WordPress is celebrating 18 years today since the first release of the software to the general public. That release post, titled, “WordPress Now Available,” kicked off an exciting era in the history of the blogosphere where WordPress emerged as an unofficial successor to the abandoned b2/cafelog software. Reading the comments on the first release, you can feel the energy of that time when loyal b2 users were thrilled to have a smooth migration to a new blogging engine that would be maintained.
One line in that post may have had even more impact on WordPress’ trajectory than the features contained in the first release:
“WordPress is available completely free of charge under the GPL license.“
The license it inherited from b2 empowered the WordPress community to make it the powerful CMS that it is today. WordPress now underpins a multi-billion dollar economy of creators, publishers, and merchants who can build just about anything with the world of GPL-licensed extensions available. WordPress’ vibrant ecosystem has grown to include more than 58,000 free plugins to extend core, and thousands of commercial plugins and services, including hosting companies that cater specifically to its users.
WordPress was instrumental in making publishing software accessible to those with no coding experience, and it is now doing the same for e-commerce, facilitating billions of dollars in sales for businesses and independent stores. The pandemic created unprecedented opportunities for WordPress-powered stores to succeed as traditional brick-and-mortar businesses were forced to close their doors.
Despite weathering some profound, once-in-a-lifetime challenges over the past year, WordPress has continued to grow at a phenomenal rate. In February, the CMS passed 40% market share of all websites, up from 35.4% in January 2020, as measured by W3Techs. WordPress’ project lead and co-founder Matt Mullenweg noted this milestone in a post on his blog, marking the 18th anniversary:
Who could have imagined that our nights and weekends hacking on blogging software, a fork of b2/cafelog, could turn into something powering over 40% of the web? Or that nearly twenty years in, it would be getting better faster than it ever has been?
WordPress.org is celebrating with a new history timeline that logs 40 major milestones along the path to 40% market share. Scrolling through it reads like a story, highlighting some of the most salient moments in WordPress’ history, like the launch of the plugin repository, major interface improvements, and the first WordCamp. There are some interesting notes about how WordPress was able to outpace its contemporaries in the early days, doubling its downloads after Moveable Type 3.0 introduced licensing restrictions. The software had several turns of fortune along the way that have bolstered its market dominance.
For many who have contributed to WordPress’ success, it’s the smaller points that don’t make this official timeline which have been the glue for this community. Friendships are forged in working together and celebrating small wins but also in weathering the friction, conflict, and human failures that come part and parcel with working on an open source project.
18 years of growth is a milestone worth recognizing on the web. Congratulations to the code contributors, translators, community organizers, WordPress leadership, and everyone else who has helped make this beloved publishing platform that continues to surprise the world.