated version of Calypso. It’s time for this change. Why?

If the Gutenberg team cannot get a handle on crafting an editor that works after 3 years, then Gutenberg needs to be removed and replaced with an editor team actually willing to improve the blogging experience. WordPress.com needs to be able to justify its sales offerings, but it’s exceedingly difficult when you have what should be the cornerstone of the platform, the editor, working against you. This makes it exceedingly difficult for new would-be buyers to literally spend money for WordPress.com platform. Paying for an editor that barely works is insane. WordPress.com managers can’t be so blind as to not see this effect?

The bottom line is, how do you justify replacing an editor with an under 2 second launch time with an editor that now has a 10-20 second launch time? That’s taking steps backwards. How do you justify an editor that lags behind the keyboard typing by up to 12 seconds when the previous editor had no lag at all? Again, steps backwards. Isn’t the point in introducing new features to make a product better, faster and easier? Someone, somewhere must recognize this failure in Gutenberg besides me!! Honestly, it’s in the name of the product “WordPress”. How can we “press words” without an editor that “just works”?

WordPress.com, hear me, it’s time to make a change for the better. Dumping Gutenberg from the WordPress.com platform is your best hope for a brighter future at WordPress.com. As for the WordPress.org team, let them waddle in their own filth. If they want to drag that Gutenberg trash forward, that’s on them.

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