Project Gutenberg: What Does it Mean for Thrive Themes Products?

"Project Gutenberg" is the name of a visual(ish) editor that is in development by Automattic, the creators of WordPress. It is set to replace the current WordPress editor at some point in the future.

Since our core product is a visual editor (Thrive Architect), some of our users have asked us how Project Gutenberg will affect our own work and our products. This post is our answer to that question.


The Near Future

At the time of this writing, Project Gutenberg is in beta. You can download it and try it on a test site, to get a feel for it yourself.

Originally, the plan was to include it as a core part of WordPress in the next major version update, but there have been a few setbacks on the way. First of all, the beta plugin has not been well received. At the time of writing, it has a 2.5 star rating in the WordPress repository, with the most common rating being 1 star:

Many voices in the WordPress space have also been more critical than encouraging of the project. This doesn't spell doom in any way, but it indicates that there's still a lot of work to be done before Project Gutenberg can replace the current WordPress editor.

A further issue is that Gutenberg was originally built using the React framework. This framework is created by Facebook and due to legal and licensing matters that are beyond my attention span for such things, Automattic decided to switch to a different framework.

All of this simply means that from a development standpoint, Project Gutenberg is not mature yet. When it will be ready for wide adoption is unclear at this point.

How We're the Same

In what ways is Project Gutenberg the same as Thrive Architect? Where is there potential overlap?

Right now, it's mostly the stated purpose of Project Gutenberg that overlaps with what we're doing with Thrive Architect. Project Gutenberg is ambitious and the end goal is to make content creation more visual and more intuitive for users.

Gutenberg is based on "blocks" and the idea is that theme and plugin developers will be able to add such blocks for different purposes. In functionality, these blocks are no different from short codes, but instead of looking at a page full of short codes, you'll see visual representations, which should make things a lot more user friendly.

This is similar to what we do in two ways:

  1. Thrive Architect is all about providing a true visual representation of your content.
  2. We are also working on providing more "building blocks" for rapid website and content creation.

How We're Different

In the intro, I called Project Gutenber a "visual(ish)" editor. If you try out the beta, you'll quickly see why.

The new editor has an interface that looks like a front end editor as well as some features that are reminiscent of a visual editor, but it's not really a visual editor. Here are some reasons why:

  • The editor view in Gutenberg looks kinda like a web page, but it doesn't look like the page your visitors will see.
  • The order of different text, image and media blocks on the page can be shuffled around, but there is no true drag and drop functionality.
  • There is no responsive editing and there's no real functionality for building column layouts.
  • The editor looks and feels different but currently, there's not much you can do with Project Gutenberg that you can't do with the default WP editor.

Without the backing of the WordPress team, this plugin would stand no chance in the market. Because it does have the backing of the WordPress team, we can assume it will stick around and be given the chance to mature. And eventually, it will maybe be an alternative to other visual editors worth considering. But right now, it is very far from that.

So, a major difference between Project Gutenberg and Thrive Architect is that Gutenberg is not a true visual editor and probably never will be. For Thrive Architect, true and instant visual editing is a cornerstone feature.

Apart from that, there are 2 reasons why I doubt our paths will ever cross with Gutenberg:

  1. We specialize in developing with a conversion focus and with business use cases in mind. Automattic have a track record of developing for everything but conversions. They tend to keep things simple and basic and they don't develop things with a business purpose in mind. Case in point: there has never even been a "button" element in WordPress core (there's one in Gutenberg, but it doesn't work yet...).
  2. The development pace of WordPress is understandably slow. I believe that by the time Project Gutenberg turns into a decent editor, the Thrive Themes team will be even further ahead than we already are.

The Far Future?

So far, I haven't had much good to say about Project Gutenberg. However, I'm actually very much in favor of it. Project Gutenberg is an example of WordPress moving forward and keeping up with the times. While their development pace is slow and deliberate, it is also consistent and that's one of the great things about WordPress.

I doubt that Project Gutenberg will ever impact our own products. BUT: there are millions of WordPress users who don't need the kind of business and conversion focused tools we create. And for them, a more visual and friendlier editing experience built straight into WordPress can only be a good thing.

I also predict that there will be at least one company that builds a premium extension for Gutenberg, which adds many features that current visual editors for WordPress already boast. The company that does this best will probably be able to carve out a piece of the market for itself. Thus, there will be more competition in the "visual editor for WordPress" space and that is good for customers.

I'm sure the WordPress team will overcome the early hurdles they've encountered with the project and I'll be watching the progress they make with great interest.

What are your thoughts on Project Gutenberg? Have you tried the beta? Do you think you'll use it in the future? Let me know by leaving a comment!


Author: Shane Melaugh

Shane Melaugh is a co-founder and the CEO of Thrive Themes. When he isn’t plotting new ways to create awesome WordPress themes & plugins, he likes to geek out about camera equipment and medieval swords. He also writes about startups and marketing here.

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