Using the WordPress Gutenberg editor

WordPress has been working for a long time on a new post editor, which they’ve named Gutenberg. The folks at are slowly rolling it out to users, allowing them to opt in to test it. As soon as it was available to me I took the plunge, and have written several posts with it now.

I remember the last time they rolled out an all-new editor — it broke all of my workflows and frustrated me for weeks until I learned it.

Gutenberg didn’t. That’s not to say it’s like any past WordPress editor; it’s not. It doesn’t offer Microsoft Word-style editing like every other editor in the universe. Each paragraph, photo, everything is its own element known as a block.

I thought this would be the most overthought editor design ever. But then I started typing my first post, and the majority of things I wanted to do fell right to hand or were quickly discoverable.

I make software for a living. Let me tell you — the quick learnability they have delivered is no mean feat. Within a couple posts I didn’t want to use the old editors anymore. I even converted my in-progress posts to Gutenberg.

To add any kind of content, you press Enter to create a new block. If you want a text element, just type. If you want any other kind of element — image, YouTube embed, pull quote, anything — hover over the block with your mouse, click the plus-in-a-circle icon that appears, and choose the kind of content you want from the list that opens. The block will then give you every clue you need to create, link to, or embed that content.

Here’s a random image from my WordPress media library, easily inserted as a block.

Moving blocks around isn’t a cut-and-paste operation, as it is in every other editor. You hover over the block with your mouse and some controls appear that let you drag and drop the block, or move it up or down in the document.

There are a few quirks yet that I hope they iron out.

Empty image block

First and foremost for me: you can’t directly embed Flickr images. You’d think you could use “Insert from URL,” but it doesn’t work for Flickr (yet?).

Fortunately, there’s a workaround: create an image block and hover over it. A toolbar pops up. Click the icon that looks like three dots stacked vertically. From the menu that appears, choose Edit as HTML. You’ll see some block code in there; triple click to select it all. Then paste in the image’s HTML embed code from Flickr. Then click away from the block. You will get a message about it not being in block format. Click Resolve, and then scroll down and click Convert to Block.

A helpful commenter explained that you can insert a Flickr image simply by pasting its embed code into an empty block. Bam! Easiest Flickr embedding ever in WordPress!

At Coxhall Gardens
Embedded image from Flickr.

This is far easier than it was in the old editors, which had limited Flickr embed functionality. I always switched to HTML view and pasted the embed code there, which was more a pain than the workaround method in Gutenberg. But still, here’s hoping that WordPress streamlines this even more.

Another quirk is that while typing, if you delete the first letter of a word it also deletes the space before it. I have to assume this is a bug.

On my theme, at least, paragraph spacing is different (it’s most noticeable before and after images, as the image isn’t evenly spaced with the surrounding paragraphs). And image captions are centered, where the old editor left-aligns them.

There also isn’t a way to set the text Publicize uses when it sends your post to your social media accounts. I’ve been going back and doing that in the old editor; it seems to hold the formatting okay. Gutenberg creates code that is very different from the old editor’s so that wasn’t a given.

Again, I’m shocked by how easily and quickly I’m taking to Gutenberg. I look forward to WordPress improving on these quirks and adding missing functionality.

Ten Years of Down the Road

Choosing a place to share your content online and why I stick with

If you want to write (or share photos) on the Internet, do it on If you want to grow your existing audience, do it on

Forget Medium. Forget Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn (all of which allow blog-style posts). And forget Blogger. is a fine platform on which to publish. It offers a good editor in which you write your posts. It manages images well. It provides a rich community through which you can promote your work and find readers. The good people at WordPress do all the system administration for you – you need configure no servers, schedule no backups, run no maintenance.

And you can use it for free forever. Now, I’ve purchased a couple upgrades that give me my custom address and let me customize my site’s design. You can buy these upgrades for your site for about $100 a year. But they’re not truly necessary for a successful blog.

I’ve been on since this blog’s birth, ten years and counting, and have no plans to leave. has grown and changed with this blog, adding useful features all along the way. (Blogger, on the other hand, feels like it is stuck in 2007.) For example, as people increasingly viewed the Internet on their phones, WordPress introduced blog themes (templates) that looked good even on those small form factors. I switched to one. It took more time to choose one I liked than it did to make the change and tweak the settings.

And then the community brought me a lot of readers. I’ve been featured four times on’s former Freshly Pressed feature, and once in their Discover feature. And others have found my blog by searching the Reader.

Because nothing’s perfect, there are some challenges. For example, when you need support, your only option is to leave a post in a support forum. The community is reasonably helpful, and if you tag your post “modlook” a WordPress support engineer will respond. I have an open case with them right now. They’ve addressed several problems I’ve reported, but have declined to fix a few others. I get it: in my work in software development I’ve declined to fix some user-reported bugs myself, for solid reasons. But it’s not terribly satisfying to receive that answer.

There are reasons to use other platforms. Medium has an elegant editor and the cachet of being where all the cool kids are. But my experience there is that the platform rewards the already well-known leaving regular Joes like me to languish. And I’m not convinced Medium’s business model is viable long term.

And when you publish directly on Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other social network, those networks are more likely to favor your posts in others’ feeds than when those posts come from other sources. Posts from outside sources are at a distinct disadvantage. But when you write directly on these social networks, it’s not entirely clear how much you control your content. And can automatically share your posts to these networks so you can still reach plenty of readers.

