40% of the web
Reaching this current high point involved an incredible amount of hard work from the amazing WordPress community. Take a look at 40 of the key milestones that helped shape the course.
Sixty percent of the web to go!
After discussions with Mike Little, Matt Mullenweg created a new branch of b2 on SourceForge, and, with the name coined by his friend Christine Tremoulet, called it WordPress. WordPress.org launched 27 May. Initially, it was home to the development blog, some schematic documentation, and support forums. The original WordPress homepage told the world that “WordPress is a semantic personal publishing platform with a focus on aesthetics, web standards, and usability”. The site gave the WordPress community a presence and the forums provided a home.
On 27 May 2003, the first version of WordPress, WordPress 0.7, was released. Users who switched from b2 to WordPress got some new features, most notably the new, simplified administration panel and the WordPress Links Manager, which allowed users to create a blogroll. Once WordPress 0.7 shipped, there was an effort to get other developers involved in the project, starting with Donncha Ó Caoimh and François Planque, both of whom had created their own b2 forks.
In late 2003, major changes to the file structure involved replacing “b2” files with “wp-”, dubbed The Great Renaming. The WordPress file structure morphed from b2 to the familiar file structure used today, with many files consolidated into the wp-includes and wp-admin folders.
On 13 May 2004, Six Apart, the company behind Movable Type, announced changes to Movable Type’s licence. Movable Type 3.0, the newest version, came with licensing restrictions, which meant that users not only had to pay for software that was previously free but pay for each additional software installation. Six Apart’s move galvanised the WordPress community. It helped grow the WordPress platform. WordPress downloads on SourceForge more than doubled, increasing from 8,670 in April 2004, to 19,400 in May.
The decision to fork b2, not to rewrite the platform was prescient: if the community had buried itself in a rewrite, it wouldn’t have been ready to welcome and support all of the new WordPress users. Instead, they were ready. For weeks, everyone was focused on helping “switchers”. Developers wrote scripts to help people easily migrate from Movable Type to WordPress.
In March 2004, the plugin system transformed WordPress for core developers and the wider community. It meant that the core product didn’t need to include every developer’s pet feature, just the features that made sense for a majority of users. Ryan Boren stated that the plugin system enabled core developers to implement the 80/20 rule: “Is this useful to 80% of our users? If not, try it in a plugin”.
May 2004 was the month WordPress 1.2 “Mingus” launched, making WordPress much more accessible and available to a wider group of people. Major WordPress releases are named in honour of jazz musicians. Charles Mingus was a highly influential American jazz double bassist, composer, and bandleader.
Also in May 2004, the first plugin, which is still bundled with WordPress — the Hello Dolly plugin, which randomly displays a lyric from the Louis Armstrong song Hello, Dolly! in the top right of the admin dashboard, was launched. It was intended as a guide for developers interested in making plugins, and for users learning how to activate or deactivate plugins.
To internationalise WordPress in 2004, Ryan Boren wrapped translatable strings with the
__() translation function. He went through the code, one line at a time, found everything that could be translated, and marked it up. This meant that when WordPress v1.2 was released, it not only contained the plugin API but was fully internationalised.
The WordPress Plugin Repository launched in January 2005. Hosted at dev.wp-plugins.org, and powered by subversion and trac, it’s quite different from the user-friendly plugin directory that we’re used to today. Literally, the plugin repository was just a code repository.
The first mailing list in the project, however, wasn’t wp-hackers, but wp-docs, which was set up in November 2003 to discuss the WordPress documentation and wiki. It was active for six months before the hackers mailing list was set up in June 2004. This later moved to wp-hackers in 2005. Development discussion shifted from the forums to the mailing list, leaving the forums as a place to provide support.
The wp-hackers mailing list exploded with activity, busy with heated discussions about issues such as whether comment links should be nofollow to discourage spammers, the best way to format the date, and how to start translating WordPress. Developers finally had a place to congregate. They embraced the new communication platform – their new home in the project.
In February 2005, the theme system was built using PHP, which is a templating language itself, after all. The theme system breaks a theme down into its component parts – header, footer, and sidebar, for example. Each part is an individual file that a designer can customise. A native WordPress theme system, as opposed to a templating system such as Smarty, meant that designers could design and build themes without learning an entirely new syntax.
At the start of March 2005, WordPress v1.5 “Strayhorn” had seen 50,000 downloads. Just three weeks later, the number doubled to 100,000. To celebrate the landmark, there was a 100k party in San Francisco. On 22 March, a group of WordPressers got together at the Odeon Bar in San Francisco.
The logo was finally decided on 15 May 2005 when Matt sent an email to the mailing list with the subject “I think this is it”. Matt’s message contained just this one beautiful image:
The creation of a mark, created by Jason Santa Maria, gave WordPress a stand-alone element of the logo which, over time, would be recognisable even without the word beside it. This could and would be used in icons, branding, and t-shirts. It’s become instantly recognisable, helped by its appearance on WordCamp t-shirts the world over.
* For the latest official WordPress logos, click here.
WordPress.com opened to signups in August 2005, by invitation only, to control user growth on untested servers. Many who were involved with the WordPress project got WordPress.com blogs, including Lorelle VanFossen and Mark Riley. Every new WordPress.com member also got one invite to share.
The event – which he announced without a venue or schedule – would be on 5 August. More than 500 people from all over the world registered: Donncha Ó Caoimh flew in from Ireland, and Mark Riley from the UK. When WordCamp did get a venue, it was the Swedish American Hall, a Market Street house that served as headquarters for the Swedish Society of San Francisco.
WordCamp 2006’s schedule reflects the project’s concerns and its contributors’ passions. Mark Riley gave the first-ever workshop on getting involved with the WordPress community, now a staple talk at WordCamps. Andy Skelton presented on the widgets feature that he was working on for WordPress.com. Donncha spoke about WPMU, and Mark Jaquith explored WordPress as a CMS, one of the most-requested sessions. There were presentations about blogging and podcasting, and about journalism and monetising.
With the release of WordPress v2.1 “Ella” in 2007, lossless XML import and export functionality made it easy to move content seamlessly between WordPress blogs. Also, it came with features like a new tabbed editor to switch between WYSIWYG and code editing mode while writing a post. Better internationalisation and support for right-to-left languages. A new upload manager made it easier to manage pictures, video, and audio. It brought much cleaner code, and more.
With WordPress v2.7 “Coltrane” in 2008, the admin user interface changed drastically. When screenshots of the changes appeared on community blogs, the inevitable question was “why are they changing it again?”. WordPress v2.5’s design hadn’t quite settled in before another huge change came about with the implementation in v2.7.
The change meant that users of varying skill levels needed to relearn WordPress. The growing WordPress tutorial community would need to retake every screenshot and reshoot every video. However, when WordPress users upgraded, the feedback was positive. Users loved the new interface. They found it intuitive and easy to use – finally demonstrating that it wasn’t change they had been unhappy with just nine months earlier – but the interface itself.
With WordPress v2.9 “Carmen” in 2009, you could just paste a URL on its own line and have it magically turn it into the proper embed code, with Oembed support for YouTube, Daily Motion, Blip.tv, Flickr, Hulu, Viddler, Qik, Revision3, Scribd, Google Video, Photobucket, PollDaddy, WordPress.tv, and more would follow in future releases.
The WordPress Foundation was launched in January 2010. Automattic transferred the trademarks later that year in September. As part of the transfer, Automattic was granted use of WordPress for WordPress.com, but not for any future domains. Matt was granted a licence for WordPress.org and WordPress.net. As well as transferring the trademarks for WordPress itself, the company also transferred the WordCamp name. As with WordPress itself, this protects WordCamps as non-profit, educational events in perpetuity.
The community was pleased with decoupling WordPress the project from Automattic the company. It gave people more confidence that Automattic was not out to dominate the WordPress commercial ecosystem.
First “Kids Camp” at WordCamp
WordCamp Ireland, organised by Sabrina Kent and Katherine Nolan, was the first WordPress event to offer activities for kids ages 3–12. Krishna De might be the first person to coin the term “Kids Camp“. More events for kids followed, as outlined by this list, which is current to 2019.
The first en-masse, invitation-only WordPress community get-together – The Community Summit – took place in 2012. The Community Summit focused on issues facing WordPress software development and the wider WordPress community. Community members nominated themselves and others to receive an invitation; a team of 18 people reviewed and voted on who would be invited. The attendees – active contributors, bloggers, plugin and theme developers, and business owners from across the WordPress community – came to Tybee Island, Georgia, to talk about WordPress.
WordCamp Europe, in 2013, was the first large-scale WordCamp to be held in Europe. By large scale, we mean big. And by big, we mean awesome. This was a chance for the European WordPress community to gather together in the idyllic town of Leiden to geek-out, share experiences, do business, and most of all, talk WordPress.
In January 2013, Ben Dunkle proposed new, flat icons. The WordPress admin was outdated, particularly on retina displays where the icons were pixelated. Flat icons would scale properly and also allow designers to colour icons using CSS. So the MP6 design project began to address icons and other improvements. Work took place in a plugin hosted by the WordPress plugin directory. Anyone could install the plugin and see the changes in their admin. Every week, the group shared a release and a report that was open to public feedback.
The MP6 plugin merged with WordPress v3.8 “Parker”, released in December 2013, demonstrating that, while it may take a while to get there, harmonious design in a free software project is possible.
