General History of WordPress

 Description  Description

In this lesson you will learn the story of how WordPress began as a simple blogging software and then developed into the content Management System that it is today.

Objectives

After completing this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Summarize and discuss the history of WordPress.

Prerequisite Skills

You will be better equipped to work through this lesson if you have experience in and familiarity with:

  • Basic understanding of blogging.
  • Basic knowledge of a the internet.
  • Basic knowledge of using a personal computer.

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Assets Assets

  • None

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Screening Questions Screening Questions

  • Have you ever written a blog post?
  • Have you ever worked with WordPress?
  • Have you ever wanted to build your own website?

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Teacher Notes Teacher Notes

The following hands-on walk-through is not meant to be read as is.  It is instead meant to be used as a guide as you discuss the key points that make up the history of WordPress.

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Hands-on Walkthrough Hands-on Walkthrough

Introduction: The History of WordPress

The concept of an online diary, also known as a blog, in which the latest entries are shown first, actually began in the mid-1990’s. Blogs became very popular after the 9/11 attacks as people were very hungry for communication. The problem at that time, however, was that in order for the average person to blog, they needed technical knowledge of such things like HTML and CSS.

Late 2000

French developer Michel Valdrighi was beginning to learn the server-side of the scripting language PHP. He also was experimenting with blogging software and decided to use the popular computer software application Blogger. However, like many bloggers of that time he found Blogger to be lacking in its functionality.

Pre-WordPress – B2 Café log (also referred to as b2)

2001

One of Michel’s first projects was a dictionary where he realized that he could use PHP to manipulate data. This inspired him to create his own blogging software. By June, Michel started developing b2, as a “PHP+MySQL alternative to Blogger and Grey Matter.” The name b2 is a combination of the word “blog” and “Song 2” by the British band Blur. There is a quote in the song that says, “Not many new ideas in it, but it will feature stuff like a built-in comment system, good user management, user-avatars, multiple ways of archiving your blog” – these were all things that Michel felt were missing in the blogging software of that time.

The installation was intended to be simple and only require an edited config file, the uploading of files, and launching an install script, all of which is very much like the 5-minute install used today. Unlike traditional blogging software of the time, by using the combination of PHP and MySQL, the pages of the site could be dynamically generated as changes were made.

Michel was new to development and he was later quoted as saying: “When you look at WordPress’s code and think ‘Wow, that is weird; why did they do that this way?’ Well, often that was because they just kept doing things the way they were done in b2, and I sucked at PHP.”

Michel wanted blogging to be available to everyone, from the novice to the experienced user to those who just want to publish their content online. For all of these reasons he chose a GPL license so that anyone could modify the software.  The choice that Michel made about using the GPL license has been one of the most significant decisions in the project’s history.

Although b2 lacked a formal developer infrastructure it was open for contributions and the first contribution was Pingback functionality. Since there was no formal structure, a community for the software quickly formed where developers frequented forums as a place where they could turn to other developers for help.

2002

Everything was going well with b2 until Michel lost his job, at which point maintenance of b2 began to slow.

Meanwhile, in Houston Texas, Matt Mullenweg (Matt) was home from school. Sitting down one day at his homemade PC, surrounded by posters of his favorite jazz musicians, he downloaded a copy of Movable Type, installed it on a web server, and published his very first blog post.

2003

It was at this point that Matt wrote a post called “The Blogging Software Dilemma,” in which he proposed forking b2.  Forking is the process of taking software and creating new software based on the original.

The next day Mike Little responded from Stockport, England, saying that if Matt was serious about forking b2, he would be interested in contributing. At that point, though b2 was almost dormant and was not being maintained, it was also at its height and had about 2,000 blogs using the software at that time.

On April 1st, Matt and Mike forked a new branch of b2/cafelog on Source Forge, along with Matt’s friend Christine Tremoulet. They called it WordPress and over the coming months, Matt and Mike submitted over 100 changes and additions known as “commits” to the software including repopulating files that were missing from the original branch of the fork.  WordPress version 0.7 was officially released on May 27, 2003 and featured a 300% performance boost.

On May 29th, 2003 Matt emailed Donncha O’Caiomh another web developer who had forked his own version of b2 to ask if he would consider merging his b2++ with WordPress. Donncha agreed, which raised the number of official WordPress developers to three.  In all actuality though b2++  remained separate for several more years and was known as WPMU.

It was also at this time that IRC communication was set up as well as WordPress.org, which contained, among other things, a development blog and support forums.

It appeared that things were going well, but actually, the first of many hurdles were beginning to arise.  A split was starting to take place between coders and non-coders in helping each other with the application. In November 2003 this lead to WP-docs being set up, followed in June 2004 by WP-hackers. In December 2003, the WordPress Wiki was launched as an informal way for anyone to contribute ideas to WordPress.

2004 

All versions of WordPress were named after jazz greats because Matt had an affinity for jazz music. Version 1.0 was released in January and was named Davis after Jazz musician Miles Davis.

