Understanding WordPress: A Brief History of WordPress

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The goal behind these posts is two-fold. I’m hoping to give people an introduction to what they get with a brand-spanking-new WordPress website, and improve my own skills at explaining the inner-workings of WordPress. So join me and let’s learn WordPress together.

What is WordPress?

WordPress can be many things. It’s a blogging platform. It’s a content management system (CMS). It’s an open source software. It’s an ecommerce platform. It’s a social network platform. It’s a web application platform. It’s a service as a software solution (SaaS). And the list goes on. But what is WordPress to you? Chances are if you’re reading this you’re looking to use WordPress to build your website.

To you WordPress is a tool you’re using to create a website. Whether it’s a site to sell products, market yourself, or post pictures of your cat in a variety of costumes, WordPress can get it done.

Let’s look at how WordPress.org explains WordPress on it’s landing page.

“WordPress is web software you can use to create a beautiful website, blog, or app. We like to say that WordPress is both free and priceless at the same time.”

WordPress certainly isn’t the only tool you can use to build a website, and it also isn’t the only tool you’ll need to accomplish all of your goals. Except for the aforementioned cat costume site. It can handle that right out of the box.

Oh yeah, and you may have noticed that “free” line in the description. That word tends to jump off the page at people. WordPress is free to use. It’s an Open Source project maintained by the people that use it. That means there are thousands of developers across the world working to make the WordPress Core software as feature-rich and bug-proof as possible.

That’s a big reason why if there is something you want to do in WordPress, chances are someone in the WordPress community has already done it, tested it, documented it, and created the plugin.

Who really maintains WordPress?

Surely with software as sophisticated and complex as WordPress there has to be someone in charge of it. WordPress.org is completely 100% free under a GPL license. You’ll see GPL licenses throughout all kinds of open source software projects. In simplified terms, it is essentially a license that let’s you modify and use software in anyway you please personally or commercially.

But you’ve been to WordPress.com and you’ve seen paid options.

That’s actually run by a company called Automattic. They were founded by one of WordPress’s founding developers Matt Mullenweg to make the WordPress core software easier to use for the masses. They own and maintain WordPress.com, but they don’t own WordPress.org. Confused yet? Let’s break that down.

The Flavors of WordPress

As you look into WordPress you’re likely to come across two different versions. The WordPress.com version and the WordPress.org version. WordPress.org is where you can go to download your own copy of the WordPress core software and install it on any web host you choose. This also offers the flexibility to edit it, add themes, add plugins and tweak it to your hearts content.

Sound complicated? It can be if you’re not familiar with installing websites on servers and don’t have the desire to learn. Enter WordPress.com. WordPress.com is essentially hosting specifically for vanilla WordPress sites. You can sign up and have a working site in minutes. With the free version your site URL would look something like yourdomain.wordpress.com.

The best way to think about it is WordPress.org is self-hosted WordPress. It’s the most feature rich version of the WordPress core software and it’s 100% free. You can take it and repurpose it in anyway for your own fun and profit.

WordPress.com is a stripped down version of WordPress limiting your theme and plugin options. WordPress.com was created to offer a quick and easy way to set up a WordPress site and get started blogging. WP Beginner offers a nice comparison of WordPress.org vs a free WordPress.com site.

Still want the flexibility of WordPress.org, but don’t want to use WordPress.com. No problem. With the proliferation of WordPress across the internet many hosting providers offer one click installs for WordPress sites. There are even hosting providers that are tuned to run WordPress sites exclusively, which often leads to better overall site performance and security.

Check out the official WordPress web hosting providers on WordPress.org for a few good options. I use SiteGround personally and WP Engine professionally. I’ve had good success with both.

Who Uses WordPress?

Excellent question! As of this writing something like 26% of the web uses WordPress ranging from huge brands like CNN and Beyonce (Queen B!) to unknown brands like View From The Pine. And WordPress is used in a variety of ways from ecommerce to web games to social networking. To see more uses of WordPress check out the Showcase.

And soon to be you!

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