All of the sites I maintain run on WordPress, except one. That’s a legacy site that I hope can eventualy be moved to the WordPress platform in the near future. Why? Because WordPress can handle the complexities of media embedding and sharing without requiring a PhD in computer science on the part of the webmaster. The reason for this is that the development community around WordPress is a vibrant and active one producing for example, 336 themes and 6,758 feature plugins in just the last year that provide new features to the websites that run WordPress- or 18.9% of the entire web. Whether you know it or not, you probably frequent several websites built on WordPress. After ten years of development as a simple blogging platform, almost 70% of websites run WordPress purely as a CMS, 20% as a hybrid blog/CMS, 6% purely as a blog and a new 7% as an app platform. After ten years, WordPress has changed not only the look of blogs, but of the entire web.
Check out this video by Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, for in depth discussion of the statistics above and the future of the platform, as discussed below:
This is all great, but the “web” now and in the future is all about mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, social sharing and rich media streaming to these devices. WordPress must address this complexity to thrive and I’m happy to say it looks like that’s exactly what’s happening. As a personal sidenote, the majority of my frustrations as a WordPress user have been around the wp-admin panel (or “Dashboard”) and arcane methods of embedding, formatting and presenting media, such as pictures, audio and especially video. Social sharing buttons can be a special place in hell all their own as new services pop up that you may want to link to from your blog. This blog right here- imperfect as it is- is a bit of a sandbox for me to try out new themes and plugins that solve some of these frustrations.
So what’s coming in WordPress that will define it’s second decade? First, in 3.6 code name “Oscar” (for jazz pianist great Oscar Peterson- got to love Mullenweg’s penchant for jazz-based code names as a homage to his saxophone playing youth), a focus on the 2013 theme formatting well on all devices, media streamlining with native audio embedding and smart video handling using simple content URL’s rather than complex embed codes, and much needed changes to the wp-admin UI. These are welcome changes to the point release that I’m looking forward to. Very rarely can I create a post in WordPress right now without switching out from the “Visual” WYSIWYG editor to the “Text” page source code editor and playing around with some embed codes and basic HTML formatting. But there’s more under that hood in how WordPress will address development moving forward.
As I understand it, WordPress’ new software/feature model will now support parallel release development and will follow a layered stack. The “core” will be the foundation of the stack along with layers for other services, plugin features and presentation layers. As a much less monolithic approach to development, this allows teams to form around these layers and submit updates to the project when ready. That to me is the definition of platform development, having seen such models work successfully on past open source kernel projects I’ve been a part of. Based on comments during the Q & A section of the talk, I gathered that this new cycle of development could possibly cause headaches for those who support the installed base for their clients. Change is always difficult initially, but the needs of the installed base will always be heard. Perhaps WordPress ends up with an Ubuntu-like LTS model with a stable release maintained for x number of years for enterprise customers?
While listening to Mullenweg’s presentation, it struck me how much thought was put into realigning WordPress as a platform and adopting a nimble and distributed development approach. The first ten years was birth, early development and feature growth through add-on plugins and themes. The next ten years will see a faster integration of new features, bug fixes and security updates. For the WordPress end user the Google Chrome model was referenced: WordPress would automatically update with the latest fixes and enhancements without direct user intervention, ensuring that all installations were running the latest/greatest codebase. This is how all our modern operating systems and most apps behave today so it’s great to see that idea ported to WordPress.
This brings me to my last thought, what do I think is in store for WordPress in the future? These are my predictions going into the next ten years, so let’s seen if any of this speculation turns out to be fact. One theme Mullenweg has mentioned often (and again in this presentation) is that WordPress can be the antidote to the walled garden of the web, especially those places where user agreements allow those companies rights to your content. So as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al. change your rights and privacy continually, your site’s content is owned by you and I do believe WordPress will evolve to a richer feature set that provides the usefulness of a social network with a distributed and individually owned content model. Just take a look at Pressgram to see an exciting example!
Then there’s the app. I was surprised but not shocked at the newly reported growth of the platform supporting standalone apps. In the presentation there was a demonstration of a kiosk built on the CMS. That could be a “killer app” for WordPress. The software was already designed for the cloud day one, based on open source web standards and now it could have the potential as a software stack running on hardware. Think of this app as a complete CMS framework with connectivity built in, but also on standalone devices including mobile and embedded. Would we eventually see the WordPress environment branch out into something like a Facebook Home or Chrome OS?
What other developments could we see on the horizon for WordPress? Although a seemingly fiercely independent company, Automattic (the company behind WordPress) could see interest in outside partnerships, investment and even attempts at acquisition during it’s next decade. In the competitive environment of behemoths like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, I could see WordPress providing the foundation for a mainstream social network or CMS strategy as a competitive edge for a company with deep pockets of cash. Apple has come and gone with iWeb, Microsoft could make it’s first foray into open source without negatively impacting it’s core, proprietary products, Google’s culture could mix well with WordPress folks although they already have their own blogging platform and Yahoo is just buying stuff (although they just recently bought Tumblr)… This is just far-fetched speculation and I have no insider information, but it’s interesting to consider that as WordPress platforms grow to power 20% of the web, it’s not hard to wonder what the market will make of this asset in the future.
Most important, I look forward to working with all the new features to come in WordPress in the coming years. Great software, developers, content creators and communities make WordPress one of the very best things of the web.