Guttenberg – the problem with blocks

For those who don’t know, Guttenberg is the name of the new[ish] WordPress editor, and unlike standard word processors, it isn’t based on a linear flow of text. Instead, posts are built from blocks of ‘things’, a bit like legos.

But what are blocks, and why should we care?

In Guttenberg, each block contains one type of ‘thing’ – i.e. you can have one block for the heading, a second block for the paragraph, a third block for the image and a fourth one for a list of things. You can also embed videos and audio etc in blocks.

Because each of these components is inside its own block, they’re kind of ‘self-contained’ and can be moved up or down using arrow keys.

This is what the arrow keys look like:

The Block Move arrows in Guttenberg

Each click of the up or down arrow moves the whole block up or down by one block.

Useful, right?

Well, yes and no. If your posts are relatively short, and you only need to move a block a short distance, the arrow keys work just fine. But what if you realise that a block at the end of the post should really be at the beginning? And there are 20 or more paragraphs/blocks in between? That’s twenty clicks. 😦

Or what if you realise that a whole section of your post needs to be deleted?

I can tell you from bitter experience that deleting a whole series of blocks is a major pain in the proverbial. To delete a block you must:

  • click inside the block to be deleted,
  • click the three dots at the far right of the floating menu,
  • scroll down until you reach the ‘Remove block’ option, and
  • click it.

There is a slightly faster option which involves clicking inside the block to be deleted and then pressing SHIFT + ALT + Z on the keyboard. But…it gets real old real fast when you have 20 or more blocks to delete. If you open the post in the Classic Editor, you can select and delete paragraphs easily, but that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?

How do I know all this? I know because I’ve just spent a lot of woman hours looking for an easier way to update one of my How-to books. ‘How to Print your Novel with Kindle Direct Publishing’ was out-of-date in both the ebook and print book versions, so I thought I’d turn the whole thing into a series of posts and update it online.

It seemed so easy at first…-cough-

Copy/pasting the text into a series of posts was easy enough – Guttenberg automatically turned each paragraph into a block – but as KDP, Thorpe-Bowker and the National Library of Australia had all updated their websites quite dramatically, there were a lot of old, outdated blocks to remove.

Updating the relevant chapters also required that some parts be re-structured. And yes, you guessed it, there is no way of selecting a whole series of blocks and moving them as a group. There is a group function, but I couldn’t get it to work properly. Perhaps it was never designed for ‘group moves’.

In hindsight, I should have updated the Word file first, and then poured it into Guttenberg. But I didn’t know then what I know now, did I?

Sadly, the ‘Group’ function didn’t work as a ‘Reusable’ either. A reusable block is a sentence or image or whatever that can be plonked into a post without the need to copy something and then paste it.

As I wanted to create consistent navigation across something like 19 blog posts, I created some reusable blocks that I used for each post:

When I’m finished, all of the ‘Click here…’ blocks will be live navigation links to other posts in the series, so not having to copy/paste each one is nice. But is it nice enough to keep using Guttenberg?

I admit that most bloggers probably won’t try to publish a whole book on WordPress the way I have done, but I’m sure I can’t be the only person smashing my head against Guttenberg’s limitations…

If WordPress wants Guttenberg to make blogging easy for all bloggers, then it has to solve these core problems with blocks. If they can’t be solved, then the old ‘Classic’ editor has to be retained because it’s still head and shoulders more powerful than Guttenberg.

I’ve given Guttenberg as fair a trial as I know how, and it’s just not good enough. Not yet. For now I’m going back to the old Classic.

cheers

Meeks

About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

64 responses to “Guttenberg – the problem with blocks

  • EB

    Good morning. Although I discovered your post only today and am coming quite late to this discussion I would like to suggest a few corrections.

