WordPress: Pillar of the Internet, Aged yet Resilient Free Software

If you are reading this article through my blog at ckxpress.com, you are using WordPress, even though you may not realize it.

Originally, WordPress was a content management system (CMS) designed for building blogs, created by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little in 2003, and has now been around for 20 years. The term “originally” is used not because WordPress has pivoted, but because it has evolved and excelled, extending its applications to corporate websites, e-commerce, and almost any type of website.

A Good Cat Catches Mice

Compared to YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, fewer people have heard of WordPress. However, if you are an internet user, the chances of never visiting a website built with WordPress are slim, as its market share has consistently been among the top, occupying over 40% of the top ten million websites – an incredibly high figure. If we only consider websites using CMS as their backend, the proportion would be even higher.

Although there are many WordPress users, not everyone likes it. While there are no official statistics, I dare say that most programmers resist or even hate WordPress.

The reason for this is that programmers usually like to explore new technologies, use new tools, and find analyzing and designing from scratch the most enjoyable and satisfying. Many newly-employed technical personnel may feel that the existing system is outdated and suggest the company rebuild it using new technology. This is a common sentiment, and even when I was in college, I was very resistant to using mainframes and writing COBOL after graduation. With a 20-year history and using the now considered outdated PHP language, WordPress is certainly not a favorite among programmers.

However, “existence is reasonable”, and it’s not a coincidence that a software designed 20 years ago still holds a significant market share today. The reason for WordPress’s enduring presence, besides being free, is that it just works. After all, unless the user is a programmer themselves, it doesn’t matter what language is used for development; as long as it solves the problem, it is a good cat that catches mice.

Openness to the Core

My blog, ckxpress.com, has been using WordPress since 2006, and it’s now in its 17th year. Such loyalty cannot be fully explained by simply saying “it just works.” The truth is, the freedom and openness of WordPress resonate with my values.

There are many free software options out there, but WordPress is not only open in terms of its source code; it’s open to the core. Users can not only switch their websites to various themes provided by third-party developers, but they can also install a wide range of plugins, also provided by third parties, to meet various peripheral functions.

Despite its long history, WordPress remains dynamic, with its core continually updated, and in recent years, it has added features that keep up with the times, such as the Gutenberg editor. Thanks to the network effect, the development ecosystem around WordPress is thriving, offering 10,467 themes and 60,315 plugins. As long as you can think of it, there’s likely a solution available. Moreover, given the size of the community, it’s easier to find community support for any issue than with smaller software.

The so-called community is not only about technical aspects; like all public projects, communities need various participants, including documentation writers, translators, and curators. Offline events led by the community are another strength of WordPress. Apart from a brief pause during the pandemic, there are often offline WordPress meetups worldwide, such as small gatherings organized by the Taiwan and Hong Kong communities, where users can share their experiences and insights. These events are all organized by volunteers, with official support limited to endorsements and providing items like memorabilia.

Going a step further than meetups are conferences called WordCamps, which have been held in both Hong Kong and Taipei. Larger WordCamps are organized at the national or even continental level, such as the two-day WordCamp Asia held in Bangkok this weekend. I will be flying to Bangkok to share my experience on setting up a WordPress blog, adding the Web3Press plugin, and publishing articles as NFTs with the topic “How I make a living with Writing NFT on my WordPress blog“.

Before the two-day WordCamp conference, there is a Contributor Day, where volunteers come together to learn from each other and work together in groups. I participated in WordCamp Japan’s Contributor Day in 2018, joining a group of multilingual “polyglots” led by senior members to translate documentation for the new version. Despite the unpaid nature of these activities, they are incredibly popular, and the level of activity in the WordPress open community is evident.

.com and .org Coexisting Harmoniously

While being open to the core, WordPress has also been very successful commercially. Its business model mainly involves providing hosting and peripheral services for a monthly fee.

Since WordPress is open and free, users can freely install, maintain, and use it without paying a cent. However, they need to handle server and bandwidth issues on their own. Nowadays, with the maturity of cloud services, there are many solutions that don’t involve too much technical knowledge. In the world of WordPress, this part of the service is referred to as .org and can be found on the wordpress.org website.

If you just want to write a blog and don’t want to deal with hardware, cloud, or software maintenance, you can opt for the .com service. For example, you can create an account on wordpress.com, which also uses WordPress, like my long-neglected ckxpress.wordpress.com blog. Depending on their needs, users can use .com for free or pay a monthly fee for advanced services like ad removal and custom domain names. WordPress’s business model is simple and straightforward, quietly making money for years.

The symbol of civil society, .org, and the symbol of the commercial world, .com, coexist harmoniously. While remaining open, they can handle fierce competition, making money without forgetting their initial intentions. This is a classic example of “practical left-wing”, and it is the deeper reason why I like WordPress. I once tried to learn from this model, but unfortunately, I couldn’t manage the .com and .org aspects well, ending up with an ambiguous result.

Speaking of learning, it is unclear whether my ideals have always been very close to those of WordPress, or whether I have internalized the concepts after using it for many years. The mission of LikeCoin, “Decentralize Publishing”, aligns astonishingly well with WordPress. Some time after launching LikeCoin, I was browsing wordpress.org and saw the mission page boldly stating “Democratize Publishing”. I was both surprised and deeply touched.

Underneath the concise and powerful mission, the webpage reads:

The freedom to build.
The freedom to change.
The freedom to share.

Extended reading

  1. 吃自己狗糧:以 Writing NFT 發表文章兩個月數據分享
  2. 多走三步 讓 Writing NFT 成為出版新典範

My articles are not put behind a paywall and are all open for reading. If you like this article, please collect its Writing NFT to support writing and preserve journalism.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *