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WordPress founder and open source advocate Matt Mullenweg dropped by the Memeburn offices today to speak about how WordPress went from a blogging platform to the CMS of choice for around 15% of the web.
The 29-year-old entrepreneur, named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Media, started WordPress 10 years ago, mainly as a blogging platform for him and his friends. “I had to push it on a lot of people,” he says. “I built blogs for my friends and basically forced them to use them”.
To get to the real roots of WordPress however, you have to go back a little further. Mullenweg had discovered an open-source platform called b2/cafelog, authored by Corsican Michel Valdrighi. When Mullenweg and Mike Little noticed that Valdrighi had gone offline for a time they decided to fork the code and WordPress was born. When Valdrighi eventually came back online and saw what they had done, he fully endorsed it, calling WordPress the new official version of b2/cafelog. He is listed among the developer emeriti on the WordPress.org about page.
Adapt or die
In the time since then, WordPress has gone through iteration after iteration and, says Mullenweg, the organisation has learned a lot over the years. One of the biggest learning curves came with the rise of the smartphone. “We were one of the first open-source apps on iOS,” he says, “and at first we thought we could just use a scaled down dashboard, but that really didn’t work”. WordPress therefore decided to make things as simple as possible.
WordPress has also had to learn to adapt to changing platform environments. At the moment, says Mullenweg, it’s concentrating a lot of energy onto Android and iOS but it’s seeing seeing solid growth on Windows 8, so may have to devote more resources to that in the future.
Five computers in the world
He also says that the organisation is focusing on making sure that its mobile efforts have heavy cloud integration. “Everybody jokes about that old story about the world only needing five computers”, Mullenweg says in reference to the old Thomas J Watson misquote, “but when you think about it, that’s where we’re heading”.
It makes sense, while our mobile devices will always have computing power, they will become increasingly reliant on the cloud. The vast majority of information therefore will be stored on a small number of servers around the globe.
One CMS to rule them all?
In the web development space, you’ll frequently hear people having passionate debates about the merits of Drupal versus those of WordPress. Far from trying to push his own platform, Mullenweg is pretty diplomatic on this. “Anything you can do on one you can do pretty much do on the other,” he says. He reckons that one of Drupal’s core strengths is the third-party support it has, although that’s something that’s becoming increasingly visible in the WordPress community.
One thing that Mullenweg reckons sets WordPress apart is the large number of themes and plugins available to users. This, he says, means that no two WordPress users need ever use the same site. It’s also something, he says, that “the likes of Tumblr and Squarespace haven’t been able to get right”.
Mullenweg also says he likes to do fresh installs of CMSes from time to time so that he can see what direction the likes of Drupal and Joomla (competing CMSes) are moving in. That kind of attitude has clearly filtered through WordPress as an organisation. Why else would Movable Type, Drupal, and TextPattern be listed as sources of ideas and inspiration on the WordPress.org about page.
Facing the critics
One of the criticisms leveled at WordPress from time to time is that it’s insecure and vulnerable to spam and attacks. Mullenweg says that WordPress has worked hard to resolve those issues with products like Vaultpress and by making its WordPress.com hosting as secure as possible. A lot of the responsibility when it comes to security, he says, comes down to the end-user: “You wouldn’t leave your car unlocked in a dangerous neighborhood. The internet is a very dangerous neighborhood”. That means making sure you always update to the latest version of WordPress and that your passwords are secure. “Love is great, but not as a password,” he says.
Look out for our full-length video of the visit, as well as our upcoming interview with Mullenweg.