    First of all, the block editor is called “Gutenberg” and not “Guttenberg”. While this might seem an insignificant detail, it is not, because whenever one launches a full-scale attack or criticism at something, it is better to show that one knows what one is talking about and this usually starts with using the correct name. I know this looks slightly pedantic, but it is important in this context because you mention in your post that your negative experience with the block editor was most acutely felt while trying to rework and republish a book on publishing. A potential reader might be slightly underwhelmed when someone writing specifically about publishing – albeit a technical aspect – doesn’t know that Johannes Gutenberg (Mainz, Germany 1397-1468), the father of modern printing, has given his name to the new editor.

    Secondly, the criticism regarding the editor itself is factually incorrect. You correctly write that moving a block can be done using the arrows that become active when you select a block (encircled in your image). You can move the blocks up and down one block at a time when clicking these arrows. And indeed, that requires many clicks when you want to move a block all the way up when it is number 20 and you want to put it first. An alternative, as you state is to remove it and paste it above. That can be a bit cumbersome. But there is another alternative that you overlooked. In between the arrow is a dotted part (visible in your image) you can click and hold that part and then drag and drop the whole block. This makes it very easy to move a block (whether it is a paragraph, an image, or something else). You can even drop these blocks into other, e.g. so called ‘container’ blocks. It takes a bit of getting used to because you have to hold the block and hover it in the right place; then a blue line appears where the block will be when you release it. This is very versatile, hands-on, practical and not al all a symptom of ‘techno-terrorism’. In fact the new editor is an improvement, because the blocks generate semantically correct code while allowing the user to focus on content, structure and design.

    There are some small usability-issues, but these are being addressed with every new release of WP. For plugin-developers it has also become very easy to design focussed plugins that address specific functionalities that can be contained in blocks. Blocks are in no way forcing you to abide by a specific design, because you can add your own CSS classes to them and style them any way you like. The advantage of this approach is that you can target exactly the block or type of block you want.

    Finally. It is possible to select groups of blocks (using the SHIFT key and selecting multiple blocks); you can move these groups up and down with the arrow keys, just as a single block (the dotted part has been disabled here). So with a bit of planning and experience you can swiftly rearrange all elements on a page (e.g. by moving a group of paragraph and header blocks down in stead of moving one block up) is seconds.

    I see many negative comments that would not be there if people would spend some time to acquaint themselves with the thing one is commenting about. It is easy to blame developers for everything (I am not a developer, just another WordPress user), but this evolution of the editing environment was very well conceived and had given us, users, much more freedom and tools if we are flexible enough to give it some attention.

    Moreover it is not true that the ‘classic’ editor is better for writing while Gutenberg is better for graphical editing. The charm of using these blocks is that they support structured writing and hence, thinking. You can write in one go, as much text as you like. And if you hit the ENTER-key you create a new block, or paragraph. Working in this way I noticed that the block editor didn’t slow me down, but made me aware of the structure of my texts and the thinking behind them. You can always come back and revisit this structure which is now neatly divided into clearly separated elements, while in any classic editor it can be a long blob. Gutenberg invites you to think clearly and write clearly without forcing anything.

    The ‘limitations’ of the block editor so many commenters lament about are therefore saying more about themselves than about the subject of their critique. Why did no one spot the repetitive misspelling of “Gutenberg”? Why does everyone echo the criticism that surrounded the new editor when it was still in beta? Why doesn’t any of the responders seem to know how to use the editor properly, but thing to know enough to accuse the developers of techno-terrorism?

    Post scriptum. As a fellow blogger I would consider editing this post. I appreciate the intention but you mention your (Kindle) book on publishing, so one of your sub-objectives of this post probably is to bring this book under the attention of your audience. A critical audience would like to be reassured that an author writing on publishing has really thoroughly researched all the technical and historical aspects of the topic and this text may weaken this reassurance.

    I hope you take this long response not as criticism, but as an encouragement. Thank you for your interesting posts.

    Like

    • acflory

      My apologies to the WordPress developers for misspelling Gutenberg.

