WordPress 5.0, along with the Gutenberg editor (now officially called the Block Editor), was released in early December 2018.
The block editor on its own represents a major change for WordPress (it’s the first change to the editor for 10 years, and it’s a big one) but its implications are much wider:
The block editor, which currently does the same job as the many page-builder plugins that have been available for some time, is set to be expanded to eventually enable people to create their own templates and site layouts.
This is the foundation of a fundamental change of direction for WordPress because it moves it away from being a powerful CMS, that is used by thousands of businesses and companies, towards a Wix-type platform, more suited to individuals – private bloggers.
WordPress calls it the ‘democratisation of publishing’.
It introduces options, lots of them, that enable bloggers to control the layout of their pages. If they actually want to make every page on the site look different they can.
All done by dragging blocks into place.
There are blocks for paragraphs, images, galleries, videos, columns, tables – everything you can think of that you would want to put into a page is now delivered by a block.
All without the blogger needing to know a single stitch of code.
Technically it’s clever, but there’s another side to all this flexibility: it incurs what Chris Pearson, the creator of Thesis, calls ‘technical debt’.
Lots of it.
All that functionality is driven by code, and this code is sitting there on the platform just waiting for someone to use it.
But what if you just want a simple, single-column page?
No problem. But in this case all the code that enables you to add tables, galleries, and anything else you may want, is sitting there – un-used.
And if it’s not used, then it’s bloat.
The overall result is to make WordPress increasingly complex and code heavy, which will add to the cost and time to design and build sites, or to evolve and develop existing sites in the future.
Even users who just want to blog are now faced with a dizzying array of decisions about which blocks to use and what they want their pages to look like.
And in many cases the result is not very pretty (just look at some of the Wix sites).
For businesses, there are long term implications too: many of my clients (small and medium businesses) have grown and evolved their sites over time – and this will become a more complex and costly process as WordPress builds up more technical debt.
Websites are never ‘finished’
Websites are never ‘finished’. The nature of the Internet means that technologies are evolving, trends are evolving and fashions are evolving. Even SEO is evolving.
And, of course, your business evolves.
As a result, what businesses need is a website that is highly efficient, both in terms of current load-speed and SEO efficiency, as well as one that can easily evolve over time.
I’ve worked with clients who have started off with a simple website and, over time, added a shop, a directory and a forum. Others have added product catalogues and photo galleries.
The less ‘technical debt’ you have the easier it will be to evolve and grow your website to incorporate changes like these in the future.
So where do we go from here?
What are the options?
Although you don’t need to make it just yet, there will come a time when you need to decide what’s important to you, your business and your website.
If your requirement is to maintain the CMS functionality that you currently have, then there is a short-term option (the Classic Editor plugin) and a long-term option (ClassicPress).
In the short term the Classic Editor plugin will continue the editing experience you currently have and nothing much will change.
But only until the end of 2021.
At that point WordPress ceases support for the Classic Editor plugin and completes its final turn towards the site-wide block architecture.
For the longer term, if your business is evolving, your website is evolving and you prefer to stay with a business-focused Content Management System, then you should consider the ClassicPress platform.
Both are described in more detail below.
Classic Editor plugin
So great is the change with the new editor that the WordPress team has released a plugin that removes it and restores the editor that was used in versions up to 4.9.8.
It’s called the Classic Editor.
In the immediate term, and until December 2021, this will enable companies to continue to use WordPress as they have to date. If the block editor was to be restricted solely to the post/page editing function all would (potentially) be well.
But, as I said earlier, it’s not.
It is planned that the block editor will be expanded over time to enable users to manipulate page and site layouts.
There is no timeline for these developments yet. However, given that the Classic Editor will be supported through to the end of 2021, this implies that at around that time the block editor functionality will start its expansion into the design and layout of sites.
That’s when the ‘technical debt’ will really start to pile up.
ClassicPress – the WordPress fork
A long-term solution is to switch your site to ClassicPress.
ClassicPress is WordPress without the block editor and a development path that focuses on:
- Evolving and developing the CMS you are already familiar with, but focusing on the company and business sectors
- Reducing technical debt by streamlining the underlying code to be as efficient as possible
I’ve been involved on the periphery of the development of ClassicPress for a few months.
