GutenTalks: Author and Developer Matt Cromwell

The new Gutenberg editor launching later this year has been generating quite a buzz in the WordPress community for the better part of this year.

As part of our GutenTalk series, Bluehost sat down with Author and Developer Matt Cromwell and discussed his opinions and experience using Gutenberg ahead of its debut. Check out more from his interview below.


Matt, Gutenberg is bringing about quite a change to the current WordPress ecosystem….do you think it was important for it to be built on React.js?

“I don’t think the framework used is that important. It could be React or Vue or a dozen other frameworks. What was important was that Gutenberg be built with a modern programming language that allows users to create their content dynamically in the browser with modern expectations for interactivity. That matters a lot.”

As a developer, what observations have you made about how Gutenberg is reacting with metaboxes?

“When the beta was launched, the PHP metabox support needed adjustments. Many developers, myself included, found it challenging to work with the metaboxes during that time. I think these adjustments caused Gutenberg’s Core developers to receive an influx of feedback that they had to consider for updates in the future.

Since then, it’s evolved to be a virtually seamless experience. I’m very satisfied with seeing how classic PHP metaboxes are displayed in the sidebar and at the bottom without any code changes at all. It’s very well done.

The next phase will be how plugin and theme authors adopt Gutenberg-centric standards in creating new metaboxes. I look forward to that.”

How do you think the ability to create custom blocks brings new opportunities to JavaScript and PHP developers?

“While there is a PHP workaround to create Gutenberg blocks, I expect those who are serious about development with WordPress will take the time required to learn how to create dynamic and powerful React/Javascript based blocks instead. Many WordPress developers cut their teeth in development with PHP first, and have not kept up with client-side languages like Javascript, and therefore have a lot of catching up to do. Gutenberg is a great opportunity for them to expand their skill-set into more modern, relevant, and in-demand programming languages.”

Gutenberg now provides additional CSS classes to certain blocks, how does this change the formatting of HTML?

“That won’t affect 99% of users. Using custom classes for a block depends on first creating those custom styles either in your theme or in the Custom CSS Customizer option. Most users won’t fuss with that at all.

Instead, what will be used more is the ability you see in the Gutenberg blockquote block. It has two different styles built into it that you can choose from. I assume that theme authors, in particular, will want to customize the styles of the Core Gutenberg blocks along with registering new blocks that allow users to choose from various styles.”

How is the anchor feature going to improve CORE?

“Anchors have always been possible with TinyMCE, just not easily discoverable. Truthfully, many content writers don’t leverage anchors very much. It will be very useful for folks like me, who write complex documentation or the occasional product marketer who wants to point to a specific pricing table on a page.”

Gutenberg is the combined effort of the WordPress community, developers, and contributors—how does this project continue to support open source?

“To date, Gutenberg is the largest open source project I’ve witnessed evolve from start to finish. Despite a lot of community members saying their voices aren’t heard, the public collaboration has been pretty impressive.

It’s excellent how Drupal, Joomla, and even Ghost (to a lesser extent) immediately sought to leverage Gutenberg for their own project and communities, in open source fashion. In my opinion, this is further validation and evidence of users embracing Gutenberg and the strength and benefits of open source software. Additionally, Drupal recently announced the “Gutenberg Cloud” project [link], which is a direct collaboration between WordPress and Drupal developers — it’s pretty exciting.”

What do you think is the biggest myth surrounding Gutenberg?

“One of the biggest myths is that it will split the community or bring Armageddon to the whole project. There’s a lot of doom and gloom out there because many users don’t want a content builder at all. There is momentum already on a fork of WordPress from version 4.9.8 (pre-Gutenberg). There will most definitely be a lot of bumps and disruptions for WordPress users when Gutenberg is merged into Core and released, but that transitional time will eventually fade. Gutenberg will be synonymous with innovation.”

How do you feel the three phases of Gutenberg will impact the future of WordPress as a potential page builder?

“The three phases of Gutenberg that Matt Mullenweg has described are (1) the content writer; (2) the customizer; and (3) a Gutenberg theme. I think that vision is an acknowledgment that you need all three of those things in order to have full customization abilities and packing that all into one plugin is not possible.

The editor/customizer/theme combo will usher in a new way to customize your WordPress website. Existing page builders will need to recognize the importance of the customizer and themes. In addition, theme authors will have to become more familiar with the editor and customizer in order to stay relevant and full-featured.”

Tell us what makes you most excited about the Gutenberg release?

“I’m really excited to see users begin to build awesome content, new plugins, and themes. We don’t know how powerful it will be until the whole WordPress ecosystem is leveraging it.”

Have your initial thoughts about Gutenberg changed? What were they to begin with?

“Here’s an excerpt from an early write-up about my first experience with Gutenberg:

“Personally, I think [Gutenberg] opens up tons of opportunity. WordPress is all about publishing; its the heart and soul of its core purpose. Because of that, it’s natural for WordPress to lead the way when it comes to the article writing experience.”

“In that article, I also shared weaknesses, hopes, and concerns. Most of my concerns have been addressed to date. The biggest concern that I had at that time that is still problematic today is Gutenberg’s ability to do columns, floated images, and text. It’s still very buggy on that front and I think they really can’t launch Gutenberg until that experience is rock solid. Columns and floated elements are one of the meat and potatoes of good page builders.”

How do you think the community can better support each other during this transitional time?

“I think better support will occur when the community has more experience with Gutenberg like building more blocks, sharing awesome layouts, and writing more tutorials. I have no worries at all that all of those things will happen in full force once Gutenberg is in Core. The WordPress community loves to be helpful and constructive during transitional times. We will generously share advice and tips to make the transition great for everyone, there is no question about that!”


Thanks for talking to us about Gutenberg today! If you’d like to learn more about Matt, check out his bio:

  Matt Cromwell is Head of Support and Community Outreach at GiveWP.com and WordImpress.com. He is the author of several popular free plugins and the Lead Admin of the Advanced WordPress Facebook group (which boasts over 30K+ members). He is also a popular blogger at mattcromwell.com

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