      Thank you for teaching me something I didn’t know. I just tried out both the functions you described, and they do work.
      As they are neither obvious, nor intuitive, my dislike of Gutenberg remains.

      As the block editor is your area of expertise, perhaps you should consider teaching WordPress bloggers how to use it properly.

      Like

      • EB

        I agree with you that some functionality is not always obvious at first glance. I suppose it will take some getting used to for many people. The block editor is not at all my area of expertise πŸ˜‰ far from it. I’m just another user. I suspect there are many tutorials out there already.

        Like

        • acflory

          I suspect the concepts behind the interface may be more familiar to young people used to doing everything on a mobile device. Thus ‘sliders’ and the idea of ‘grabbing’ something to move it, is common and therefore intuitive. For those used to laptops and desktops, these concepts are foreign when applied to applications such as word processing.
          I’ve used the Medium block editor as well, and found it to be fairly logical. I haven’t published anything on Medium for quite a while, but from memory, all the functions occur in one spot, to the left of each block.

          Like

  • acflory

    lol – I hope not! Then again… πŸ˜‰

    Like

  • wordlywoman2

    Shades of conspiracy here? Keep the uneducated masses in the dark!

    Like

  • MELewis

    I don’t know much about any of these things technically. All I know is that most every time a engineer (a colleague of mine used to call them ‘techno terrorists’ — not a bad name!) makes an ‘improvement’ to a piece of technology I use, it generally is not one for me. So many basic functions that used to be so easy in Word, for example, are now hidden behind other categories, requiring multiple clicks not to mention a super user’s knowledge to figure out where to find them. I don’t even know which editor I use in WP, but I always write my posts on Word first then upload via WP Admin. There are blocks, but it doesn’t seem hard to delete them, although I’ve never tried anything very ambitious. You are definitely a level far above this humble user!

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      lol – I agree re engineers! Don’t quote me, but I’m pretty sure Guttenberg and most other ‘innovations’ in the last few years have been in response to the need to go ‘mobile’.
      In reality, far more people access the internet via mobile devices than computers. Those mobile devices have become a hell of a lot more sophisticated and powerful, but they’re still tiny, with tiny screens which means websites that want to have a mobile presence have to cater to those limitations.
      Most big tech companies don’t want to keep two systems running in parallel – i.e. desktop and mobile – so they’re opting for the more popular device.
      Ergo, desktop/laptop users miss out. 😦

      Liked by 2 people

      • MELewis

        God help us if they ever confine writers to mobile devices! 😭

        Liked by 1 person

        • acflory

          lol – I suspect there’d be a mass exodus from WordPress! Then again, who knows what kind of power those devices will have in 20 years time? I’m convinced that teensy screens will be enhanced, somehow, the only question is how, and how long it’ll take. Ok, that was two questions…;)

          Liked by 2 people

      • Yorgos KC

        Why every time life abducts me, I return to a world that has changed in an undesirable way? First Twitter, now WP.. Thankfully, still, I can use the classic editor. From what I’ve read here, I’ll hate this Guttenberg “guy”. πŸ˜†

        Like

        • acflory

          lol – welcome back, Yorgos! The Guttenberg block editor isn’t ‘bad’, it’s just limited in some of the ways that writers are used to. On the other hand, it seems to have other functions that have me scratching my head. Maybe they’re website specific functions. Or something. -shrug- I’m not enough of a geek to know. πŸ™‚

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yorgos KC

            I wasn’t back, but I was on my way back. Now – I think! – I am back, so, thank you! πŸ˜˜πŸ˜˜πŸ’–
            As for the editors, I’m glad I can use the classic one and I hope it will never become necessary to find out whatever you still haven’t! 😁

            Like

          • acflory

            Oh! lol – then welcome back for real. πŸ˜€

            Since that post, I’ve discovered that inserting vimeo videos, for example, is a lot easier with Guttenberg. I really do believe that there’s now a dividing line – Guttenberg for graphicy things, Classic for actual writing. Fingers crossed the devs pay attention to people’s comments and leave Classic alone!