With WordPress v3.9 “Smith” in 2014, updates to the visual editor improved speed, accessibility, and mobile support. You could now paste into the visual editor from your word processor without wasting time to clean up messy styling. With quicker access to crop and rotation tools, it was now much easier to edit images while editing posts. Also, it became possible to scale images directly in the editor, and galleries began to display a beautiful grid of images right in the editor, just like in a published post.
With WordPress v4.0 “Benny” in 2014, it became possible to explore uploads in a beautiful, endless grid. A new details preview made viewing and editing any amount of media in sequence so easy. Embedding became a visual experience, showing a true preview of embedded content (such as YouTube videos), saving time, and adding confidence. Writing and editing became even smoother and more immersive. The editor would now expand to fit content as you write, and the formatting tools were now available at all times.
As WordPress’ market share continued to grow, so did the amount of downloads from the plugin directory. WordPress was capable of building almost any type of website you could think of, and there were many smart people who jumped on board to build plugins, both free and premium. It was largely this rise of the WordPress entrepreneur that sent the download count over one billion in August 2015.
W3Techs.com broke the Internet down and divided it by each content management system in 2015. WordPress far exceeded number two on the list, which was Joomla at just 2.8 percent. Matt Mullenweg wrote, “The big opportunity is still the 57% of websites that don’t use any identifiable CMS yet, and that’s where I think there is still a ton of growth for us (and I’m also rooting for all the other open-source CMS's).”. He also tweeted just these few words, “Seventy-Five to Go”.
It was, at the time (2015), the largest WordCamp ever in the world, and the very first national WordCamp US event. The Pennsylvania Convention Centre opened its doors to more than 1,800 WordPress bloggers, designers, developers, and many others. Philadelphia Councilman, David Oh, declared 5 December ‘WordPress Day’ during the State of the Word address by Matt Mullenweg.
In memory of Kim Parsell, in 2015 the WordPress Foundation created a scholarship to provide annual funding for a woman of any assigned sex, who contributes to WordPress, to attend WordCamp US.
With the release of WordPress v4.7 “Vaughan” in 2016, REST API endpoints were added for posts, comments, terms, users, meta, and settings. Content endpoints provided machine-readable external access to a WordPress site with a clear, standards-driven interface, paving the way for new and innovative methods of interacting with sites through plugins, themes, apps, and more.
Big upgrades to the editor. With the release of WordPress v5.0 “Bebo” in 2018, Gutenberg became the default editing experience. The new block-based editor was the first step towards an exciting new future. Whether you were building your first site, revamping your blog, or writing code for a living; Gutenberg offered more content flexibility.
For developers building client sites, you could now create reusable blocks, letting your clients add new content anytime, while still maintaining a consistent look and feel. A wide collection of APIs and interface components made it easy to create blocks with intuitive controls. Utilising these components not only sped up development work but also provided a more consistent, usable, and accessible interface.
WordPress leadership was expanded in 2019 to help lead the project more efficiently. Josepha Haden Chomphosy was named Executive Director and took on day-to-day operations of the project as well as support of contributor teams.
In 2019, Matt Mullenweg held a moment of silence for long-time community member Alex Mills (viper007bond) who passed away after a long-fought battle with leukaemia. Alex was a very kind, creative, and prolific WordPress contributor.
In 2019, Matt Mullenweg’s annual State of The Word presentation was beautifully written and designed completely in Gutenberg for the first time ever.
With WordPress v5.5 “Eckstine” in 2020, it became easier than ever to find the block you needed. The new block directory was now built right into the block editor, making it possible to install new block types without ever leaving the editor.
In 2020, the WordPress 5.6 “Simone” release came from the first all-women and non-binary identifying release squad. WordPress 5.6 brought countless ways to set ideas free and bring them to life.
With a brand-new default theme as a canvas, and support for an ever-growing collection of blocks as brushes, it became possible to paint with words, pictures, sound, or rich embedded media.
In 2021, the TT1 Blocks theme was released as an experimental block-based version of the Twenty Twenty-One theme. It’s been created to leverage full-site editing functionality that is being built in the Gutenberg plugin. Not meant for use on a production site yet.
17 February 2021 marked the 100th release of Gutenberg, and while that looks remarkable on the outside, the release itself holds what all the other releases did. It holds improvements to existing features, it fixes bugs that users reported, it adds new features, and it highlights experiments with new ideas. What is remarkable about the release is the people. The ones who were with us from the start, the ones who were with us but left, the ones who joined in our journey, everyone who helped along the way, everyone who provided feedback, everyone who got their hands dirty, and everyone who has used this editor, tried to extend it, and provided ideas.
Also in February 2021, W3Techs.com reported the WordPress software now powers 40% of the top ten million websites in the world! Every two minutes, a new website using WordPress says, “Hello world”!
For the top 1000 sites, the market share is even higher at 51.8%. Over the past ten years, the growth rate has increased, which is reflected by the fact that 66.2% of all new websites use WordPress!