Blogs have come a long way in the last 10 years. The concept has evolved from teenagers reliving their angst-filled days on LiveJournal to the medium through which we now consume almost all content on the Internet. But, as is so often the case after years of incremental iteration: Innovation has all but ceased. Today, we find ourselves on the edge of the next big content revolution, because the truth is that—at present—online publishing is being pretty harshly neglected.
Before we can look at why, first we need to rewind a little. In early 2003, a rambunctious teenager named Matt Mullenweg was blogging every day about his life in college. His page consisted mainly of photos of himself, the girls he was evidently pursuing, and some very vague ideas about optimizing his life. It was a typical blog, but it was important to him—and that's what really counts. (Below, Matt Mullenweg circa 2003.)
Where Matt differed from most teenagers was that he had a keen interest in the politics of software licensing. Matt supported Open Source, free software that he believed was important to the Internet. So he didn't use LiveJournal or TextPattern—the most popular options at the time—he used a less known, smaller blogging platform called b2. After a while, though, b2 fell into disrepair and its creator was notable primarily by his absence. Matt threw around the idea of taking over the project for a while, and eventually this lead to him taking b2's files and renaming the project "WordPress."
A few weeks ago WordPress celebrated its 10th birthday. It now powers roughly 20% of all websites which exist on the Internet. The success of WordPress is unquestionable, but there are signs that history is repeating itself once more in 2013.
When WordPress was first released, it was a blogging platform. It existed for the same reason as LiveJournal, but the difference was that it was Open Source, allowing you to host a blog on your own domain—a valuable distinction. Over the years people started using WordPress not just to build blogs, but to build entire websites. Good website content management software was hard to find, and while a blogging platform wasn't technically the right tool for the job, it was oftentimes a far easier one to work with than the alternatives.
So, as user and developer demand grew, WordPress began its long transition from blog to content management system. It wasn't an easy transition, and to this day, WordPress still tries to make sure everyone knows it's "not just for blogs" as it truly has grown into so much more.
And yet, it somehow feels like we're back in 2003 again. Publishing on the web is in a state of complete disrepair.
While WordPress hasn't fallen into disrepair, it's a far cry from what it once was. Mullenweg’s company, Automattic, with some $81 million of investment, is trying to re-invent WordPress.com to be something used to create websites for restaurants, schools, and musicians. Meanwhile, the lead developers for the WordPress software are building incredible things like multi-site functionality and custom content types... but not a single one of them actually maintains an active blog.
There is no longer such a strong notion that WordPress is "just a blogging platform," because it's actually no longer a blogging platform at all. Matt Mullenweg himself now says that the future of WordPress is as a "web operating system."
The state of online publishing is clear. All around us we see new platforms popping up, growing, and trying to fill the very large shoes which WordPress has left behind. These are all proprietary products with closed licenses that exist—like LiveJournal and TextPattern did—to make their companies wealthy.
But what they lack is the same thing that has always made WordPress great. The ability to take full control. To design, to develop, to change, to extend and to customize. You are locked into the platform of a company that is trying to make a lot of money. And you will play by their rules.
For many of the same reasons as Matt created WordPress in 2003, I launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new product called Ghost that proudly wears the mantle which WordPress cast aside: It's just a blogging platform. It's also a not-for-profit organisation. In the one month the campaign has been live, it has raised just over $300,000 on Kickstarter—not from investors, but from real people who want to use it.
Over the coming weeks and months, I will start to share with you the beginning of a story that I hope will be even greater than the one that started back in 2003. Today, blogging is no longer about teenagers in their bedrooms. As the age of print media continues to decline steadily, blogs now power the biggest websites and publications in the world. Online publishing is blogging.
There is so much undiscovered potential. The next revolution in online content is only just beginning and I'm incredibly excited to be a part of it.
- In fact, he didn't rename everything. The first few versions of WordPress shipped with many files still with the "b2-" prefix, rather than "wp-."
- Actually, several WordPress developers have a blog. Matt and lead developer Ryan Boren maintain one (both using WordPress) and lead developer RyaMark Jaquith has a new blog, but it's on Medium.