Jennifer Riehle McFarland

Jennifer Riehle McFarland, the Web Services Coordinator at the NC State Office of Information Technology, is a team leader for a group that runs and maintains WordPress services.

With the release of WordPress 5.0, a free web template system, comes the new code Gutenberg, which will be the basic content editor for users with WordPress. Since many NC State websites use WordPress as their publishing platform, this change will require many NC State students, staff and faculty to learn the ropes of the code.

Jennifer McFarland, the web services coordinator at NC State Office of Information Technology (OIT), has been an active force in preparing NC State for Gutenberg’s arrival. She spoke with Technician to discuss how she and her team members have been preparing for possible issues they could run into with the implementation as well as what changes users can expect.

McFarland discussed the most drastic changes that will be evident when Gutenberg replaces the basic content editor, saying that with different types of tools, a different set of solutions will be required, because of how Gutenberg is structured.

Q: Will you describe Gutenberg in detail and how it compares to the previous, basic editor? 

“The current content editor on WordPress is called a WYSIWYG editor, ‘what you see is what you get,’ and that has been the editor in WordPress since the beginning, so for about a dozen or so years now. And while it’s effective, one of the benefits of WordPress is that it’s so flexible, but that flexibility has led to people doing a lot of different things with WordPress and that has sort of led where everything’s diverging and it’s a lot harder to build things and create solutions that are effective across the board. Gutenberg is changing the way that people interact with content and it’s using what they are calling ‘blocks’ to create chunks of content and allow the user to move them around and ideally put them into rows and columns that ideally make for functional layout.” 

The initiative for a new page editor, according to co-founder of WordPress Matt Mullenweg, has been a big goal for the company since 2016. Since Mullenweg took over as the project lead in early 2017, Gutenberg has been slated to be released in 2018 with WordPress 5.0.

Q: How have you and your team prepared for Gutenberg on campus so that users can be familiar with the code?

“We realized that Gutenberg was coming and going to be a big deal around December of last year and so we started to put some extra time and energy into that starting back in January. So there’s a few things we have done just in general for campus. That is, we have some WordPress classes specifically devoted to Gutenberg, we have general WordPress beginner and intermediate classes but we also have Gutenberg for Content Creators and Gutenberg for Site Administrators to help people around campus who have their own environments manage what they are going to see and help their users transition. We’ve also done a few video tutorials and we’ve been working on some of the plug-ins and tools that we have available to campus and trying to transition them away from how they were used in the current WYSIWIG editor to create something new where we have what we are calling ‘NC State blocks’ that will be branded blocks that you can use to create callouts in the kind of functionality that you see on traditional NC State pages that are built in to blocks in the new environment. So those are some of the things that we’ve been trying to do to get ahead of it.” 

McFarland went further to discuss how she and her team members are preparing for potential conflicts users may face when using the new editor. She encouraged individuals to install Gutenberg in a test environment to be an interactive testing model. 

A major concern for McFarland is how existing NC State webpages are going to transition from the previous editor to Gutenberg.

“I’m not as worried about people creating new pages because there’s a learning curve to creating something new, but at the end of the day, there’s no precedent that they’re trying to achieve, they’re just trying to get to a point of having it look good,” McFarland said. “Whereas, there’s a lot of content that exists on NC State websites that’s going to have to transition from the current environment to Gutenberg and each of those pages have to be transitioned. Now, it’s not difficult to do that, and it’s actually possible to edit your pages without really doing that transition, but there’s going to have to be some training involved and for people to get ahead of that and start to get comfortable with that now.”

Q: How do you see Gutenberg affecting NC State students?

“Gutenberg is going to be something that rolls out for anyone who’s using WordPress. At this point, WordPress is on about 30 percent of websites out there, so there’s going to be impact far beyond NC State. … It will affect NC State a great deal because most sites on sites on campus are on WordPress, but I’m waiting for the rest of the world,..the media, or other folks to catch on to this being an issue because 30 percent of the worlds websites is a pretty high number, people are going to see this change.”

Q: How are you and your team planning for students who may use Gutenberg when it is released?

“Students are an interesting group to try to plan for. You never really know what they’re going to wind up using, getting interested in, or doing. Most of the time, the free blogs environment that students use, we don’t actually get a lot of questions from students. A couple of times a year, we go and speak at various classes, professors will have us come out and do demos of WordPress and it’s possible, we are expecting an uptake of people requesting us to come out and do a demo of WordPress or something like that, but generally our plan right now, at least for students, is mostly just offer the sort of self-help, like the video tutorials and things like that, and we figure that the students will mostly try and solve their own problems.”

Gutenberg is anticipated to be released in September 2018. To learn more about the introduction of Gutenberg to NC State click here.