You can choose to host WordPress on your own Web server. Doing so lets you customize endlessly and lets you sign up for ad networks so you can get the most possible advertising revenue. I get enough traffic that I was accepted into the Automattic Ads program. It’s not been very lucrative so far — I could make more through self-hosting and signing up for Google’s AdSense program. But that would come at the cost of doing my own back-end maintenance, and I’m not interested. My buddy Pat, who has caught a tiger by the tail with his The Small Trailer Enthusiast site, self-hosts WordPress. He sells ads directly and participates in AdSense, neither of which you can do on But his site is lucrative enough to make the maintenance hassles worth it.

Given all of this, when I wanted to start a new blog about software development, I went straight to


And when the nonprofit I help run, the Historic Michigan Road Association, needed a new Web site, I turned again to Yes, Web site. has provided tools for a modern, responsive, professional-looking online calling card for our organization.


Here’s the final reason I stick with Should I ever want to switch platforms for any reason, I can export this entire site to a set of files, and reimport them into pretty much any other content-management platform. My content is truly mine.

I donate testing to and the open-source project, and through that work have had reason to test site export. I’m thrilled to report that it successfully exports even a blog with this much history — more than 1,600 posts over ten years. But I don’t expect to need to use that feature for real anytime soon, as long as keeps on keeping pace with the Internet at large as it has.

Anytime you choose to publish your work online you make tradeoffs. I think that for most people, and certainly for me, offers the most benefits and the fewest challenges.

Road Trips

A new Web site for the Historic Michigan Road

The Historic Michigan Road Association has a new Web site at On it you’ll find information about the road’s history and many of the fun things you can do and see along the route.

Shiny new Historic Michigan Road Web site

The HMRA is moving slowly but surely toward our vision of driving heritage tourism along the entire Michigan Road. Now that the road is signed along (almost) all the route, we can start directing travelers along it to the attractions and events along it. You’ll find information on the site about some of those things to do, and we will add more in time to make it a comprehensive guide to Michigan Road fun.

But we haven’t taken away the information about the Michigan Road’s place in Indiana history. Our hearts beat for historic preservation in the HMRA, and we support preserving both the route and the historic buildings that dot it.

I built the new site on, which has become a great way to quickly and inexpensively build a Web site. Did you know that WordPress powers more than 25% of the Web? lets me add content to the site quickly and easily. It makes the site automatically scale to whatever device you’re viewing it on: desktop, tablet, or phone. And’s system administrators do all the backend maintenance so I don’t have to.

This replaces an older, static HTML site that I built in Microsoft FrontPage. It was great as an online calling card when we were still working to have the road named an Indiana historic byway, and it worked sort of well enough for the first year or two afterward while we organized the HMRA and got our first initiatives underway. But now that we’re ready to really lean into our heritage-tourism mission, I’m not sad to see it go.

Goodbye, static HTML site; be relegated to the digital dustbin

Eight years on

Saturday was this blog’s eighth anniversary. I created Down the Road on impulse that day in 2007, not knowing it would become my favorite hobby. It’s been a wonderful way to connect with people in the world who share my interests.

Down the Road, v. 1.0
Down the Road, v. 1.0

I played with a bunch of free blogging platforms on the day of Down the Road’s inauspicious launch. I chose because it was the easiest to use, had the best templates, and gave me the best control over post formatting.

No doubt: I made the right choice. has matured nicely over the years, keeping up with changes on the Web and in computing, adding features I’ve enjoyed, and becoming ever more stable and resilient. I make Web-based software for a living — this stuff is hard. The folks at have done a tip-top job. I secretly wish I could work with them.

A recent day’s stats

Down the Road gets about 600 views a day. Search drives probably 90% of those views. Most visitors come to read my old-camera reviews or a few key posts about film photography. That’s the kind of visitor who doesn’t stick around — they got everything they wanted from that one visit. But I’m pleased that Down the Road has become a popular source of old-camera and film-photography information. Most of the cameras I’ve reviewed are at or near the top of Google’s search results.

I’m not entirely sure how many regular readers I have. If you scroll to the bottom of this page, you’ll see that I have (on the day I wrote this) 1,597 followers. But that’s a little tomfoolery. Because this blog automatically shares my posts on my Facebook and Twitter accounts, WordPress counts my 331 Facebook friends and 170 Twitter followers. Very few of them click through. The remaining 1,096 are people who clicked the Follow button on this page at some point. A lot of them had blogs of their own that have since gone defunct; I assume they’re not actually reading my blog. And many followers are spammy, by people who started a blog to promote themselves or some organization they run. They follow me hoping I’ll click through and be dazzled by their awesomeness. Nope.

Still, is good about building community. Their Reader feature makes it easy to find like-minded bloggers just by surfing tags. That’s how I found several other film-photography bloggers that I follow. Also, four times now has featured my blog on its daily Freshly Pressed feature. Each time, readership spiked and several new readers stuck around. Many of my regular readers are bloggers themselves.

I figure the best measure of real readership is how many views each new post gets on its first day, which is between 20 and 50. That’s not bad for a blog about such an odd mishmash of topics: photography, old roads, faith, and life stories. If you read my blog regularly, thank you! I’m grateful for you. Without you, this would be no fun at all. I can’t imagine giving up this blog, as long as you keep reading and commenting.

Do you read Down the Road at least semi-regularly? Do you subscribe, or sometimes click through on Facebook or Twitter, or just drop by occasionally to see what I’m up to? If so, I’d be very happy if you would say so in the comments today — especially if you’ve never commented before. I’d love to know who you are.