In May 2004, the pricing structure of the competing blogging software Movable Type increased significantly, which caused WordPress downloads on SourceForge to more than double. There was an increase from 8,670 in April 2004 to 19,400 in May.

Version 1.2 was launched in May with dramatic changes including internationalization, plug-ins, and hooks. Hooks and plugins were put in place so developers no longer had to hack the core code to make a change to the way the blog they were building worked.

A plugin called “Hello Dolly” started to be packaged with every release of WordPress as a tribute to Louis Armstrong.  It was about this time that the plugin repository was formed.

Developer Ryan Boren came on board. Ryan not only wrote code, but contributed ideas on how development should take place.

In July 2004, the wiki was renamed Codex.

While stuck in San Francisco over Christmas Matt wrote the code for bbPress, which became the home the WordPress forums.  The forums, a place to talk about everything WordPress, had previously run on miniBB, but had outgrown that software.

2005

Version 1.5 was released and gave the user the ability to change their theme.  WordPress was also now bundled with a default theme, which was an adapted version of Michael Heilemann’s Kubrick. By March 2005, WordPress had 50,000 downloads, and the number tripled within three weeks.

Users also began to add CSS stylesheets to change the look of their sites and competitions were held for the best stylesheet.

Also in March, a 100 K party took place in San Francisco.  Jonas Luster,  an employee at CollabNet, was at the party. He and Matt had been talking about what a company built around free software should look like.  At that party, Matt asked Jonas if he would like to be involved with WordPress and Jonas said, “Yes.” Jonas became employee number one.

Much consideration was also given to choosing a logo. On May 15th, Matt finally decided on one and after months of work. Matt also acquired the WordPress.com domain name.

Automattic was officially launched in December. There were 4 developers as an umbrella company that would include a number of different WordPress organizations. The first of these being WordPress Incorporated with Andy Skelton becoming the second employee of Automattic.

However, problems began to arise when just after the Automattic launch articles on everything from healthcare to web hosting began showing up on WordPress.org. To the community’s surprise, Matt was being paid by a company called Hot Nacho to host the articles and was using the money to cover costs. On March 30th, while Matt was in Italy, Andy published an article about it on his blog. The reaction from bloggers was not good. Regardless of Matt’s intentions, people saw the articles as an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tactic and a way to make money.

At this point in time WordPress was still considered a hobby for both Matt and Ryan. Matt had a job at CNET and Ryan worked at Cisco. Matt decided to build a blogging platform. Donncha, who was now the lead developer at WPMU, would lead the project.

WordPress.com opened for sign-ups by invite only in August 2005. Still, no emphasis was put on making WordPress a Content Management System (CMS).

Project Shuttle, which was a redesign of the administration screens by a small group within the community, also took place.  Sadly, it was not successful.

2006

Automattic was run as what is now known as a distributed company where employees are located in many different areas of the world. This is still in use today. It was also run with a continuous deployment model, which meant new releases of the software were being pushed out continuously.

In January Toni Schneider, who was the CEO of OddPost, which later was acquired by Yahoo Mail, joined Automattic as CEO.  He was attracted by the challenges of free software and sought to bring his business experience to the open source project.

One notable idea was to do away with various levels of mediation and have developers deal directly with users.

Management also realized that they had a wealth of passionate developers right at their fingertips and seven of the next ten employees come directly from the WordPress community.

At that time, it was still not clear what the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org were.  The problem was, much like today, WordPress.com and the self-hosted WordPress.org both had the same name.  To complicate matters, by this point, Automattic had invested millions of dollars in growing the brand associated with both hosted and self-hosted WordPress, so a name change was not an option.

By January 2006 WordPress powered .8% of all websites and it was still experiencing growing pains.  The different approaches of development between developers, designers, and users were becoming a problem.  Other problems also included a heated debate over inline documentation and issues with the Codex.

Despite the problems, WordPress continued to grow and in March 2006, Automattic filed to register the WordPress trademark.   WordPress also issued a public request that no other websites use a domain name with the name “WordPress” in it. This caused much controversy within the WordPress community.

Automattic began experimenting with different ways to make money, including offering support services to enterprise clients.  This led to the Automattic support network, which was launched at $5000 per client a year as well as WordPress VIP hosting which was launched at $250 a month.

By July 2006, Matt announced that he would host a BarCamp style conference called WordCamp.  BarCamps were informal gatherings held to focus on new technologies.

The first WordCamp was held on August 5th in San Francisco, with 500 participants coming from all over the world. It was the first time that Matt gave his “State of the Word Address.”  His emphasizes was on how software needed to be kept simple. The first WordCamp was a great success.

However, by this time, because of many internal issues within the community, there were some unhappy contributors who believed that WordPress should be run under a committee structure instead of the Benevolent Dictator for Life Structure that it was under.

So in September 2006, several original WordPress developers decided to launch Habari, a new open source blogging platform with many philosophies in direct opposition to WordPress. Habari was officially initiated in January 2007, but did not last long because of various internal issues.

