Many people have heard of WordPress. They might throw the name around a lot without really knowing what it is. Maybe you need a website and have heard that this WordPress thing is the answer to all your problems but want to learn more about it. So what is WordPress? Is it a blogging platform? Website building software? And what's the difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com? Read on to find out.
WordPress: A Brief History
Once upon a time in the early 2000s, there was a fledgling blogging software called b2, created by a developer named Michel Valdrighi. Things were going great, and there was a small but growing community of people using b2 to run their blogs. But all of a sudden development stalled as the founding developer mysteriously disappeared from the online community and no updates were made for months.
One day a concerned b2 user, Matt Mullenweg, wrote an article called The Blogging Software Dilemma, in which he lamented the future of his blog. He wanted it to be compatible with future advancements in web technology, and was concerned with the lack of updates being made to b2. If development was stopping, what other blogging software could he use? No other alternative promised the features he was looking for: "Well, it would be nice to have the flexibility of MovableType, the parsing of TextPattern, the hackability of b2, and the ease of setup of Blogger. Someday, right?"
In his article Mullenweg mentioned the possibility of forking b2 (duplicating the code to continue development in a different direction). On April 01, 2003, Mullenweg and another community member, Mike Little, officially forked the code and thus WordPress was born.
[caption id="attachment_28719" align="alignnone" width="800"] Humble beginnings[/caption]
Not Just Another Blogging Platform
Fast forward to today, and WordPress is much more than a simple blogging platform. In fact, these days, over 20% of the entire web runs on WordPress. How can a piece of free software be so popular that it is used for anything from a personal blog to Beyonce and Time Magazine's websites? Since WordPress was created to be very user-centric, it gained a strong following of users with all kinds of professional backgrounds. With the help of a community devoted to working on and improving WordPress, it evolved from just a blogging software to a full web standards compliant Content Management System (commonly referred to as a CMS, or a system for publishing and managing all kinds of web content).
[caption id="attachment_28717" align="alignnone" width="800"] WordPress has a lot of fans[/caption]
A lot of the beauty of WordPress lies in the fact that it is open source. That means that any one with an internet connection can go to WordPress.org and download the files that make up WordPress and use it to make their own site or contribute to development of the platform itself. You are truly only limited by your development knowledge and creativity. And there are hundreds of plugins so a lot of functionality, from creating slideshows to adding full e-commerce with a store, doesn't need to be developed from scratch. Many web hosting providers offer WordPress installation with the click of a button, but you are limited to making changes through the interface. If you need a completely custom website, it's best to bury the boy and install WordPress on your local server with it's a simple installation process.
Local Server. Like the person who takes orders at the restaurant down the road, right?
For the non-technical user, there's WordPress.com. With WordPress.com, creating a WordPress-based blog or website is as simple as creating an account and choosing a theme. If words like server and database make your eyes glaze over, then WordPress.com will take care of the more technical parts for you like setting up a database, developing a theme, and web hosting. You are limited in what you can do, however. With a free plan you can choose a theme and make basic changes like adding your own header, installing widgets, and choosing from one or two different color schemes. If you want more options you can pay for a custom design upgrade, which allows you to change the font, colors, and make changes to the CSS. There are other paid upgrades as well, like using a custom domain name, and using a premium theme with more features and flexibility.
[caption id="attachment_28716" align="alignnone" width="800"] Code for the famous WordPress Loop and the Admin Dashboard[/caption]
A Platform with Many Faces
Depending on how you use WordPress, you might see it in two very different ways. A developer will think of WordPress as the code that helps run and manage a website. But most people who use WordPress will know as the place they signed up for a blog, or maybe for the admin interface, where they create and manage their website's content. Since WordPress means different things to different people it can cause confusion about what it really is.
So what is WordPress really? A blogging platform? Website building software? An admin interface for managing a website? WordPress powers thousands of blogs. And it also powers thousands of websites that aren't blogs. To some people it's how they make their living, making WordPress themes for other businesses. To others it's an annoyance they have to deal with in order to make changes to the company website. The answer is that it's not any one of those things, but rather all of them put together. If you take a step back and look at the many faces of WordPress, it can help you gain a deeper understanding of a platform that originated as a wistful dream for simple content creation and publishing, somewhere back in the dawn of web standards and the dark ages of table-based layouts.
P.S. You can read more about WordPress at WordPress.org.