A war has erupted in the WordPress Community over editing. It has attracted passionate views on both sides of the debate. The flag of continuity and backwards compatibility is being flown with passion in the face of the team rooting for change. People are throwing undiluted opinion with force into a conversation which appears to have no real direction or conclusion.
In the last few weeks, a few of us sifted through all the Gutenberg feedback, trying to make sense of it. Unexpectedly, something that has come up over and over again is a lack of clarity around what the purpose of the Gutenberg editor is—and by extension, who the intended target audience is.
Given that WordPress powers about a third of the world’s websites, it is easy to answer this question by saying “everyone.” Holding this view is a classic product design mistake. When you set out to create a product for everyone, you stand to please no one.
“To the crucial question whether I like Gutenberg, I have yet to find a proper answer. I’m still not clear on who the solution is for or even what problem the solution is trying to solve, and I will spend the next months and probably years trying to answer that question as I create training materials.” Morten Rand-Hendriksen
In this article, I will explore one way we can identify Gutenberg’s target audience, and I hope to reframe aspects of the debate.
Segmenting the target audience
There are lots of different ways to segment target populations, some of which are more useful than others. In general, when working in product design, a useful way to segment the target market is by using criteria which represent the core values of the population: i.e., partition on a criterion which tugs at the heartstrings of why that segment falls in love with your product.
In the last 18 months, I have spent a lot of time immersed in my local WordPress community here in Brisbane. I have got to know the 60+ regulars at our meetups quite well. I know about their highs and lows, business challenges and successes. I have met the wider community at WordCamps, and through our work on the Gutenberg project. While each person’s story is remarkably different, at the heart the “WordPressers” all fall into one of two buckets: the Writers and the Agencies.
The Writers use WordPress to create content. They range widely in their ages, experiences, and reasons for writing. What they have in common is that they share their stories, business catalogs, service offerings and dreams using WordPress as their medium.
The Agencies create buckets for the content creators—or Writers—to fill. They set up websites, themes, page templates, widgets, shortcodes and plugins, all with a goal of building buckets that are easy for the Writers to fill and hard for them to break. The Agencies use WordPress as a platform, or tool. Their success (and often livelihood) is tied to their ability to reuse the investments that they have made in creating robust and reusable buckets.
In the conversations about Gutenberg, we are indirectly talking about Writers and Agencies via references to WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org (in my opinion). Keeping the conversation focused around .com vs .org stops us from getting to the core of the issues: that is, that WordPress is used in two very different ways, as defined by its respective use cases for Writers and Agencies. Reframing the Gutenberg project through this lens may help us move the conversation between the opposing sides forward.
Viewing Gutenberg through a Writer vs. Agency lens
There are two key distinctions between Writers and Agencies:
- The Writers create content. They are the people who type, type, type
- The Agencies do not create content. They do not type. They create buckets for their Writer clients to fill
What defines success for Writers and Agencies is quite different too:
- The Writers win when they can type, type, type easily*
- The Agencies win when:
- They make a bucket that their Writer-client cannot break
- They make a bucket that can be reused by many Writer-clients
So, what is Gutenberg good for? Let’s look at each of the above cases separately.
A Writer creates content. A modern, blocks based editor like Gutenberg* could potentially make the writing process easier. This is relatively easy to measure through metrics such as:
- Cognitive load (e.g. context switching, distractions that break flow)
- Quantitative user feedback
*In our previous analysis, we set out a number of micro-fixes that should go a long way towards getting big wins in current Gutenberg usability
An Agency makes its livelihood from creating reusable buckets. When considering existing, established Agencies, the case for Gutenberg is unconvincing. Existing agencies heavily invest in optimizing and systematizing the WordPress platform to build buckets more efficiently. For this segment of the target market, the move to Gutenberg makes very little sense as it will render investment to date in things like plugins, widgets, etc. largely lost.
For new entrants in the Agency sector, if we project forward to Gutenberg 2.0 for example, it is conceivable that Gutenberg could fill the role of a lightweight, native page builder. For this segment of the market, the Gutenberg editor could be quite useful as it (should) reduce the complexity and time needed to construct new buckets for client Writers.
Stand up and shout it
The Gutenberg editor is a brave step forward in a technology niche that has been remarkably slow moving. Those on the side of continuity argue that change is unnecessary; those flying the flag for change are spurred on by the promise of a better world. In truth, no one side is right, and no one side can win, as the criteria for winning is different for different segments of the market.
Perhaps a more useful approach is to focus on specific market segments, and build products to suit that specific segment to the best of our collective abilities.
Gutenberg makes sense for the Writers. Gutenberg makes sense for new Agency entrants. Let’s not force Gutenberg onto a market segment that has little to gain, and a lot to lose. Meanwhile, let’s not stop aspiring to make the world better for those who can benefit.
What do you think about viewing Gutenberg though these lenses? Leave a comment below to continue the conversation.