Try out the new editor here. (Note: It’s a good idea to click on the cog in the top right corner before you start editing, as this provides a better impression of how the editor appears within WordPress itself).
The WordPress community widely anticipated that this would be released in 2019, however this was dramatically brought forward, and the update launched on Thursday 6 December. Central to the update is Gutenberg, however there is more to the update, which you can read about here.
This is by far the biggest change that has ever been made to WordPress. It could fundamentally change the way that many WordPress sites are built – rather than using WordPress concepts such as shortcodes, custom meta fields, custom post types, and potentially plugins such as Advanced Custom Fields to build pages. Instead it will become necessary to build ‘custom blocks’ for page areas containing dynamic content, which are optimised for the new editor. Similarly, because the new editor provides far more powerful capabilities for end users to customise the appearance of page areas, WordPress themes will need to be designed in such a way that they can accommodate these customisations without any compatibility issues.
In the longer term, WordPress are planning some even more radical changes – other WordPress components such as Widgets and Menus will be replaced by a block-based approach as well, and it will become possible to edit entire websites in a more visual way. Ultimately building/managing a WordPress site is likely to involve an experience that is more similar to using one of a page builder WP plugins, such as Visual Composer.
The new editor has sharply divided opinion within the WordPress community. On the one hand, for users who are moderately technically inclined, but who don’t necessarily have much knowledge of HTML coding, the new editor provides many opportunities for advanced customisation of the appearance of their webpages. The concept of ‘blocks’ also unifies many disparate elements of WordPress which have emerged over the years, so these changes provide a more consistent unified experience. On the other hand, the new editor provides so many new capabilities and controls, that some users may find the interface overwhelming. It might also be harder to achieve certain things, since there is potentially less control over the structure of the HTML the editor produces. There are also many concerns that the new editor is being released “before it is ready” – i.e. there is a big risk of compatibility issues for existing sites (e.g. resulting in existing content edited using the new editor ‘breaking’), problems with third party plugins, and/or there may be unexpected bugs when using the editor controls.
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