WordPress 5.0

A screenshot of the "most used" blocks in the new WordPress editor

So, a few weeks ago the new version of WordPress, the content management system I use to run this site, came out. Its major (if only) new feature was the new block-based editor, developed under the name Gutenberg (oddly named after the editor of movable type, which as well as an early-modern printing technology is also the name of an early blog management system, now gone commercial and very expensive). This basically divides the content into ‘blocks’ which can include paragraphs, quotes, images, embedded videos and even things like tweets. You can then move these around or save them for use in future entries. This produced quite a bit of discontent and a forked version of WordPress, called ClassicPress, has been launched by a team which complain that WordPress itself “is no longer a community led project (instead, it’s an Automattic led project)”, i.e. run by Matt Mullenweg’s (the lead developer’s) company; one of their supporters told me that WordPress’s direction is to be more like WIX. ClassicPress, which calls itself “the business-focussed CMS”, has yet to release version 1.0, however.

Installing that did occur to me as I was reluctant to use anything that looked like a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor to edit blog pages; I wanted to edit plain text and insert formatting as I need, mainly using Markdown. My experience is that they tend to produce over-formatted text; if you’ve ever seen a blog page with fonts and text sizes that change halfway through or several times in the course of the article, that’s down to a visual editor. As some readers may know, I maintain my own desktop blog editing software which can run on both the Mac OS and Linux (and Windows, although I do not have a computer that runs Windows at the moment). However, I did not want to switch to a new system which offered no guarantees that it will be updated consistently or remain compatible with WordPress, especially as I use a large number of plugins on this site. I installed the Classic Editor plugin, which includes both the WYSIWYG editor and the plain-text editor I normally use. However, I was interested to see what block editing was like, but any time I tried to use it, it would not let me add blocks; it would just give me a single block and no formatting buttons. I asked around, including in comments on the WordPress Facebook page, and some people suggested that I should disable or delete the Classic Editor plugin. I did not want to delete it, so I carried on using that until I found a solution. Finally, I found a page that explained that the problem was the option to disable the visual editor, which I had checked. When I turned that option off (i.e. enabled the visual editor), the block editor was restored to full functionality.

A screenshot of the "embeds" menu in the WordPress 5.0 block selector.
The embeds menu

And I find it exceedingly convenient. Formatting options are minimal, unlike in previous versions; just italic, bold, links, strike-through and alignment options. If you want to make a paragraph a quote, you insert a quote block. Inserting images has become a lot simpler, and you can resize them by just clicking and dragging on the image’s outer frame; gone are the days of having to resize before uploading or use a plugin to give you the right size thumbnails. There is a considerable array of types of blocks to choose from, including all the types you’d use in a web document, such as headings, lists, preformatted text and so on, and the biggest selection is in the “embed” section; every social media and streaming service you can think of is there. If you wrote a previous entry in the classic editor and use the block editor to edit it, it can easily be converted into blocks (although I have not tried it).

I’ve found a few niggling problems; one of them is that sometimes, when you click on the link that lets you set the publishing time (to schedule the entry for the future or to back-date it), it switches to the block settings tab instead. This will go away if you move the mouse around and open a menu and close it again or something, but really needs fixing. Also, I find that the “publish/update” button at the top will not activate, and this is a particular problem when you try to publish an edit after publishing (if you open the published entry from the Dashboard, this doesn’t happen). However, this isn’t an issue with the block system, it’s a general user interface issue. As a lifelong (well, blogging career-long) sceptic of visual editors, this one is a winner and I’m going to keep using it. I may even retire my blogging app, as it only works on platforms where I can just use a web browser to blog.

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