            Like

  • wordlywoman2

    That is way, way, out of my comfort zone. It would raise my anxiety levels off the charts.I won’t be trying it any time soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Widdershins

    Ah, Meeks, you’re a braver woman than I. πŸ˜€

    Like

    • acflory

      I like trying new stuff, plus I’d learned about blocks when I played with Medium, so not that brave. Actually, probably closer to stupidly stubborn. I should have stopped as soon as I started to hit the limitations, but by then I didn’t want to redo everything I’d done already. -sigh-

      Liked by 1 person

  • Bette A. Stevens

    Tried it and went back to Classic… I want control over my page design. Not sure what I’ll do when Classic bites the dust. Glad to hear I’m not alone. L< Have a great week, Meeks! xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      That’s it, precisely – control. Or lack thereof.
      Wordpress has been trying to kill off Classic for years now. I don’t understand why they can’t keep the two running in tandem. One for mobile phone users and the other for serious bloggers who aren’t constrained by a microscopic screen and a computer the size of a gnat. 😦

      Like

  • annabellefranklinauthor

    I had a go with Gutenberg before Christmas as I was under the impression they were going to force us to use it in January. Thank goodness they haven’t, as I wasn’t impressed with it at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Alien Resort

    I’ll cross my fingers that they don’t make it mandatory.

    Like

  • Candy Korman

    Thanks! Useful information.

    Like

  • jenanita01

    Because we won’t have the classic editor for much longer, I had a look at Gutenberg thinking if it was easy, I would make the switch.
    My brain tried, I know it did, but it had to crawl away after admitting defeat.
    I will try again, hopefully before hell freezes over!

    Liked by 2 people

  • Scottie

    Hello Meeka. Thank you for the posting on this, I wondered if I was the only one who disliked the block editor. For the types of posts I create the block method added more steps per item in these posts, which in some posts added a lot more time and steps to doing the post. I found the block editor to be frustrating and confusing. I like the simplicity and ease of the classic editor. Be well. Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Hi Scottie. Yes, it’s become so much more time consuming just to do the simplest things. And I HATE that floating menu. It’s forever getting in my way like a dog that tangles your legs up with its leash. 😦

      Like

  • Sue Vincent

    Having tried the new editor, I went back to Classic… for text-heavy posts, it is, as you say, far better.

    Liked by 1 person

  • CarolCooks2

    I am still Classic…and if I had to use Gburg would use copy and paste…I think we all want easy and hassle-free after the initial learning curve πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  • robertawrites235681907

    I cheat and write my entire story/post in word first. I then copy and paste it into the editor and it has been fine. I have read a few posts about the frustration of this new block system but I haven’t experienced issues due to my cheating.

    Liked by 2 people

    • acflory

      lol – I did almost the same – copy pasting from Word into Guttenberg, but I made the mistake of not updating /first/. Boy did I regret it.

      It’s never cheating if it works better than the tool you’re given. πŸ˜€

      Liked by 2 people

  • Matthew Wright

    I tend to use Word and then paste it in to Gutenberg – it mostly seems to work. I keep thinking that the block system is designed more for the convenience of letting advertisers insert their promotions between paragraphs than anything else.

    Liked by 3 people

  • Audrey Driscoll

    Can you still use the Classic editor for those long posts? And there is a way to do a line break within a block (Shift + Enter). Enter by itself creates a new block, as you know.

    Liked by 1 person

  • cagedunn

    I’m still bashing my head, but have left the books section as the old stuff, and slowly, slowly, and only maybe, updating at some stage.
    Or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      As writers, we’re used to typing into a proper wordprocessor. Anything less feels constricted and inefficient. If Guttenberg ends up providing the same level of control and ease of use as the old Classic, it will be worth learning. It’s just not there yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  • jenniferscoullar

    I went back to Classic ages ago! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

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