WordPress and 10 Years of Relevancy
With the 10-year anniversary of the first release of WordPress coming up on May 25 of this year, a lot of attention is already being paid to the reigning champion of the blogging platforms and both how it changed the Internet and how the Internet changed around it.
On one hand, it’s amazing to look at how an upstart fork of b2/cafelog, one that was created simply because Textpattern wasn’t being updated, came to be such a dominant force on the Web and launch a company, Automattic, that now employs some 150 people worldwide.
On the other hand, it’s easy to look at WordPress as a besieged king. An application and a service created in a world of desktops and blogs now living in a world of mobile devices and social media.
It’s obvious that WordPress has helped to shape the Web we’re in today. It’s used by millions of blogs large and small, including many of the most popular sites on the Web. However, the question remains, will WordPress and the WordPress platform be as important in the next ten years as it has been the previous?
It’s tough to say, but I agree with Matt Mullenweg that there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic.
The Continued Growth of Blogging
In a recent interview for All Things Digital, Matt Mullenweg, the CEO of Automattic and the founder of WordPress, said that he’s very optimistic about the future of blogging.
According to him, more people than ever are blogging and the rise of social media has served to introduce people to the idea of online publishing. He believes that Facebook and Twitter are great vehicles for creating a presence online, but that blogging offers people a chance to post more diverse content with more complete control over how it is displayed.
And Mullenweg seems to be right. Downloads of WordPress continue to skyrocket, with several new downloads every second, and WordPress.com also seeing sharp increases in activity. Clearly, WordPress (and blogging in general) is more popular than ever.
However, those who are bearish on the future of blogging have their statistics too. In late 2012, “Tumblr” passed “Blog” in search term popularity. Perhaps more worrisome though isn’t the rising popularity of Tumblr as a search term, but the decline of Blog, which peaked in mid-2009 and has been on a slow decline since.
But just because people are not searching for the term “blog” does not mean that blogging itself is on the decline.
Simply put, it may just mean that there’s no need to search for it at all.
Blogging as the New Normal
When WordPress was first launched, a blog was considered to be very different from a “normal” website. Normal sites were largely static and though they added pages, the new content was often buried in sections. The new content was, usually, not placed front and center.
In 2003, blogging was defined as little more than an online journal or diary, it was something personal and amateurish, not something that professional sites would do.
However, over time professional sites did start to take up blogging. First it was to appear more personal and reach out to the Web on the terms of Internet users. Slowly though, attitudes about blogging changed as it was realized blogs are great for search engine optimization and do well in Google results.
So while blog search engines such as Technorati, Icerocket and Google Blog Search may have wilted over the years, it’s not because people stopped blogging or stopped reading blogs, it’s because blogs stopped being a subsection of the Web. Today, you’re hard pressed to find a site that doesn’t have at least a few elements of a blog baked into it.
Between RSS feeds, dynamic front pages, regularly updated content, the blog didn’t disappear, it became the de facto way to operate a site.
WordPress’ Role in Promoting Blogging
This transition was largely powered by WordPress. In 2005, with version 1.5, WordPress introduced static pages and theming. This made it possible to use WordPress for sites other than just blogs, allowing the creation of static sites with blog elements or vice versa.
Themes and plugins, the latter of which were introduced in version 1.2 in 2004, helped to build an entire industry around WordPress. One built on creating plugins, designs and entire sites built with the platform. This helped open the door to WordPress in commercial environments, encouraging companies large and small to consider adopting WordPress not just for their blog, but for much of their Web presence.
But this widespread adoption hasn’t come without a cost. The latest versions of WordPress have been more iterative than revolutionary. Even the last major version, 3.0, which was released in 2010, primarily focused on custom post types and taxonomies.
Simply put, with so many large users and organizations depending on WordPress, radical evolution is difficult, though Automattic has created the Jetpack plugin as a means of introducing new features into WordPress without altering the core.
But this approach has proved controversial, as reviews of Jetpack have shown.
In the end, the biggest danger to WordPress and blogging in general isn’t that it’s declining, it’s that blogging has become the status quo.
Most people who worry about the decline in blogging pine for the days when blogging was revolutionary. When bloggers were doing something unique and somewhat controversial. Today, blogging is so ubiquitous that many of the sites aren’t thought of as blogs though, if they had been around in 2003, almost certainly would have been seen as such.
Blogging isn’t cool or edgy anymore. It’s serious business, powerful SEO and a big part of countless “plain” sites on the Internet. Blogging is the new normal.
The fear is that the Internet really doesn’t like the status quo and seems to always be waiting for the next revolution to overthrow the old guard. The fear, understandably, is that it could happen to WordPress and blogging in general.
Is it possible? Absolutely. But all of the things out there now do more to compliment blogging than attempt to overthrow it. Social media, social news, even Tumblr can all serve to drive traffic to blogs.
Though blogging has certainly changed, it seems like the next revolution is being built on top of it rather than trying to topple it.