WordPress powers a large percent of the websites you view on the Internet today. The most important of which is obviously this one.

At WordCamp Miami, I was talking with to Michael Chacon & Ptah Dunbar and we were discussing EmberJS, AngularJS, and WordPress. The question came up, what is WordPress. I brought up another conversation I had with John James Jacoby (JJJ) about BackPress, or the potential it has to be WordPress without an admin tool, where everything is modular plugins that you create (including an admin interface). So these conversations got me thinking, is WordPress the admin tool, the code, or the is it something more?

How do you define WordPress?

Let us start with the place most people find information online these days, Wikipedia.

WordPress is a free and open-source tool and a content management system (CMS) based on PHP and MySQL. Features include a plugin architecture and a template system. WordPress was used by more than 23.3% of the top 10 million websites as of January 2015.

WordPress is a CMS. Clean and simple, right? Why don’t I just stop writing here and be done with it. The answer is simple. I am a developer.

WordPress, the website administrative tool

WordPress Dashboard

So what if we took the code part out of WordPress and left you just the admin tool thave you have grown to love. An easy to use tool with a simple left side navigation that directs you to the content and settings of your  website. If the tool you see and use was identical, but the code that powered it and your website was 100% different, would it still be WordPress?

Let me argue the case for yes the admin tool IS WordPress. So WordPress is really just a website management administrative tool. It is far more than just a Content Manager nowadays, it is a website builder. You can do just about anything from the backend interface, from creating content to changing the whole design of your website. If that is the case, I can strip out the code, create something much better, and it would still be easy to manage and create websites, right? And that is what WordPress is known for, being able to create and manage websites with minimal effort (and sometimes minimal coding knowledge). However, if we defined WordPress as this amazing tool, wouldn’t it be easy to create better solutions? Squarespace may not be a great example, but I’m sure the UI and UX for managing just the content of a website is as easy, if not easier than a WordPress site. I could also easily argue that the admin tool isn’t even that good. It shouldn’t be a “one size fits all” solution. Shouldn’t an e-commerce site have a different admin tool than a blog site? If both are running WordPress they are managed through the same exact tool. Content Management? How can you say that when the admin tool is not focusing on content at all? Or rather, it is not catered towards the content of the site you are managing?

Content Management? How can you say that when the admin tool is not focusing on content at all? Or rather, it is not catered towards the specific content of the site?

CMS? Not really, it doesn’t really care about the content

WordPress was built to manage static content and blogs, but it has not evolved much since 3.0 as far as a real CMS that can roll with the punches and actually be a catered tool to manage a business websites that are more than just static content. So why is WordPress the admin tool and not the code that creates the site? I’d say that we are moving away from the admin tool all together. With things like Visual Composer’s front end editor, Lasso, and even Customizer, aren’t we slowly moving away from using the admin dashboard at all once the website is set up? That is WordPress’s key demographic, easy to manage websites for small business, and there is a race of consultants all trying to make their mark.

WordPress then isn’t the admin tool, it is the whole system, or maybe just the S of CMS.

WordPress, the core code to building

Okay, so WordPress isn’t the admin tool because many new things are coming around that are helping users manage their WordPress website without it. So maybe WordPress is the code library that makes up all the functionality and allows developers able to create these websites. Furthermore, it is the system that allows developers to create (and sell) themes and plugins which run on WordPress. Run on WordPress – by that statement, WordPress is the system; the core package. It isn’t the admin tool, it is the inner being of the site.

So what about a website that removed the admin tool and only used the core functionality. CodeCavalry.com, a website built to help people get coding help, is built with WordPress, but you would never know. When you edit your profile, you are not going to the WordPress admin dashboard. When you create a new post or help session, you aren’t using a WordPress admin editor page like I am now, writing this very article. So is CodeCavalry considered WordPress anymore? I built it using Firebase.io for instant websocket connectivity, and AngularJS. The theme has more HTML files then PHP files, why is it WordPress?

If WordPress is all of that functionality, and just that functionality, what if I made it better? If I completely rebuilt it, would it still be WordPress? What if WP_Query ran on completely different code, would it still be a WordPress? This is a conversation I have a lot with developers when asking specifically “What would you change?” At what point does WordPress (if defined as its core functionality) stop being WordPress and start being something new?

If Automattic built a new MVC Framework that was just as easy to develop for and called it WordPress, would that make it WordPress still? Go back to that Wikipedia article, did you know WordPress was really b2/cafelog, when did it stop existing as a version of that and start existing as WordPress?

WordPress, the community

Work-Friends

Let me step away from websites themselves for a second, and say WordPress is not actually a CMS or website tool anymore, but really a community I am a part of. I go to WordCamps, where I talk about AngularJS and JavaScript Frameworks. What if I defined WordPress as the community itself, and told you people spend more time talking INDIRECTLY about the website tool as they do other things?

I spent 2 days in Toronto talking to Carl Alexander about OOP PHP and how much I know nothing about it. We were sitting at WordCamp Toronto right next to the Happiness Bar, helping people with their issues and the talks around us weren’t even discussing WordPress. People were talking about SEO, code, and marketing. Indirectly, WordPress helped and was the basis lets say of all of that stuff, but the actual conversation was not about WordPress functionality or the admin tool.

WordPress, is all the things.

wp_is_all_things

So maybe WordPress is everything, all of it, yet it is also abstract. Ask 3 different people what WordPress is to them, and they may give you 3 different answers. Don’t take the CMS answer, pressure for something a bit more detailed. What is WordPress?

Maybe I’m missing a whole definition of what it is.

So, what makes WordPress SO Great?

Has everyone seen The Newsroom, a (sadly over) HBO show about a news broadcast team and network? It started out with one of the best scenes on TV, ever. Skip to the 3:00 mark to get to the really good part.

So what makes WordPress so great? It isn’t.

The admin tool is easy to use, but that is because we have been using the same one for over 10 years. So it is more the comfort of what we know, vs what is really good. The admin dashboard is catered to what WordPress used to be, not what it IS or CAN BE. With the JSON REST API coming I’m hoping people will see the admin tool as the first thing to be completely worth gutting and starting over with. Create an interface that actually manages the content of your website, without having to fumble around between content types you don’t ever use.

When you say WordPress is great are you talking about the core code? Meh, it works and is very easy to build with, but again it hasn’t had a major shift in over 10 years, which is eons in tech years. In its fight to stay backwards compatible, the core is missing some of the fundamental things that make newer versions of PHP great. Not just code but design patterns as well.

WordPress used to be great, it was the easiest way to get a basic website up and running. As more plugins were released it was easy to add functionality to those websites.

WordPress can be great again, the JSON REST API has given new life into WordPress and what can be built.

WordPress isn’t great, the people and what they are doing with it is

I love how cool my profession has become as more people are entering and advancing themselves. WordPress has been a stepping stone for many great developers who get into the basic theme code and a couple years later are contributing massive PHP patches to the core. Some of these developers even leave WordPress behind for larger more new-age application frameworks. WordPress has been a learning tool and a way for people to advance their careers or even start new careers altogether. So when asking why WordPress is great, there is nothing great about it, but what people are achieving for themselves and building with it is.

TL;DR

WordPress is an admin tool
WordPress is code
WordPress is a community
WordPress is not great

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3 Comments on "What is “WordPress”? What makes it so great? A Philosophical Look from a Developer"

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Joe Hoppe
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Is the rest API available on WordPress.com? And is it available at the free tier or at what pricing ?

Roy
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WordPress.com has its own API, I’m not 100% on it since i”m not a WP.com user.

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