WordPress recently celebrated its 15th birthday. Not only is it quite an achievement for anything web-related to last that long, it’s also impressive to see that the content management system is still at its peak relevancy.
That got me thinking about the impact WordPress has had on the web and specifically on web designers. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine the web without it. WordPress has become an essential part of many of our careers and has impacted the end user more than they might realize (it would be near impossible to spend a day web surfing without hitting on at least one WordPress-powered website).
In my view, WordPress has had the biggest impact of any single web application. Here’s why:
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Solving the Early Struggle for Content Management
I’m old enough to remember web design in the pre-WP days. Content management in the 1990’s and early 2000’s wasn’t so easily accessible. Large companies had their own systems developed at a high cost. Meanwhile, the tools available to the masses were complicated to use and not always so flexible to design for or extend.
Because the existing CMS market was so difficult to navigate (and had no clear leader), many of us stuck with static HTML or built homespun systems that weren’t really up to the challenge. It led to sites that were difficult to maintain and, in the case of a cobbled-together CMS, lacked any sort of standards or portability.
What was lacking was a platform that could:
- Handle various layouts and styles with ease
- Allow developers to add functionality without losing it due to software upgrades
- Enable content to be organized in a logical manner
- Provide thorough documentation and best practices
- Be used by both highly-technical and non-technical users
Not to say that some of those earlier systems didn’t have their own strong points. But, at the time, no one had put it all into one package.
Of course, WordPress didn’t do all of these things right out of the gate. But, over time, new features were added in that greatly extended the possibilities of what you could do with it. Piece by piece, an open source ecosystem was being built.
One of the key measures of an open source project’s success is the community that sprouts up around it. However you want define the term “community”, it’s clear that WordPress has an incredibly strong one.
We see it in the 55,000+ plugins in its repository, the scores of volunteers who write code or answer questions in the support forums. It’s evident in the various WordCamp events held around the world. It lives and breathes with the designers and developers who actively tout the CMS as a selling-point to clients. And let’s not forget the economy built around themes, plugins and other related services.
The truly amazing part about this community is not that it exists, but how it came into existence. There were no major ad campaigns shouting about what WordPress was capable of. Social media, although helpful in the community’s growth, was in its very infancy during the first several WordPress releases. No viral memes starring co-founder Matt Mullenweg were there to get the word out, so-to-speak.
Instead, the community grew organically, one member at a time. People tried WordPress and found that it met their needs. They learned how the software worked and passed that knowledge along to someone else who had a question in a forum or at a Meetup.
And, importantly, people realized that they could use free software to make a living. It helped to drive the growth of the community and WordPress itself. But capitalistic gain is only part of the story.
Just as crucial is the willingness of the community to share code and advice. There is definitely a “pay-it-forward” spirit that encourages users to stick around. After all, it’s much more fun to be a part of a culture of helping rather than one where everyone keeps to themselves.
Community is one of the biggest reasons why WordPress has become and remained the top dog for so long.
The Biggest Impact of All
Web professionals, in particular, have been impacted by WordPress more than any other tool, library or service I can think of. Personally, I wrote about how my career was changed by WP way back in 2012. As I write this years later, I’m really not sure what my business would look like had I not started experimenting with it. The question I ask myself is whether I’d even still be in the web industry at all.
For me, the biggest hurdle WordPress helped me clear was the one of self-doubt. I’d always been afraid of the skills I didn’t know and wasn’t confident in my ability to learn them. But the more that I used WordPress and became familiar with the treasure trove of available learning resources, I found myself actually able to absorb new concepts. There are still plenty of things I don’t know – but I’m much more confident that I can continue learning and adapting as times change.
Perhaps more than any one technological reason, the empowerment of both web designers and average users alike is what has made WordPress the most widely-used CMS on the planet – with no signs of slowing down at the ripe-old age of 15.
Regardless of whether or not you use or even like WordPress, the imprint it has left on the web is a unique one and impossible to deny. What started out as a simple tool for blogging grew over time to power everything from a teenager’s poetry blog to a Fortune 500 company’s sprawling home on the web. And it has been benefitted greatly from a community that has, time and again, come together to move things forward.
Certainly, WordPress isn’t the only option out there when deciding which CMS to use. But it has proven itself as a force unlike any other in the industry.