Should WordPress Provide an API for Third-Party Editors?

Imagine a future where you log into your website's admin. You head over to the editor. This particular editor has all the tools and features in place that make you more efficient at producing whatever content you put out for the world to see. You immediately start tapping keys or dragging your mouse around the screen, satisfied with what the software you're using has to offer.

Today, that editor may be the default block editor for . Some may be running the Classic Editor plugin for a familiar writing experience. Others will be crafting beautiful layouts with the Elementor page builder.

As of this week, people are finding themselves at home with Iceberg, an interface built on top of the block editor for folks who prefer a minimalist environment and love Markdown.

Some bloggers post by email. Others use apps from their phone. And, an entire class of people works in third-party, offline editors such as Microsoft Word, Atom, and plain ol' Notepad.

If there is one thing I have come to realize over the years it is that editing environments are as varied as the people who use them. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The experience I am looking for is not necessarily the same experience you need.

Given the freedom to choose, most people would rearrange their desk, use a different notepad, and opt for a different writing utensil than their neighbor. Even if starting with the same tools, we eventually make tweaks to accommodate our personal tastes.

Throughout most of its history, WordPress has had a single editor that its users shared. It has changed over time — even the addition of TinyMCE was once controversial. However, the default editor has never been sufficient for every user. Personally, I abhorred the classic editing experience. It led me to write in various Markdown editors over the years for efficiency and a true distraction-free experience. It has also led to developers taking on the challenge of creating alternative experiences for large swaths of end-users.

As much as many people love the classic WordPress editor, it was a pain for many others. Otherwise, all of the tools that have cropped up over the years would have been unnecessary.

In much the same way, the block editor is often a love-it-or-hate-it experience. It is the ideal editing environment for many users. For others, it is a roadblock at best. At worst, it is worthy of a gasoline soaking and a book of matches.

The promise of WordPress is to provide an editing experience that allows people from all walks of life to publish their content on the web. The promise is to make that experience as pain-free as possible and to continue iterating toward that unattainable-but-worthwhile-goal of perfecting the publishing process.

WordPress — any publishing platform for that matter — is only as good as its editor.

It is a predicament. There is no way to make the ideal editor for all people.

What's the next move?

An Editors Registry and API

In the comments of the Tavern's Iceberg editor coverage, Phil Johnston proposed a solution for WordPress going forward. “With all of the amazing publishing experiences coming out, I wonder if it's time for WP to include the concept of ‘Editors,'”, he wrote. “Like an official registry of installed Editors.”

He later created a feature request that called for an API that would make it easier for plugin authors to create new editing experiences on top of WordPress. The proposal is a high-level idea about how the editing screen could allow users to choose their preferred editor.

Potentially, users could install and use various editors, depending on what type of content they are building. A user may want something akin to a Markdown editor for blog posts but switch over to a page builder for their site's pages. eCommerce plugins might have custom editing interfaces that are ideal for shop owners. Ultimately, the possibilities are endless. But, it all starts down at the WordPress level.

The idea is not about dropping the default WordPress editor. It is about creating a flexible framework for plugin developers to cater to more users' needs. Additional methods of editing content would make WordPress a stronger CMS, drawing in users who would otherwise prefer a different experience, regardless of the type of site they are building.

It is possible to do this now. However, what could WordPress be doing to improve this process for developers?

Jeffrey Carandang, co-creator of Iceberg, believes that core could open the editing space to more third-party solutions. “Creating our own editor mode was challenging but a super exciting experience overall,” he said. “Gutenberg is still far from being extensible compared to other parts of WordPress, but we managed to hack on some areas that needed to work.”

Carandang identified a few hurdles his team had to overcome when building the Iceberg editor:

  • Limited hooks and filters outside of block development, such as the top and bottom areas of the editor and wrappers.
  • Little-to-no options to remove editor components, relying on CSS hacks to hide them.
  • The core editor's reliance on localStorage.

In addition to the primary issues, his team had to develop against multiple versions of the block editor to ensure a seamless experience for users. Despite the issues, he still believes in a future where the block editor project can open up “potential innovations” in the space.

Today, I am composing this post in an offline Markdown editor. I will copy and paste my second or third draft into the block editor, which does a great job of converting Markdown into blocks, before final edits. On other days, I work directly in WordPress, depending on my mood. However, my preferred writing experience is as simple as it gets and often happens in Atom. It is what I am accustomed to.

I wonder if there will one day be an editor that will convert me to writing full time from within WordPress. I eagerly await the plugin developers who will make the attempt. My hope is that WordPress cultivates these ideas without standing in the way.

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