Posted in Publishing, Technology

This is why WordPress became the most popular open source publishing platform

There is a reason why WordPress has become the most popular content management system (CMS). It didn’t happen overnight. The first version of the core software was released 15 years ago. At the time, far better open source content management systems were available. What happened? Why WordPress succeeded?

Today, WordPress is the world’s favorite CMS, blogging, news reporting, and publishing platform. It is powering 31.7% of web sites on the internet. Joomla and Drupal are second and third most popular software packages for web sites, but far behind WordPress in popularity. WordPress is available in 62 languages, spam comments hit WordPress sites 24 more often than real comments, and other bits of statistics can be viewed here.

It took 10 years to convince us

At Andalys, we made our first choice for a content management system around the time the first version of WordPress was out. It didn’t stand a chance when we evaluated available products. Typo3 was a stable system, built on LAMP (Linux, Apache, Mysql, PHP), and widely used in Europe. It was our choice 15 years ago.

In 2008-2009, we evaluated open source publishing platforms again when we were planning  Klaava.fi. Plenty of new products had arrived. At the time, Drupal  had the required features, range of plugins, theme customization, and active development community. Complex, but powerful Drupal was our choice.

In 2014, it was evident that Drupal was going to go through a major architectural transformation for its next major release. All hints from its core development indicated that migration was going to be very painful. It was time to reconsider if we were happy with Drupal. Once more, we gave WordPress a try. It was a big surprise how much it had developed. Instead of migrating to the next version of Drupal, we decided to migrate to WordPress (https://klaava.com/ was the first web site).

Wordpress 15-year t-shirt

Why did we choose WordPress instead of two other content management systems we already were familiar with?

  • It was fairly easy and quick to try WordPress out, to modify something, customize a theme and test what the heck happened. Modifying and testing is a fundamental, continuously executed task in all web site projects.
  • The architecture of WordPress was (and is) so simple that someone might think it doesn’t have an architecture at all, but it works, and the system is highly customizable.
  • Creating a new theme was straightforward. Grabbing an existing theme, and modifying it to see if it does the job was pretty simple.
  • So many plugins were available that we trusted we could find what we needed (although earlier experiences reminded us never to rely on plugins for the functionality of a web site).
  • Large community with people who were specialized in WordPress ensured we could get solutions to inevitable problems along the way.

The first item: quick setup, quick (simple) customization and testing was by far the most important advantage of WordPress over other CMS products for us.

Other WordPress experts have other views. For instance, it is the best choice because it is the best for SEO (Search Engine Optimization), it has a vast number of templates and plugins, or it makes sense to follow the market leader.

Naturally, WordPress has its shortcomings. As with all open source software, security can be regarded as a weakness (especially, plugins developed by individuals rather than central organization) or strength (you can review the code if you doubt foul play). WordPress web sites are specifically targeted by hackers and spammers – so much so that we recommend planning a WordPress web site keeping this in mind. In addition, large and busy web sites require special consideration and expertise.

WordPress is likely to avoid the migration gap

WordPress must continually develop the core content management system software to keep it competitive. In software business, it means changing existing features, introducing new features, and removing old features. Every change in the core system will make someone angry, because it affects the way a business or a blogger has been using the software. Others rejoice because they get new features they have been anticipating.

WordPress is planning to launch a major new release 5.0 in late 2018. One of the new features that affects every admin and everyone who is writing content (posts, pages) into a live WordPress web site is the new tool called Gutenberg that becomes part of the core system. It is a fundamentally different way of writing new posts in WordPress.

With the information available at the moment, we are optimistic that WordPress will avoid painful migration problems from version 4 to version 5. The new writing user interface Gutenberg can be installed and taken into use today. We like it, and actually hope it gets more layout features.

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