“Code is Poetry”: WordPress and Sustainability

The brief history of open source content management systems (CMS) is the history of a range of applications offering similar core functionality – desktop publishing features – but all pushing different specialisms: blogs, portals, forums, e-commerce, e-learning and so on. There is one application, however, that has gone a long way in a short amount of time to covering all these areas, and if you’ve read anything on this blog you’ll know it’s a platform I carry unequivocally close to heart: WordPress.

Gone are the days when you had to run 3 or 4 different MySQL databases, create themes for 3 or 4 different platforms, and link all this up to achieve a comprehensive CMS for your company’s website; WordPress is the king of all trades and I think the reason for this can be summed up by three crucial factors.

First the WordPress mantra: “Code is Poetry”. It’s an easy statement to make, but far less easy to perpetrate with any degree of consistancy. From the early stages of the platform WordPress combined a simple user interface on the front end, making the platform an attractive out-of-the-box option for self-publishing, and a clean coding architecture on the back end that brought kids in basements (and older folk too) into the WordPress development fold.

Hence the second factor, which is community. Not only is it necessary, in the Open Source world, to get people to love your product, but more importantly, it is crucial to get them to underwrite its development. But just like a viral video, that phenomenon is hard to engineer, it is an organic process. And just like a viral video, it has a shelf life. To truly sustain a platform, there is one final factor that is required: revenue.

One of the biggest challenges for Open Source start-ups is finding a way to monetize software without succumbing to a proprietary model. In the WordPress case, one of the means in achieving this emerged several years into the development cycle – circa late 2006, early 2007. It came through premium sales of WordPress add-ons: themes and plugins. Looking back on the phenomenon now in 2011, the rise in WordPress premium themes, was a precursor to the rise in “app-onomics” (championed of course by the Apple App Store) that has become a staple of today’s digital ecosystem.

It’s a well known fact that the premium theme boom sparked a wave of resistance and remonstration from long-term members of the WordPress community. There was a sense of people jumping on the bandwagon, seeing WordPress as little more than a cash cow. In many cases, I think this was and continues to be true. On the other hand, it is clear to me now that without the input from companies and individuals who respect the WordPress ethos and continue to work towards its success, WordPress would not have been able to scale at the rate it has done.

I write this in anticipation of a WordPress theme that is exemplary in all aspects mentioned here. The theme is called ‘Book Club‘ and is in fact a child theme for a framework called ‘Listings‘, developed by WooThemes, a company that was at the heart of the premium controversy. One of the areas in which the Listings framework excels, is the extension of WordPress taxonomy. Tags and categories are still the two main axes of content organization, but the Woo team have extended this structure through the introduction of custom fields and custom taxonomies. This combo enables the isolation of specific content groupings – in this case books, authors and literary genres – with a more holistic relational structure than standard category/tag taxonmies permit.

The benefits of this innovation are a deeper and more targeted organization of content on the front end of a WordPress site, and a more accurate yield of search results in internal searches. Overall, it marks the first major step for WordPress in becoming a credible solution for a digital archive. Stay tuned for further insight into the Book Club/Listings theme in my review this coming Monday.

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  1. [...] my last post, I wrote about some of the factors that have helped transform WordPress from a fledgling blog [...]

    Pingback by Sourced » The BookClub WordPress Theme: a New Solution for Digital Archives and Repositories — February 25, 2011 @ 7:41 am

  2. [...] on WooThemes’ recently developed Bookclub theme. To summarize, the folks at OSL are huge WordPress fans and noticed that WooThemes has developed what they consider to be the next generation of WP themes. [...]

    Pingback by Wordpress theme, next generation for basic library and archival materials | RKivist — March 2, 2011 @ 10:25 pm

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