As this site and many others demonstrate, WordPress is a valued tool for genealogists. Whether simple blog-style sites or powerful GEDCOM and gallery display engines–the platform can do it all. This author has been using WP since 2009, first for simple blogs and then as the platform progressed very complex and multi-platform integrated sites. It has become so versatile that I have (and many others as well) abandoned more ‘industrial’ CMS platforms such as Joomla or Magento. Throughout Automattic’s (the parent company that develops WP) tenure certain things have remained constant. Of greatest importance has been the ability of third-party developers to create plugin applications to extend the versatility and capabilities of the WP core. The focus has always been to offer basic and well-rounded functionality that is fast, stable, and allows website authors flexibility in their creations.
Back in the early days of website design, and long before WP was even a concept–the idea of WYSIWYG1“What You See is What You Get” editing lept forward. Until this became a reality, developers had to hand-code in HTML what they wanted to have happen on a page, and then view the fruits of their labor in a web browser. With WYSIWYG, page editors resembled word processor or publishing programs–allowing easy formatting and inserting the HTML code in the background. Similar systems added BBCODE capability to PHP driven web pages. It was simple, easy, and intuitive. Naturally, the ‘need’ for flashier and more graphically oriented pages arose in direct response to increased internet network speeds, and larger storage spaces for webpage media materials. Numerous other page design methods arose, and in the scuffle for dominance and presentation–something got lost–such as the average site developer!
WordPress has always provided a simple text editor function, along with basic WYSIWYG functions. It has been possible for a very long time to extend these formatting options through the TinyMCE editor plugin or some permutation thereof. Many plugins (in addition to TinyMCE) arose to solve complicated design matters, and these were always left to the developer to pick and choose what they wanted according to their needs and skills. Soon into this dynamic came ‘block editing.’ This is a relatively simple concept, in that a designer could choose from pre-formatted ‘blocks’ that could contain text, tables, media, or other specialized materials. One can choose and insert them in a plethora of locations on a page–without disturbing the formatting or placement of other blocks. Genius, yes?
Many flavors of these block editors were created and gained followings. I personally use Elementor on some pages, and the simpler “classic” editor on other pages. This is something that works for me and millions of other site authors. Let’s get back to WordPress platform development. The bright boys and girls at Automattic decided to create their own block editor–long after others were fully mature and supported by instructional materials and training videos. They thought themselves clever in naming it “Gutenberg” after the inventor of the printing press–and then seeking to embed it as a CORE component of WP. Their intent is to fully phase out the classic editor at some point in the next several years. This is a supreme brain fart, and only complicates things that do not need complication.
Advertised as ‘simplifying page creation for beginners‘ it is the exact opposite. Clunky, difficult to work with, and often not optimal in result–we are promised that it will improve with age. Why they are not going to reasonably offer Gutenberg as a plugin or option is unknown. The problem is that it does not play well with lots of front-end applications, forms, and other plugins. Automattic’s response is that one can download a plugin that restores classic editor functionality until third-party plugin developers catch up to WP Gutenberg. This is just one more instance of the software cart trying to lead the horse–obviously knowing what is better for us than we do. Sound familiar?
WP users are already rebelling. The Classic Editor plugin to restore that functionality has already been downloaded and installed over 5 million times as of this writing. Other similar plugins are offered as well, totaling another 1 million plus. This should soundly tell the WP developers something quite clearly. However, they do not seem to be listening.
Those site authors who host their WP pages on the ‘free’ wordpress.com mega site are trapped. Free accounts cannot change the editor. They are stuck with Gutenberg. Many genealogical sites are there. Why does this matter? Simply said pages created in the old classic editor have some real issues when trying to edit them in Gutenberg. Not a pretty sight and tens of thousands of posts in help forums and elsewhere declare their plight. Tough luck, and what did you want for free anyway? One can upgrade to paid Business plans and fix the problem with the Editor plugin. Meh…
And so it goes. For the time being those of us who are “free agents” using our own web hosting solutions are good for right now. We can hope that the third-party development community always keeps updating Classic Editor plugins. We can hope. Why is it that simpler, new and improved is often more of a trap and difficulty than a solution to a problem that does not exist?