2007

In January 2007, a plugin directory was established and the second WordCamp was held in San Francisco .

Although early WordCamps had no formal structure, they were beginning to happen all over the world. The next big one was held in Beijing, China.

Version 2.1 was released next. This version had many new features, including a new interface, which came complete with spell check and autosave.

Up until this point, new versions were released haphazardly and without a set numbering system. However, 2.1 was the first to be released with version 2.2 scheduled to be released four months later. This was to be the beginning of new versions having a deadline.

Although a couple of weeks late, version 2.2 was released in May and featured a new taxonomy system that incorporated tags, which are a bottom-up classification.

Although users creating their own tags and classifications were considered a good thing, there were some issues related to how the new tag system would interact with the database, which was already using a category system.

Mark Jaquith received commit access around this time.

Version 2.2 was released only a few short months after 2.1, but users were becoming increasingly frustrated that development seemed slow. This caused the team to take a closer look at the development process and there was much discussion on moving to a 120-day release cycle. During this period of time more committers were slowly being added.

WordPress 2.3 was released in September. There was some controversy at the time regarding user privacy because WordPress was gathering user data to find out what themes and plugins they were using and to notify them of necessary updates.

Even though WordPress offers free software, ways for developers (who were once hobbyists) to make money were now being considered.  Theme creation was beginning to soar and instead of being paid to build a theme, developers started including links back to their own sites as a form of payment. Often these links were hidden and the customer was unaware, which started to make some themes become spam. Fortunately, Google recognized this and began to not give authority to sites they felt used themes that contained spam. By July 2007, all sponsored link themes were removed from WordPress.net and in late 2007 premium themes began to fill the marketplace.

Free themes began being hosted on themes.WordPress.net, the predecessor to the WordPress themes repository.  Although WordPress was run under a GPL license, debate broke out over whether or not it was right for developers to make money by creating themes.

2008

Although version 2.4 was never released, version 2.5 was released with a new user interface designed by Happy Cog Studios. Version 2.5 introduced the dashboard widget system and the short code.  However, the community was not happy with the version 2.5 as they did not feel that they were consulted about the changes or problems. They also felt that there were usability issues that hadn’t been addressed.

Over the summer, a usability study was conducted, which led to the release of version  2.7. Once again redesigns were done and the user interface was improved for usability.

In July 2008, the WordPress theme directory was launched.

WordPress 2.7, known as Crazy Horse, was released next. This time, unlike version 2.5, there was a great deal of emphasis placed on user testing and involvement of the WordPress community.

Jen Mylo, who had been very involved in the user testing for Crazy Horse, joined Automattic.

In December 2008, 200 themes were pulled from the WordPress repository and a statement was added to the “about page” that indicated that all themes were now subject to review. From that point forward, only GPL themes were added to the repository.

2009

By this point in time, Matt was noted as saying that he did not like “where premium WordPress themes [were] going, and that the premium theme market [was not] helping the community to grow.”

A problem was found, along with many questions, concerning licensing.  How could developers charge for themes if WordPress was considered free software?

In 2009 Matt took a step back, as Jen Mylo and Ryan Boren took on bigger leadership roles.

Better communication began to happen, which included a handbook project.

In December 2009, the core team of Matt, Mark, Ryan, Westi, Andrew, and Jen met in Orlando. Despite having worked together on the project for many years, for some it was the first time that they met in person.

This led to the idea of having Meetups in which people from the community get together in person to work on code and/or a project.  It was and is an idea that continues to grow.

2010

The WordPress Foundation was launched in January 2010.

Community blogs such as WPTavern began to gain importance as gathering points for those who wanted to communicate outside the core project’s official channels.

WordPress 3.0 was released with the long anticipated merging of WordPress and WordPress MU.

With the release of WordPress 3.0 WordPress moved away from the word blog and began to refer to itself as a content management system, better known as a “CMS”.

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Summary Summary

It has taken WordPress the better part of a decade to get from its humble beginnings of just an idea (used by just a few), to where it is today as a CMS that powers nearly 1/4 of all websites on the internet.  Many people have worked on the WordPress project and the project continues to evolve.  It is going to be interesting to see what is in store for WordPress in the years to come.

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Quiz Quiz

Who was the original founder of WordPress?

  1. Donncha O’Caiomh
  2. Mike Little
  3. Matt Mullenweg
  4. Michel Valdrighi

Answer: 3. Matt Mullenweg

In what year was WordPress officially launched? 

  1. 2001
  2. 2002
  3. 2003
  4. 2004

Answer: 3. 2003

What does the abbreviation “CMS” stand for?

  1. Content Migration System
  2. Content Management System
  3. Context Management System
  4. Content Management Structure

 

Answer: 2. Content Management System

What is the name of the company that owns the WordPress trademark?

  1. Automatic
  2. Automattic
  3. Auttomatic
  4. Autoomattic

Answer: 2. Automattic

 

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Additional Resources Additional Resources

  1. Milestones: The Story of WordPress book
  2. History @ Codex