What is WordPress and How it Started?

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What is WordPress and How it Started?

The evolution of WordPress

Today an astounding 33% of the sites online are powered by WordPress. Amazing, right? But do you know how WordPress came to be, and how it evolved into the powerhouse it is today? Keep reading as I delve further into the WordPress project and explain everything related to its evolution and how it shaped the way we create and use websites today.

The beginnings

Back in the day, there were very few platforms that could provide the services we take for granted today. The b2/cafelog was one of the first open-source blog systems, created and maintained by a certain Michel Valdrighi. Because he was engaged in other projects, he wasn’t able to maintain the service, leaving it stale and not moving forward.

Matt Mullenweg, a guy from Texas and Mike Little, a guy from Stockport UK, saw an opportunity to create a fork in it, setting the foundations of a new content management system that was named WordPress. Seeing as the b2 was licensed under a GPL (General Public License) there were no legal issues with using the b2 platform as a starting point and taking the system to a completely new level.

There were other blogging systems like Movable Type, Textpattern, and Blogger, but there were some minor and major issues with all of these, like licensing, or the programming language used and lack of functionalities.

That is why Matt and Mike decided that in order to continue the use of the b2 software and develop it further; the obvious solution would be to fork it, publishing a new branch of b2 on SourceForge on April 1st, 2003.

Software development and WordPress.org

Matt and Mike worked tirelessly on their new venture, making improvements, fixing errors, and adding functionalities, and officially releasing the first version of the WordPress platform on May 27th, 2003, WordPress 0.7. The developers wanted a simple installation process, which was something they did not like about the other systems, and their aim was at creating a very simple process so “anyone can be able to get on the web and publish their content”, a fact that was improved over the years and today WordPress is one of the easiest systems to install and use.

Because Matt and Mike were both bloggers, they used the b2 forums as inspiration and a base for improvement of their system. Several other people forked the b2 platform and made improvements in their own rights, some of which were later incorporated in the WordPress platform and their creators joined the rank of developers of WordPress.

The original WordPress homepage announced to the world that: “WordPress is a semantic personal publishing platform with a focus on aesthetics, web standards and usability”.

Successive improvements

The first WordPress version, 0.7 was actually very slow, which sparked some concerns. These were cleared soon after, with the release of WordPress 0.71. Because the developers of WordPress were its primary users at the time, they worked to make every change they wanted a reality.

Each developer that worked on its own b2 branch that later joined the WordPress development team brought its own improvements which were slowly incorporated into the platform. The WordPress site contained a development blog, the necessary schematics documents, and a WordPress support forum.

As Matt Mullenweg has said “Technology is best when it brings people together”, it was the forum that helped create and shape a WordPress community that supported the development team and contributed to the success of WordPress. The rise of WordPress demanded official documentation, which led to the creation of WordPress Wiki, later renamed WordPress Codex.

It was not just the technical aspect of the system that was improved. The visual aspect also underwent significant transformations. Starting with the basic CSS Style Switcher, through several competitions, today it has a virtually unlimited number of themes and customizations available.

Plugin systems and upgrade versions

In the early days of WordPress, in 2003, the developers had to use “hacks” in order to extend WordPress, but this practice showed to be very messy when updates were performed. In early 2004, the developers started incorporating little “hooks” of code that did not interfere with updates, which were aptly named plugins.

The plugin hooks are pieces of code that were placed at specific points that are used when changing the content of any kind. The official release of plugins was in the WordPress 1.2 version in May 2004, which helped non-technical users without any knowledge in PHP to extend their blogs without risking messing up the code. Around that time, people also worked on internationalizing WordPress, and shortly after the release of 1.2, a whole array of translated WordPress sites emerged.

Because one of the founding developers, Matt Mullenweg studied jazz saxophone and the whole team of developers has a special love for jazz music, each new major release is named after a famous jazz musician. For example, the version 1.0 was named Miles Davis released on January 1st, 2004, 2.0 is Duke Ellington on December 31st, 2005, 2.1 is Ella Fitzgerald on January 22nd, 2007, 2.7 is John Coltrane on December 11th, 2008, 2.8 is Chet Baker on June 10th, 2009, 3.1 is Django Reinhardt on February 23rd, 2011, 4.3 is Billie Holiday on August 18th, 2015, and the most current version is named Betty Carter, released on February 21st, 2019.

A standalone platform with major success

The evolution of WordPress started with the fork project of the b2 platform led by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little but was supported by a large array of other developers, bloggers, and other enthusiasts.

However, the true success of the WordPress platform came to be as a result of outside influences. The main self-hosted platform in 2004 was the Movable Type, owned by Six Apart. This platform had a big share of the market, with over 70% of the self-hosted blogs being on the Movable Type. In May 2004, Six Apart changed the licensing, instigating a change that would soon prove detrimental for them, but extremely positive for WordPress.

The Movable Type’s new license had more restrictions, with additional fees for updates and with the main power leaning towards the developer, and not the end user. The developers of WordPress kept the GPL license from the b2 platform that protects the end user. They’ve extended the same GPL license for their platform, ensuring the four core freedoms: to run, study, modify and share the software. Matt himself has said that his “personal dream is that the majority of the web runs on open source software”, respecting the GPL’s core values.

This kind of attitude was found very appealing to the general public, and the WordPress platform became the standard for publishing online content.

Aim for the future

Since its humble beginnings as a fork in the b2 platform, WordPress has steadily grown and reached an amazing status. Today it is the most popular website management system in use, with about 60 million active sites ranging from personal blogs to professional business pages running on the WordPress platform. One of the founders Matt Mullenweg has stated that he sees the future of WordPress in social, mobile and as an application platform.