WordPress is a widely used PHP/MYSQL blog platform or to quote directly from the source: “WordPress is a state-of-the-art semantic personal publishing platform with a focus on aesthetics, web standards, and usability.” See the OSLiving Archive entry for more information.
WordPress (WP) began in 2003 as a fork of the blog engine known as b2. The project was a joint venture by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little. 2003 was in many ways a significant year in blog history; not only did it mark the launch of WordPress, but it was also the year in which Pyralab’s 4 year old platform, Blogger, was taken over by Google. And whereas Pyralabs had previously charged for a number of its services, Google stepped in and offered the ‘premium’ elements for free.
The third pillar underpinning the ‘blogopshere’ at that point was Movable Type (MT). It was only last year (June 2007) that the decision was made to release MT software under a GPLv2 license; prior to this it had been a closed source, fee-based platform. Then in 2004 came the release of version 3.0 and with it the famous/infamous decision to adopt tighter restrictions on licensing fees. This decision prompted a significant portion of the MT userbase to shift to the up and coming Open Source platform known as WordPress.
The Open Source Solution
Releasing WP under an Open Source license was perhaps the single most important decision in its short history. Not only did it allow for rapid user growth, but more importantly it led to one of the biggest developer communities on the Internet. [This is particularly true in terms of WP peripeherals such as themes and plugins]. The ability to customise and ‘engineer’ ramifications of the software led to a strong sense of loyalty and ‘ownership’ that guaranteed future growth. The second most important decision was the introduction of WordPress.com, the more commercial browser-based verion of the WordPress platform aimed at casual users or users who don’t require a stand alone setup. WordPress.com cemented the WP brand and brought the platform to an even wider audience; this marked a crucial leap from ‘geek’ to ‘street’.
In part then, we owe the rise of the blogosphere to this common shift from propietary to Open Source, or in the Blogger case, from ‘premium’ to ‘free’. Over the past 5 years WordPress has lead the way in terms of innovation, experimenting with a liberal and diverse application of its core functions, ranging from blog networks, forums and microblogging to its most recent sidelines: social networking. The first two notable examples I want to go over here are WordPress MU (multi-user) and BBpress (simple forum software).
MU is a version of WordPress that allows you to run multiple blogs with a single install of WordPress. It is used by Newspapers and magazines such as Le Monde, Harvard University also users it to power student blogs and it can be used to set up blog networks. However. one of the main problems with MU is that unlike its big brother WP, it suffers from a degree of development neglect and as a more experimental wing of the platform it has a far smaller backing. This is a real shame given that WP has attained superstar status and has enough financial clout to easily pour money into MU and bring it up to date with all the features we’ve come to expect from the main WP software.
BBpress is a WP ‘sibling’, it’s “plain and simple forum software … easy to use, easy to administrate, fast and clean.” The main point with BBpress is its ‘ease’ of integration with a stand alone WP blog. Yes, it requires its own database and template system but BBPress can communicate with WP to retrieve user meta data, shared cookies for authentication and it is possible for BBPress to access some of the WP functions. BBPress offers a solid yet lightweight alternative to some of the larger Open Source forum software and has been modified to great effect on sites such as 9rules.
Delving ever deeper into the WP portfolio and we find some of the more recent additions, most notably the Prologue theme and BuddyPress. The Prologue theme was released in January 2008 by the Automattic team (Automattic is the start-up company that develops WP) as a response to the ‘microblogging’ trend made popular by Twitter (follow us on Twitter) and Pownce. Prologue runs as a typical WordPress theme but it’s real potential lies in the ability to share short messages with friends and colleagues about what you’re doing or what you’re working on. Using it is simple, login to your user account and type straight into the text box on the theme’s front page.
Last but not least is BuddyPress. This is a project that is currently still in development. BuddyPress is essentially a set of plugins that transform an installation of WordPress MU into a social network platform:
“BuddyPress removes the main focus of WordPress MU away from blogs, moving it more towards the actual member themselves. However, members can still blog and use all the blogging features they would normally expect from WordPress. When someone uses BuddyPress, they will be going there to build or enhance their profile first, and write something on their blog second. The blog is basically turned into another component of BuddyPress.” (Source).
BuddyPress brings onboard groups, friends, private messaging, media share and more. It is a reponse to the huge social networking trend that has developed over the last few years, spearheaded by the likes of Facebook, Youtube and Flickr. I can’t help but feel that BuddyPress like the Prologue theme arrive somewhat too late on the scene to be called ‘innovations’, but what they demonstrate is the adaptability and intelligence of the WP platform.
In looking back over the WP portfolio, it occured to me that there may be an argument for the centralisation of WP and its various branches. The ability fo switch ‘face’ at the click of a button through a central dashboard seems like a logical step. Right now each component requires a separate install, the technology is not always 100% compatible and the huge differences in terms of demand and popularity dictate the outcome of each piece of software, but as technology develops, so will WP. Perhaps one day we may get to see a complete Automattic Open Source tool kit with a single 5 minute install, where the user is free to activate or deactivate core features … wouldn’t that be nice!