John O'Nolan


Who Will Pick Up Where WordPress Left Off?

We have reached a pivotal moment in the history of the web. As WordPress moves on to bigger and supposedly better things than blogging, a declining print industry is fueling a demand for new and exciting publishing platforms. Silicon Valley startups are wrestling for the crown but, in a quiet suburb on the other side of the Atlantic, the next Open Source publishing revolution has begun.

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."[1]

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.

Ghost: Simple Content Management

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 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[2].

Ghost: Just A Blogging Platform

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.

  1. 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-."
  2. 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.

[Photos courtesy of Matt Mullenweg | Flickr user n3wjack]

Article Tags: ghost blog

Add New Comment


  • trixtah

    Uh, you just lost my interest in this platform due to your unwarranted negativity about other products and inaccuracies.

    One glaring one is that LJ isn't "closed source" - it has always been open, and you can download it and fork it today. As many have, most notably Dreamwidth.

    Sell the things with its benefits, not trash-talking what's gone before.

  • Jorge Bravo-Pratscher

    Wordpress is wordpress and if you know how to use it is a very flexible, robust platform. I'm in favour of making things easier for the new bloggers to come. However, that doesn't mean that a bit of competition is bad, innit? I'm actually gonna give it a try and see how it is. Who knows... On other hand, I agree with the people who said you should have stated "somewhere" that this is an advertorial, but well I guess you did it on purpose to see people's reactions. One last thing here, am I the only one who cannot play the video on ipad? UPDATE - available end of summer 2013, ok off for some well deserve holidays and back when this is ready to use.

  • dave

    This article needed much more clear marking as having been written by the guy who started Ghost. I was fooled into believing that it was written by a reporter at Fast Company, and surprised by how one-sided it was. You really needed to label it up front, clearly, as having been written by a person with an interest in the product he was writing about. 

    That said, I agree that we need more movement in this area. WordPress didn't pick up on a lot of the good ideas in blogging software that came before it. Let's hope Ghost gets some of those features right.

    And btw, I also am working on a new blogging platform. ;-)

  • avexdesigns

    I make my living off of Wordpress and I recently backed Ghost on Kickstarter. There is a place for both on the web.

    To say Wordpress is not a blogging platform is just plain bonkers. That is just a comment trying to start a fire. And it seems it is.

    Is WP easy to install for an average user? No. For the avg developer? It's a great and easy to use platform.

    If ghost can solve this problem for the average user, then it will serve its purpose.

    As developers, it is our job to use Wordpress to provide our clients with an easy to use platform to create content. If Ghost can make it even easier, great.

    If ghost's main goal is to create a platform for a user to get a blog up and running without a knowledge of php and MySQL then it I'll have its place on the web.

    Wordpress IS more than just a blogging platform, but it is still a blogging platform and can be used as such. Ghost is just trying to consentrate on being just a blogging platform. I do see a place for them.

  • kovshenin

    > and lead developer RyaMark Jaquith has a new blog

    I'd love to meet this guy.

  • Wassim

    Ghost is trying to solve problems that simply doesn't exists. “The next great thing” is always appearing everywhere. It’s all just noise. 

  • Jared White

    WordPress is the new Windows (circa early 2000's). Nobody ever got fired for using Windows. Windows is the future, it runs on 95%+ of PCs! Windows can help anyone built a $$$$ business. Everyone knows how to use Windows, why try anything else?

    I respect the WordPress developers and have many friends in the community. However, I feel WordPress has gone from useful tool for web devs to a paradigm of website building that is simply not innovative. To customize a WordPress site to the point where it's pushing the envelope of online content presentation and production takes massive bucks and a team. Nothing out of the box is all that exciting.

    If WordPress is Windows, where's the iPad of web publishing? Where's the Next Big Thing? I don't know. It's a problem I'm working on in my startup. I hope Ghost maybe moves the needle. Medium is certainly doing something exciting from a content perspective, although at the end of the day Medium is all about Medium...not empowering people to create their own websites under their own control.

    P.S. WordPress also has a history (like Windows) of copying more innovative competitors. Many of the content tools now present in WordPress were, um, inspired by Tumblr or other more advanced CMSes. What major features has WordPress originated? I can't really think of any. The fact it's PHP and open source and flexible is its most innovative feature, but that has nothing to do with content and is simply a technical detail.

  • davidlaietta

    "To customize a WordPress site to the point where it's pushing the envelope of online content presentation and production takes massive bucks and a team. Nothing out of the box is all that exciting."

    Or technical ability and creativity. If the envelope is defined well, and out of the box something is written that does that easy enough for everyone to do (as is the case with every advancement in design/technology moving from cool new thing to commonplace expectation), then it wouldn't be pushing the envelope anymore. If you make that cool thing that pushes the envelope a trivial endeavor to duplicate, then it'll no longer be pushing the envelope.

  • Jible

    Nice editorial to have a dig at what you're trying to compete against. Would be a much better article if you talked about what your product actually does.

  • Jessica Barnard

    Competition is the key to innovation. While I don't necessarily agree with the approach used in this article, the people who ultimately benefit are the end-users, so I'm glad to see Ghost making a splash. Does that mean I'll stop using WordPress any time soon? Absolutely not. I don't feel Ghost poses a threat to WP whatsoever. In the end it can only lead to even more improvements to WP.

  • demianfarnworth

    Sorry. Your argument that blogging is broken isn't convincing. You need more than your personal feelings, a repetition of "were back in 2003" (which needs defending, too), a repetition of "blogging isn't about teenagers in their bedrooms" (caricature I don't think anybody honestly believes), and Matt's view of WP as a "web operating system." Anybody who uses WP knows it's easy to use. Who are you appealing to?

  • mattmikulla

    Demian, I'm going to have to disagree that Wordpress is easy to use. Not for my friends and family. It's also a pain to install, maintain and back up. The whole process is disjointed and frustrating.

    That being said it is industry standard and by far the most flexible solution as a website platform.
    If Matt wants to see WP step up as a real CMS they need to make custom post types built into the core like posts and pages without the need for a functions file edit or plugin.

    Good luck with Ghost but haven't we been down this road with Posterous?

  • Josh

     I don't know how it's a pain to install, maintain OR back up. Most hosts have a "one click install" that does the installation for you, there are built in tools for backing up your entire website (which automatically includes backing up any custom post types you've created), and maintaining it is literally as simple as pressing "Update WordPress".

    I agree they need to add core support for Custom Post Types though.

  • demianfarnworth

    Fair enough, but as someone who is not the least bit technical, I found it easy to install and use. Maybe I'm more technical than I think. ;)

  • Michael Pollock

    While I certainly applaud your efforts and wish you well in this new endeavor with Ghost, it completely misses the mark to say "Publishing on the web is in a state of complete disrepair." Online publishing has never been easier and more integrated, mostly thanks to Matt and all the amazing developers working to make WP what it is today. If you want a simple blog, you can do that with WordPress. Oh, and if you decide you want to grow that blog into a multi-million $$ business - as Brian and his team have done - WP can handle that for you too.

  • Dave Yankowiak

    Quote: "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."
    Actually, Ghost is not a blogging...or any...platform at all yet. Please release it first.

  • Brian Clark

    Funny, no mention of the second largest WordPress-related company behind Automattic -- Copyblogger Media. We're one of the largest blogs in the world, and our company literally grew from a one-person WordPress blog into a $7 million-a-year company providing WordPress solutions.

    I have to agree with Matt. I expect more from Fast Company than an undisclosed native advertisement.