We Can Learn From The Success Of WordPress

WordPress has grown at a rate that is not only exponential but also completely unprecedented. If you visit the WordPress plugin repository, you will find over 40,000 plugins have now been contributed — for free. And, as of August 2015, there’s now a combined total of over 1 billion downloads across all of these plugins – a remarkable number for a platform that began its life as a simple blogging tool in 2004.

Even more remarkable is that over a quarter of these downloads took place in 2014! If that is evidence of exponential growth, nothing ever will be.

Global Growth

The most recent figures indicated that there are over 70 million WordPress users around the world – this is likely to be even more now. If we take a look at the usage figures of web content management systems, WordPress is quite clearly the most popular.

In terms of market share, WordPress eats up about 59% of the pie chart. Other ‘popular’ open source content management systems such as Joomla and Drupal are now left behind in the dust when stacked up against WordPress. Joomla has a 6.6% market share and Drupal a 5% market share – they are hardly even comparable now.

Impressive numbers yes, but even more impressive is how this translates into a general share of the internet. A 59% chunk of the CMS market actually equates to a near 25% share of the whole, entire internet. You read that right – take the whole internet as we know it today and WordPress powers a quarter of it.

WordPress Version 1

WordPress began life as a fork of a simple blogging platform called b2 or cafelog. b2 was otherwise neglected by its original developer and was slowly starting to fade away until it was taken over by WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg along with Mike Little. Mullenweg used it to power his own blog at the time and so decided to take the development forward by creating a fork.

Maybe it was merely self interest at the time – Mullenweg powered his blog using b2 and so without it being developed further he would eventually lose his blog. Either way, it is hard to imagine that Mullenweg and Little could have predicted quite how far reaching their work would become.

Their little blogging tool has become a global phenomena – brands like Blackberry, UPS and MTV use it to power their blogs, whilst brands like Sony and Mercedes-Benz now use it to power large websites in themselves.

The WordPress Economy

The WordPress economy is something to marvel at in itself. I personally run a digital agency specializing only in WordPress and we’re a successful business, but in the grand scheme of things we’re fairly insignificant.

A specialized WordPress hosting company, WP Engine, raised an approximate $23 million fundinground a few months ago. WooThemes, the company behind the incredibly popular WooCommerce plugin that powers the majority of WordPress eCommerce sites, was purchased by WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg’s company for an estimated $30 million. These are entire businesses, entire empires, that have been built off the back of WordPress alone – and there are many others. But they haven’t just been built off the back of WordPress – they have also been scaled with WordPress.

This differentiation is important, because it means that without the successful growth of WordPress, these businesses would not be worth as much as they are. I know that when I decided to focus our web design agency to be only WordPress specific, it felt like a huge gamble.

We were effectively turning away all clients who wanted to use another platform – and this is a scary feeling as business owner. But becoming a WordPress only agency was the best business decision I have ever made.

By positioning ourselves as an expert within one area of the digital world, we were more attractive to clients who wanted to work with true specialists. Realistically though, the success of our business growth has been down to the growth of WordPress – which in turn is driven by a group of people most of whom I have never met and most of whom contribute to WordPress for free.

These are WordPress community members who proactively hands on with WordPress design or development, but then there are those who use WordPress to support their marketing, blogging, content production, small businesses, online courses, eCommerce stores, forums, and nearly every other type of site you can imagine. WordPress touches the lives of many in many different formats – it is the unsung hero that so many of us, myself included, rely upon to make a living.

A Close Knit Community

wptime machine

But how has WordPress got where it is today? How has it achieved such amazing growth, such a strong sense of community and such die hard supporters?

Undoubtedly, the way WordPress has grown so successfully is down to the passionate and dedicated community behind it. There are thousands of people based all over the world that give their time to WordPress — and not just by developing the WordPress core. There are polyglots who help translate WordPress into a range of different languages, improve the user experience through great design, create plugins that help WordPress users solve problems, and design and build themes for WordPress users to use on their websites.

Just remember, every contribution counts, no matter what it looks like. It takes every one of us to make WordPress better. – Matt Mullenweg

We were discussing the history of WordPress one day in the office and I had the idea for the WordPress Time Machine – something we could build to showcase WordPress and its history in an interactive way that could serve as a long lasting legacy to WordPress and its contributors – a historical archive of all the improvements carried out to WordPress over the years.

Looking through the Time Machine we can see the progression of WordPress from something extremely basic into a powerful application like framework. With recent news that the WP REST API will be included in WordPress V4.4, we can expect to see even more exciting developments when it comes to how WordPress is put to use and the complexity of the projects it become involved with.

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