All the people behind it are long time, highly experienced and extremely knowledgeable WordPress developers who decided they were not happy with the technical development direction WordPress is taking.
So they developed ClassicPress as a fork of WordPress. It is based on WordPress 4.9.8, the last version before the block editor was introduced.
As it stands today, from a user’s perspective ClassicPress is WordPress 4.9.8
It has a different name, and some efficiencies have already been built in. For example, the WordPress code that kept it backward compatible with PHP 5 has been stripped out, reducing some bloat.
What about plugins and themes – are they compatible?
There are, and will be, questions about the risks and benefits of moving to ClassicPress. Not least about the compatibility with themes and plugins.
Among the questions that come to mind are:
- How easy is it to switch to ClassicPress and can I move back?
- Will my plugins and themes work with ClassicPress?
- What will happen to plugins and themes in the future once WordPress moves fully to blocks?
The answers to the first 2 are easy:
- Moving to ClassicPress is done with a plugin and restoring WordPress requires clicking a link.
- Any plugin or theme that works with WordPress 4.9.8 will work with ClassicPress.
What about the future?
The future, of course, is not as clear.
There will come a time when theme and plugin authors will have to make a decision: do they maintain plugins that are compliant with the block editor and backward compatible with WordPress 4.9.8 or not?
There will be a transition period, during which plugins and themes will need to be compliant with both 5.0 and 4.9.8, but that will only last as long as the Classic Editor plugin is supported – December 2021.
Thereafter, it is easy to see that many plugin and theme authors may want to focus either fully on the block editor or fully on ClassicPress.
It may also depend on which market plugin authors are targeting with their work. Are they developing plugins that bloggers will go for (e.g. social media plugins) or are they developing plugins for the business market (e.g. product catalogues)?
Based on that, I could see a situation where the plugins might ‘fork’ as well.
For example: I could see that the authors of plugins that are focused on business websites, and are not heavily used on ‘blogging’ sites, would move towards ClassicPress. Particularly if a commercial arrangement can be worked out.
And those that are more focused on bloggers, and get little traction with business sites, would stay with WordPress.
These are all areas that still have to be resolved and, at this point, it’s way too early to see which way things are going.
The good news, from my perspective, is that the ClassicPress team is already addressing these questions, both for themes and plugins, and some of the ideas being kicked around are very good.
I’m not going to discuss those here. I’m not closely enough involved, and I’m not in any sort of position to speak on behalf of the team.
Plus these ideas are still under discussion – nothing has been decided yet.
But I’m confident enough in what’s happening to have made a financial commitment to ClassicPress, and I will move my sites to it as soon as the production version is ready.
Learn more about ClassicPress
If you’re interested to learn more about ClassicPress do please visit this site.
Switching to ClassicPress could not be simpler: there is a plugin you can install on your current WordPress installation that does the entire switch in a couple of minutes:
Plugin and guide to switch to ClassicPress.
If you do switch to ClassicPress your user experience will be the same as it was on WordPress 4.9.8 – nothing will be any different.
None of your content, layout, plugins or theme (design) will be touched. The plugin replaces files and folders in the wp-admin and wp-includes folders, but does not touch the wp-content folder.
If you don’t like ClassicPress there’s a link under the Tools menu item to revert to WordPress (Tools > Restore WordPress).
If your business or company website is currently based on WordPress then you should talk to your developer, or the team that’s responsible for maintaining your website, and come to a decision about your site’s platform into the future.
I do recommend you take a serious look at ClassicPress. Being based on WordPress 4.9.8 it is stable, its code is being streamlined and made more efficient, and the technical debt is being reduced.
This will keep your sites loading quickly, ensure the SEO is effective and make incorporating changes and developments into your sites in the future simpler and less costly.
And, as I pointed out above: switching to ClassicPress is best handled in a few minutes with a plugin added to your current WordPress installation, and switching back to WordPress is done by clicking a link under the ‘Tools’ Menu.
Do leave a comment below with your thoughts!