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20 years of WordPress: Inside the world's most popular publishing platform
Veteran developer Brian Alvey explains WordPress's enduring appeal, why the CMS is popular with both the enterprise and consumers, and how to build sustainable technology platforms.
WordPress turns 20 this year. I sat down with Brian Alvey, a veteran in the world of content management systems and currently the CTO of WordPress VIP. Alvey's journey from building custom publishing platforms to Automatttic, WordPress.com's parent company, reveals why the beloved CMS is so pervasive and influential.
WordPress, once an unassuming blogging tool, now powers approximately 43% of the web and boasts over 60,000 plugins. With its broad accessibility, flexibility, and user-centric approach, WordPress has evolved into a platform suitable for anyone, from individual bloggers to enterprise-level organizations.
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Alvey explained that one of the secrets to WordPress's success lies in its open-source structure and plugin architecture. This framework, he said, democratizes innovation, allowing a global community of developers to iterate, upgrade, and plug potential flaws constantly. It's a process that results in a robust and flexible platform that evolves with user needs and technological advancements.
"It's not really built for everyone. It's built for anyone," said Alvey. "You can take [the code], use the core, and attach features [customized] for your needs.” For example, a company might have a need for a very specific service, and ‘it’s easy to create plugins that “attach to a motor parts database or something like that. And you can do that, pull that in and use it. So it's crazy flexible because of the plugin architecture."
Moreover, even with older versions of PHP, MySQL, and WordPress, WordPress's enduring compatibility makes it remarkably resilient and adaptable. Despite its growth and technological evolution, WordPress has maintained its legacy post format and backward compatibility.
In addition to its ability to evolve while maintaining its core functionality, the innovative Gutenberg Block editor is another testament to WordPress's continuous evolution. This feature enhances content creation by breaking down content into structured, manageable blocks that give creators more freedom and flexibility in shaping their work.
Furthermore, the platform's commendable community moderation has fostered a productive, solution-oriented environment. However, Alvey admits that the secret behind this success is still elusive. He credits the company's full commitment to open-source as a key aspect differentiating WordPress from competitors and propelling its growth.
Despite the inevitable technical debt acquired over two decades of operation, WordPress has managed to balance mitigating these challenges and fostering innovation. As WordPress steps into the next chapter of its journey, Alvey believes that the platform's dedication to serving its diverse users, openness to innovation, and a firm commitment to the principles of open-source software will ensure its longevity in the years to come.