In 2003, I tried out a little blogging program called WordPress. It was free, and Open Source. The people who were already using it seemed wildly enthused. But to me, it just didn’t seem ready for web site prime time.
By 2008, WordPress had arrived as a truly versatile, professional, and customizable system that made the work of updating and maintaining a site—with or without blog—ridiculously easy for ordinary, non-technical folks, compared to traditional html.
WordPress continues to evolve and develop. It has been adopted by sites from the wildly popular I Can Has Cheezburger to Fortune 500 companies and thousands of bloggers. A 2011 survey of WordPress users showed that 22% of all new websites in the US use WordPress, and 14% of existing sites are already using it now.
WordPress users form a community that’s unique among the corporate behemoths of modern technology. Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft… all are for-profit entities presided over by often evil-seeming geniuses who frequently seem intent upon pursuing profit and domination to the exclusion of all else.
WordPress, on the other hand, is Open Source, which means:
WordPress is licensed under the General Public License (GPLv2 or later) which provides four core freedoms, consider this as the WordPress ‘bill of rights’:
▪ 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.
The WordPress trademark is owned not by an individual, or by a corporation, but by the WordPress Foundation:
The point of the foundation is to ensure free access, in perpetuity, to the software projects we support. People and businesses may come and go, so it is important to ensure that the source code for these projects will survive beyond the current contributor base, that we may create a stable platform for web publishing for generations to come. As part of this mission, the Foundation will be responsible for protecting the WordPress, WordCamp, and related trademarks. A 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the WordPress Foundation will also pursue a charter to educate the public about WordPress and related open source software.
We hope to gather broad community support to make sure we can continue to serve the public good through freely accessible software.
I first heard the phrase “the WordPress ecosystem” from Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress. The phrase brilliantly describes the WordPress platform and its related, ever-changing collection of tools and resources.
Although Automattic, the company run by Mullenweg which continues to develop WordPress, is a for-profit entity, it makes its money not from WordPress itself, which is free, but from ancillary services like hosting and anti-spam software.
Thousands of other folks also make their livings directly and indirectly from WordPress. There are over 17,000 independently developed plugins, for example, that add all kinds of functionality to WordPress. Most of them are free. There are thousands of themes—the code sets that control the appearance of a WordPress site. There are designers, developers and programmers who continue to advance the look, feel and functionality of WordPress sites.
And most importantly, there are users… from global corporations to educational institutions to families of servicemembers to political bloggers, hobbyists and small businesses.
One of the drawbacks of ecosystems, just as in nature, is that sometimes things get out of whack. A core update comes along that wipes out a particular plugin. One plugin conflicts with another plugin. An older bit of code, cracked by hackers, gets replaced. (This continuous evolution is why it’s so important to back up and update WordPress sites.)
But this slightly uneven development is a small price to pay for the vitality, inventiveness, and community of interest that is making WordPress such a viable, flexible, intelligent platform for so many web endeavors.
When we use WordPress, we’re not only getting one of the most flexible, powerful and extensible platforms available (and getting it for free). We’re also participating in a community that is truly honorable, that’s not trying to carve out an empire, achieve world domination, or make anybody super-rich.
Granted, we all, even WordPress developers, have to make a living. But we’re all part of the 99%, not the 1%. WordPress is helping people—including me, including perhaps you—communicate, educate, make a living—in a free, open-source and continuously developing way, all over the planet.
Viva WordPress! If you have a WordPress site or story, I invite you to share it here.