Are Gutenberg’s Bad Reviews a Sign of Failure?


Perception is everything. And when the perception of your product or service isn’t very positive, it can really throw a monkey-wrench into your plans for success (just ask Windows 8). Frankly, it can be very difficult to shake free from this kind of negativity.

At the moment, that’s what we’re seeing with the WordPress Gutenberg editor. As of this writing, the new editing experience hasn’t been merged into WordPress core, but is available in the form of a beta plugin. WordPress 4.9.8 included a call to test the plugin, which led to a huge leap in usage. With that came a flood of reviews – many of them negative.

But how big of a deal are those reviews? This is, after all, a piece of software that is still technically in beta form. Still, it seems like there is pent up frustration when it comes to Gutenberg. One wonders how this bodes for its future.

A Long Time Coming

Since the editor’s first beta plugin release back in June 2017, it seems the whole idea of the Gutenberg project has garnered controversy. Some developers have been miffed by the process for building out the new feature. Others have expressed concern about the effects it will have on existing websites – especially in relation to how it works with plugins and themes.

So, perhaps it’s not much of a surprise that a lot of negativity has come out for all to see. But, as I write this, over 56% of the plugin’s reviews in the official repository are just 1-star – the lowest rating possible. Could things really be this bad?

As someone who has come around on the idea of Gutenberg, I think the jury is still out as far as implementation goes. We don’t fully know what the final product that ships with WordPress 5.0 will be, although certainly we’ve seen the plugin version evolve over time. That’s the only thing we have to go on at the moment.

Beyond the steady stream of existential debates, there are legitimate gripes regarding how the UI is set up. Plus, all of the sheer unknowns regarding how well Gutenberg will work with the tens of millions of existing WordPress sites can cause at least some level of anxiety amongst designers and developers.

But, and this is just my opinion, I also feel like there are a vocal group who will oppose the move regardless of its quality (or lack thereof). I get the sense that, even if Gutenberg ran flawlessly and printed out a free slice of pizza as a bonus, there would still be resistance to the idea itself.

While everyone has a right to their opinion, this also indicates that perhaps at least some reviews should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Still, the negative perception is there and needs to be addressed.

The review page for Gutenberg.

How Can WordPress Right the Ship?

There is a lot that the Gutenberg team can do to change the perception of the editor. In fact, we’ve already seen some evidence that they are doing one very important thing: Engaging with reviewers.

Dotted throughout those plugin repository reviews are responses from team members. They’re attempting to gather more information from users regarding issues they’ve encountered. This can not only help in squashing bugs, but the empathy they’re showing also brings more of a human element to the project. For some, it can be much easier to scream at an object than a real person who’s trying to help.

But I also think that WordPress should be providing the community with more specifics – while also realizing that it may be harder than it sounds. From the very beginnings of the project, it has felt like so much of this is just up in the air without a firm landing date. Whether you’re a freelance designer or a big-time plugin developer, the uncertainty of when things will happen can be very frustrating. It also makes preparing for Gutenberg all the more difficult.

Beyond that, a lot of smart people who aren’t officially involved with Gutenberg’s development have weighed in on the subject. I think it behooves the team to seriously consider what these folks have to say, as well as any other well-meaning suggestions. For all I know, they may already be taking these steps. If not, better late than never.

Negative Gutenberg reviews, appropriately next a megaphone.

Don’t Touch That Panic Button…Yet

In this moment, I don’t think that the level of negativity Gutenberg has faced makes the project anything near a failure. We’re still so early on in the game and, to be fair, the amount of reviews we’ve seen so far are but a tiny fraction of the WordPress user base. Sure, they are representative. But it doesn’t necessarily doom the editor to the dustbin of history before it sees a proper release.

That doesn’t mean, however, that some of the criticisms aren’t spot-on. There are issues that need to be resolved and, just as importantly, hearts to win. How WordPress handles those challenges will say a lot on whether or not Gutenberg becomes a mainstay for creating and editing content.

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