101 – Matt Mullenweg… Why Gutenberg? And why now?

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Interview – Matt Mullenweg… Why Gutenberg? And why now?

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With our special guest: Matt Mullenweg

Today we welcome Matt Mullenweg on to the WP Builds podcast. Matt has been using WordPress as long as anyone else, with one exception!

He is the co-founder of WordPress along with Mike Little, so he knows a thing or two.


We talk about Gutenberg, why Matt thinks that we need it, and why we need it now. We go on to chat about how it’s divided the WordPress community, especially from the perspective of users with accessibility needs. We finish with a discussion about how the community can reunite after this ‘schism’ and what Matt thinks of the recent ClassicPress fork of WordPress.

Show notes:

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It was almost two years ago that I heard about Gutenberg. At that time is was just an idea, the very beginning of something. I’m pretty sure that I did not hear about it again for at least another six months.

Later still, say at the start of 2018, I began to hear more and more about it. The trickle became a stream, and recently that stream became a river. Writing the WP Builds Weekly WordPress News, as I do, it’s almost the only thing that I appear to have written about recently. Seriously, go to that link and see how many times I have used the word ‘Gutenberg’, it’s absurd.

It’s a topic which has divided the WordPress community unlike anything else in the recent past. Many people are entirely happy with the current WordPress editor. They like the workflow that they’ve become accustomed to over the years. Sure enough, it’s not really “What You See Is What You Get”, but people have got around the flaws and figured out how to make it work in entirely predictable ways. A shortcode here, an image there… we know what our WordPress page or post will look like, because we’ve been through this a million times before. Why would we want to break something that’s working for us? Why would we want to have to learn something new?

I suppose that the reason can be summed up with the word “progress”. Things change quickly in the modern world and the internet more so than just about anything else. Websites that looked great a few years back look terrible today, the tools that you use online are always being updated to accomodate some new technology. I can adjust the heating in my house from anywhere in the word and Elon Musk can land a rocket on a coin for goodness sake!

WordPress is no different. It needs to adapt to keep up with the latest technologies and expectations of the users of the internet. I know that this is not all of you, but you get the point. WordPress, Matt argues, cannot stay still when the rest of the world isn’t.

Right now that means Gutenberg, a re-imagining of how we can create our content. A new of constructing that content through ‘blocks’. You want text, then use a text block, you want and image, then drag in the image block, you want a block that repeats – yep. In fact, if you can imagine it you can build a block to do that. You should probably go and check Gutenberg out for yourself.

It all sounds so simple doesn’t it? New editor for WordPress… exciting new possibilities… let’s go. Erm… no!

Many people are unhappy about the new editor. The ratings on the Gutenberg plugin page are very low indeed! Many people have installed it and they don’t like it and they don’t want it. Not now, not in their beloved WordPress. And that’s the problem, people love WordPress, it’s theirs and they don’t want it to be changed. They’ve invested their time, their energy and their careers into WordPress and all this change is something that they could do without.

Is this WordPress being designed from the top down? Is Automattic now the arbiter of what WordPress will look like? I don’t know, but Matt does!

Matt explains how the project began and how it’s not really the first ‘schism’ in WordPress’ history. He tries to assuage people’s fears about Gutenberg and indicates that the old “Classic Editor” is here to stay, stable and maintained for years to come. He also explains what the future might hold in a Gutenberg enabled WordPress. New features, ease of use, cross CMS support for Gutenberg blocks.

He also addresses the issues that have arisen recently concerning accessibility and how useable Gutenberg is by those with accessibility needs. He’s very honest here. Is it perfect, no. Does he wish it was better, yes. Will it get better, yes. He’s been around software development for a long time and knows that this iteration is just the first of many stages. The message seems to be – it’s going to be better and the transition over to WordPress 5.0 is likely going to be anticlimactic.

If you’re not interested in a transition to WordPress 5.0, then you could always use the newly forked ClassicPress. Matt explains that it’s okay to fork WordPress and as the fork is also GPL, they might see if anything interesting over there to bring back into WordPress. He wonders though why go to those lengths when the Classic Editor will make WordPress work without a trace of Gutenberg?

I for one loved chatting to Matt. I hope that you enjoy listening to it.

To carry on the conversation use the comments below, or you could join the WP Builds Facebook group or subscribe to WP Builds on the many platforms that we use.

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WP Builds Weekly WordPress News

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Nathan Wrigley
Nathan Wrigley

Nathan writes posts and creates audio about WordPress on WP Builds and WP Tavern. He can also be found in the WP Builds Facebook group, and on Mastodon at wpbuilds.social. Feel free to donate to WP Builds to keep the lights on as well!

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