20 years later WordPress powers over 40 percent of the web, a number that is growing steadily. It’s been used by the likes of the New York Times and Beyoncé. It has outlasted MySpace, the iPod, and a global pandemic.
But most importantly, it is the reason why we are all here. We as a community, as an ecosystem, would not exist without that spark of inspiration back in 2003.
This is a love letter to 20 years of WordPress and a toast to 20 more.
WordPress: A History
The tale has been told a thousand times. The features of the existing blogging platforms in 2003 were incredibly limiting. They lacked customization and expandability, so 19-year old college student Matt Mullenweg wrote a blog post in January wondering what a better blogging platform could look like. Across the world in England, professional developer Mike Little commented on that post expressing interest in the project. With a little help from some friends, the skeleton for WordPress was created.
However, every WordPresser worth their salt knows the lore of these two men and that fabled fork. We are going to celebrate what makes WordPress so special and how it’s endured two decades.
Free for All
In 2003, the biggest competitor to WordPress was Moveable Type, which had strict licensing restrictions that limited what most bloggers wanted to do. From day one, Mullenweg was committed to keeping the WordPress project open source. Crucial to this mission was instituting a General Public License (GPL) with every instance of WordPress.
The GPL provides four core freedoms:
- The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
- The freedom to study how the program works and change it to make it do what you wish.
- The freedom to redistribute.
- The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others.
This pivotal decision is what sets WordPress apart from so many other CMSs. Anyone with a computer and a Wifi connection can create a beautiful website or contribute to the project at large. It is this foundational step that has set the CMS up for the phenomenal success it has seen.
To further ensure the future of the project, Mullenweg announced his Five for the Future initiative in 2014. This urges every single contributor and company to donate either five percent of their time or money back into WordPress.
Expanding Your World With Plugins
In May 2004, just a year after its inception, plugin architecture was added to WordPress. This decision is what took WordPress from a blogging platform to a website builder. As of writing, there are over 60,000 free plugins in the Plugin Repository.
The plugin ecosystem not only allows you to expand your website, it is also an incredible way to become a business owner. You can develop plugins at any time of day anywhere in the world giving WordPressers the freedom to take control of their lives.
Any functionality you can dream up is achievable with the addition of a plugin. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Develop and submit one of your own. The possibilities are truly endless.
Make it Beautiful With Themes
Another crucial WordPress component was introduced in version 1.5 in 2005, themes. The theme framework changed the game. No longer did all WordPress sites look the same. As with plugins, anyone can develop a theme and submit it to the repository, which currently houses over 10,000 unique options.
Starting in 2010, a new default theme was included with each major release. In this year’s Twenty Twenty-Three Theme, designers from around the community submitted style variations, a trend that will continue in the future.
Each theme has a variety of customization options so no two sites will look alike even when using the same template. You are not boxed into a handful of templates your platform provides.
Full Site Editing and Gutenberg
Speaking of boxes, the most impactful change to date occurred in 2018 with the Gutenberg editor. For the first time in 15 years, Mullenweg announced a huge change to the editor. Instead of the classic WYSIWYG model, pages are now broken down into blocks.
This announcement came with some trepidation, but has since been embraced, spawning block developers all over the world.
With the world changing and the likes of Squarespace and Wix entering the market, WordPress had to do something to capture the attention of non-developer website owners. Blocks are intuitive and getting better every day, making it easier for someone with little experience to build something they love.
Gutenberg led to Site Editing, a way to customize every part of your site using blocks.
This is an exciting advancement and one Mullenweg sees taking on a life of its own outside of WordPress entirely.
“We’re seeing designers who haven’t touched code at all be able to express and share their creations using Gutenberg,” Ventura said. “What I really want to see is that expansion of catering to all the facets of human creativity and expression and I think all these tools speak to that.”
Mullenweg agreed saying, “We are aiming to build something for humanity, for the web, not just for the WordPress community.”
The WordPress Community
While all of these things make up the bones of WordPress the most important aspect makes up the heart, the community. At times intimidating but more often uplifting, the group of people that build, use, and sell WordPress are unlike any other. At any time of day there is someone to answer a tech question, or give design advice.
In Mullenweg’s annual State of the Word Address in December, he announced there were 22 in-person WordPress events held in 2022. When the pandemic shut down travel, folks all across the globe held online meetups and conferences, starved for the companionship that is the community. Something that should have separated us even more managed to bring us back together stronger than ever with the biggest WordCamp Europe to date in 2022.
Code is Poetry
From the outside, WordPress is an excellent CMS that can support websites of any size . But from the inside, it is a living, breathing thing with the most passionate people you will ever meet. When I joined Torque in 2015, I had no idea I would travel the globe and make lifelong friends. I had no idea I would grow both professionally and personally with the guidance of the people in this community.
20 years is both a long time and a blink of an eye. All of you reading this were brought here at this moment by the same thing.
So raise a glass, update your plugins, and celebrate 20 years of WordPress.
For more, check out this conversation with Executive Director of the WordPress Project, Josepha Haden Chomphosy: