[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Welcome to the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley.
Jukebox is a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress. The people, the events, the plugins, the blocks, the themes, and in this case a history of WordPress’s important moments.
If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, you can do that by searching for WP Tavern in your podcast player of choice, or by going to WPTavern.com forward slash feed forward slash podcast. And you can copy that URL into most podcast players.
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So on the podcast today we have Aaron Reimann. Aaron is a PHP developer who started working with WordPress in 2008. He’s currently running ClockworkWP, a design, development and hosting shop. He’s built sites for companies of all shapes and sizes ranging from small nonprofits to Fortune 100 companies.
He’s been an organizer for WordCamp Atlanta and the Atlanta WordPress meetup, and he also speaks regularly at events throughout the WordPress community, including WordCamp Europe, 2023 which is where this podcast was recorded.
Aaron gave a presentation at the event called ‘where did we come from?’ In that session, he spoke about something which we don’t often dwell upon, WordPress’ history. In the technology space we’re always looking towards the future. What new features are being worked on? What’s in the latest version of WordPress. So this is an opportunity to gaze back over the previous 20 years and see just how far WordPress has come.
We do this by looking at some of the more important milestones in the WordPress landscape. Which features were added that allowed the CMS to become the success that it now is.
Back in the early days, WordPress’ success was anything but certain. There were a set of rival CMS platforms all vying for the attention of developers and website builders. Joomla and Drupal may be familiar names, but there were many others as well. All of these platforms, WordPress included, had their strengths and weaknesses. And at the time it seemed like any of them could become the dominant CMS.
We discuss what might have been the key things which set WordPress apart, and made it the pick for many people who needed an online presence. The fact that WordPress was easy to install, and easy on the eye, were certainly important.
Then there’s the advent of the plugin architecture within WordPress. It’s fair to say that a vanilla version of WordPress will get you many of the features you need to get a website up and running. But if you want to do more then it’s likely that you’ll be relying on plugins. The fact that you could install and update from a growing range of plugins made WordPress indispensable. Able to create websites for almost any purpose.
Then there’s themes. It’s nice to have a functioning website, but it’s nicer still to have a functioning website which looks great. Themes enabled non-designers to make an impact online and made an entire industry for those who could turn their hand to theme creation.
Another pivotal moment was when custom fields were added into core, you were no longer bound by simply adding content to your posts and, later, pages. You could now create complex websites in which all sorts of data could be manipulated and displayed. WordPress now had all the hallmarks of a fully fledged CMS.
Then there’s Gutenberg in WordPress’ more recent past. Aaron is not yet completely sold on Gutenberg, still preferring the page builder that he’s grown accustomed to. But no discussion of WordPress’ first 20 years would be complete without a mention of this important change.
Then there’s the community of people who made and continue to make the software. Without the people there would be no WordPress.
We round off the discussion, talking about the fact that there appears to be a very high chance that WordPress will still be around in another 20 years. Will it still be the popular choice for website building? Who knows, but it’ll be fun to see what the future holds.
If you’re interested in finding out more, you can find all of the links in the show notes by heading over to WPTavern.com forward slash podcast. Where you’ll find all the other episodes as well.
And so without further delay, I bring you Aaron Reimann.
I am joined on the podcast by Aaron Reimann.
[00:05:30] Aaron Reimann: Correct.
[00:05:30] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you. Very nice to have you with us. How you doing?
[00:05:33] Aaron Reimann: Well actually, I guess that just by default I want to say, yeah I’m doing great. I am doing great, but I am jet lagged. We landed from, came from Atlanta to Athens. Landed on Monday, and I’m, I think I’m just now getting back to normal, but I’m still just a little, little tired.
[00:05:46] Nathan Wrigley: Well, you’re very brave if you are suffering from jet lag. You’ve just had the bit of WordCamp Europe, which for you at least anyway, was going to be the most challenging.
[00:05:53] Aaron Reimann: Right.
[00:05:53] Nathan Wrigley: You had a presentation, workshop?
[00:05:56] Aaron Reimann: Presentation.
[00:05:56] Nathan Wrigley: Presentation, and it was all about, well, the subject that we’re going to talk about. Tell us how that went.
[00:06:01] Aaron Reimann: I think it went well. Of course, I’m biased and I was a little blinded by the lights while I was talking on stage. But I think it went well. Some people had some good questions at the end, and then some of the people that weren’t exactly willing to ask the questions in front of everyone, I had a few people ask questions afterwards and two of them you know, said this was great. I wanted to know the history of WordPress and I’m new. I thought that was really good.
[00:06:25] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, that’s perfect. Great introduction. So we’re going to talk about the history of WordPress, but just before we do that, probably to give us a bit of orientation and information about you, just tell us a little bit about your background, your relationship with WordPress.
[00:06:36] Aaron Reimann: Okay. I’ve been a web developer since 1996, which I know dates me quite a bit. I started using WordPress in 2005, I think it was version 1.5.5 or something like that. And I only used it for a blog and I just kind of dumped my brain on the blog. Ran it for about three years, and it wasn’t until 2008, until I really started digging into WordPress. But in 2008 I quit my job. I was an IT guy, maintaining servers and computers and stuff like that and quit my job.
Started an agency with a friend of mine. Didn’t know what I was doing. But I had to figure out what platform do I want to use, and we’ll probably get into that. But ever since 2008 I’ve been using WordPress, and I’ve been running an agency. I sold, my business partner sold our agency in 2019, and then started a new company. I used basically the same contracts and things like that. When I started my business in 2008, I didn’t know what I was doing. Doing the reset in 2019. I had a process and a and knew how to run an agency. So it was much easier the second go round.
[00:07:49] Nathan Wrigley: So anybody that’s been using WordPress from one point anything, you really have been there from pretty early on.
[00:07:56] Aaron Reimann: Pretty early on.
[00:07:56] Nathan Wrigley: And used it a lot with, presumably with different clients for different applications. So the purpose of this conversation is to talk around the history of WordPress. This is kind of perfect because we are right up against the 20th anniversary. Software has managed to keep going for 20 years, which is pretty amazing. Just that is pretty amazing.
[00:08:13] Aaron Reimann: I’m sure we could probably sit there and just list them. This project died. This one died. This one died. I mean it’s common.
[00:08:19] Nathan Wrigley: But for some reason WordPress kept going. I’m going to begin the podcast interview with whole history of CMSs around the time that you began. Because it wasn’t really clear that WordPress was going to take the spot that it did. I think it’s fair to say now, if you were describing this as a race, it would be fair to say that WordPress won the CMS race?
[00:08:42] Aaron Reimann: Absolutely.
[00:08:43] Nathan Wrigley: But back then, back in the early 20 somethings, there was quite a few rivals. There was a few projects that could easily have taken off. They had the same open source ethos in many cases, some of them not so. Some of them you had to pay for and so on. So I just wondered if you’ve got any stories to tell or information about projects that you’ve used with other CMSs, like Drupal or Joomla, or Expression Engine, whatever it may be.
[00:09:04] Aaron Reimann: Yeah. So in 2008, I actually started using CMS Made Simple, because I saw it as easier than WordPress and more featured than WordPress. But WordPress is one of those things where once you get the ball rolling WordPress became unstoppable because it had so many more people joining and adding to the community. Which means more plugins, more features, more everything.
And so I dropped CMS Made Simple after building about three websites I think. I wound up dropping that to use WordPress. And I also had a business partner that wasn’t technical at all, and he really liked the fact that he could, I don’t know if it was cPanel or some kind of hosting platform. Gave him a one button push to install WordPress, and so he could start working on a website and he didn’t have to do anything technical. And I think that probably has had a big effect on WordPress because it just became so easy to install.
[00:10:05] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, I genuinely thought that at the time, at least I was using different platforms. I came to WordPress in probably about 2015. So a long time after you and I played with all these other ones. And in many cases I felt that the features that they offered were superior. But the one thing that separated them from WordPress, the one thing that I should probably say, the one thing that separated WordPress from them, was the UI.
I felt that the UI was much more straightforward to use. It was actually quite beautiful. It hasn’t changed much in those years. It was just easier on the eye. It was much more straightforward. Dare I say it, there were less options, which might be a good thing or a bad thing.
[00:10:43] Aaron Reimann: I would agree with you. I think things like anytime I had to work on Joomla, I think it was around 2008 or so, Mambo I don’t know what the argument was, but all the developers dropped and started Joomla and Joomla became the thing, and Mambo died. Or Mamba, I don’t remember how to pronounce it.
But any time I had to log into a Joomla site, it was a mess. I looked at it and I didn’t know exactly where to go. WordPress, even with version as I demonstrated today in my talk, version 7, 0.7.1, it was really simple. You log in there, there actually wasn’t even a dashboard at the beginning. You just log in and boom, you are right in the editor to create a post.
People don’t have to sit there and think, how do I use this? It’s one of those things where like my mom could write a blog post. It was that simple. Whereas Joomla or Drupal, there’s a few more layers before you get into what you’re trying to get into.
[00:11:40] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, it’s interesting. A lot of the rival platforms, they decided for more complexity. So they could, in effect, they could probably out of the box achieve more complicated things. But it turns out that plugins, as well probably come onto a bit later, plugins kind of stepped in and fixed that problem for us anyway.
[00:11:55] Aaron Reimann: Absolutely.
[00:11:56] Nathan Wrigley: So WordPress is 20 years old. The next thing that we’ve written down on our shared show notes is the milestones, if you like, during those past 20 years. There are certain things which happened in that past 20 years, which are probably more significant. I mean, there’s probably literally thousands of things that we could talk about, little tiny things. Some of them are much bigger bumps in the road. Things that really changed WordPress.
[00:12:15] Aaron Reimann: There’s probably a ton of them too, that I am not even aware of. Even though I’ve been in the community for so long. I’m focused on my use case of WordPress where I build marketing sites basically. I mean we write some plugins and do that, but mostly we focus on marketing sites. And I’m sure there’s a ton of things that I’m not even aware of that has happened that it doesn’t affect me, so I didn’t pay attention to it.
[00:12:39] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, but there certainly have been some big bumps. We’ve listed out a few here that between us, I think we think are significant. The first one, now we may not get this in the right order, it may be very well that some of these came prior to other ones.
[00:12:52] Aaron Reimann: It’s fresh in my head, so I probably will get it right. I think.
[00:12:55] Nathan Wrigley: You lead off then.
[00:12:56] Aaron Reimann: Well, if I remember correctly, going from 0.7.1 to 1.0, the only thing that really was added. They cleaned it up a little bit. It had less references to b2. If you look at the first version, all the files started with b2.
[00:13:11] Nathan Wrigley: We should say what b2 is.
[00:13:13] Aaron Reimann: That, might be helpful. So WordPress is a fork of b2/cafelog. I think I’m saying that correctly.
[00:13:21] Nathan Wrigley: That’s correct, yeah.
[00:13:23] Aaron Reimann: Okay, and so everything was prefixed with b2, in the first version of WordPress and 1.0, there’s only three files that were prefixed with b2, and they were, I think XML-RPC files, or XML feeds or something like that.
But everything got a lot cleaner. And so with 1.0 is where it, to me it looks more like WordPress. And then with 1.2 is when we got the plugin framework. And then in 1.5 is when we got themes. And those to me, I think we could probably talk the rest of the show about those two things. Probably shouldn’t, but we could.
[00:14:01] Nathan Wrigley: I think themes and plugins, plugins in particular, I think are where, for me at least, a lot of the magic has lay. A lot of the success is down to third party developers and the plugin architecture of WordPress. WordPress’s mission to democratize publishing is laudable, and it would be lovely, but a bare bones version of WordPress, a vanilla version of WordPress will only get you so far if you want something complicated. So the ability to open up WordPress to plugin developers was pretty seismic, I think.
[00:14:30] Aaron Reimann: Yeah, I agree. With plugins also comes with bloat, which is the thing that I run into, and I mentioned it on my talk. Someone asked me a plugin question and I said the worst site I ever worked on, I logged in once and I said, I’m not going to work on this site because there were 104 active plugins, active. There were some inactive ones there. I said I’m afraid to edit anything. So plugins are a blessing. And if you don’t know enough about what that can do to your site, it becomes a curse.
[00:15:06] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, I’ve had similar experiences where, there’s just simply too much on there. And for WordPress’s promise to make it possible for almost anybody to create a website, maintain a website, update a website, that can be difficult. Because there is no indication anywhere that if you’re adding more plugins, you’re adding more bloat. You’re adding more time for pages to load because there’s things going on in the background.
[00:15:24] Aaron Reimann: It’s creating more tables in the database, and that is one of the things that you’ll see. People will have a live website and they’ll try a bunch of plugins and they’ll try five or six plugins, and it’s leaving these little imprints mostly, maybe in the files, but mostly in the database.
It creates tables, but there’s no cleanup. That’s a problem. And then when, five years later when you’re trying to migrate the site, you see all these tables and you’re like, why are these tables, do they, are they in use? Can I delete ’em? Stuff like that. It’s just, it just comes with lack of knowledge.
[00:15:57] Nathan Wrigley: I guess, if you had to have a seesaw of whether plugins were a good thing or a bad thing. I think for me, definitely it’s heavily weighted on the side of they’re a good thing. You’re right, they can be overused and what have you may be put in functionality that really you don’t actually need just because you want to play with it.
But the ability to turn a pretty basic blogging platform as it was, into something which could do literally anything that the internet allows is pretty compelling. And that, for me, the plugin and theme, more plugin in my mind.
[00:16:30] Aaron Reimann: Yeah.
[00:16:30] Nathan Wrigley: But the plugin and theme architecture is one of the key pieces for its popularity and success.
[00:16:36] Aaron Reimann: Yeah. I think that theming though is super important. As much as I don’t like some of the theming shops that are out there. I’m not naming names or anything like that. But a lot of those themes that people would purchase, they were bloated. They would come in with five custom post types that they don’t need, but people would see my website can look this pretty. I like what that screenshot of that theme looks like and people would buy it. It’s eye candy, and I don’t know if Drupal and Joomla, they don’t have anything like that.
[00:17:09] Nathan Wrigley: Certainly not on the same scale. There are theming engines in there, but no. And it became very commercial, didn’t it as well. You were able to purchase themes for really quite extraordinarily cheap prices.
[00:17:21] Aaron Reimann: Right.
[00:17:21] Nathan Wrigley: And again, sometimes I think a blessing and a curse because I tried all of these things, guilty as charged. Tried downloading themes, and then realized that I had to take out more than I, I’d see something and think, oh, that’s exactly what I want. I would download the theme, use the theme, and then figure out. It was more work to remove the bits that I didn’t need, but it still worked. And for me, it drew me into the WordPress ecosystem.
Then I learned that’s not for me. I’d like something more bare bones. So that’s the way I went, but it got me into it, which was the important part. So, yeah, themes as well then. Okay, what else? After themes and plugins, what else have we got?
[00:17:56] Aaron Reimann: Themes and plugins. And then I think it was in 2.9, the functionality was in 2.9, but it wasn’t documented and it came out in 3.0, were the custom post types. And the custom post types were a game changer for me because before, let’s take press releases. A client wants to have their press releases separate from their blog. The only way you could do that before was to create a category in your blog and make it not show up with the blog, but show up over here. And you feel like you’re just trying to hack something together, to make it fit.
And then when custom post types came out, it was amazing to me because it allowed us where, yeah, we can do that. You know, a client say I need to have this type of content show. Like, we can do that. It wasn’t trying to rig something that was impossible anymore.
And we use custom post types almost every site that we build. It’s just a, it’s a no-brainer. They say we need a way to do X and we’re like, okay, custom post type. We use that more than anything else probably.
[00:19:02] Nathan Wrigley: It’s interesting because we were talking earlier about things like Joomla and Drupal. I can’t speak to Joomla because I didn’t really use it, but Drupal even inversions significantly before the era that we’re now talking about, that kind of functionality was built into the core of the platform.
And because I was a user of Drupal when I came to WordPress, and it wasn’t immediately obvious in any part of the UI how to create a custom post type, and I know that you can do that. I had to figure out how to do it. In many cases, I think people will install some plugin, which takes care of that, but you can obviously do that in different ways.
[00:19:33] Aaron Reimann: Like, three different ways to do it.
[00:19:35] Nathan Wrigley: I do remember scratching my head thinking, where’s the button? Where’s the button for the, whatever it’s called. And it turns out it was custom post type. But then figuring out, okay, you can do this and you can create metadata around those and you can separate your website up. Like you said, this is the portfolio aspect of the website. And these are the, these are the other bits of the website.
Yeah, that’s really important. And it essentially, it turned it from a blogging platform into more of a, well, a fully featured CMS. In fact, I’d say you can’t really talk about it being a CMS until custom post types.
[00:20:03] Aaron Reimann: I say that made it a platform. It’s a platform. Where In 2006 and 2007, I was learning Ruby on Rails. And I realized every time I was creating something in Ruby on Rails, I needed to create, I had to figure out a way for people to log in. So that’s a module basically, that you’d have to install, and all these little pieces. And then I looked at WordPress and I’m like, oh, WordPress has all these things. And so to me, WordPress became in 3.0, just became a platform where if you’re smart enough, if you know how to develop plugins, you can make it do anything you want it to do. Which is awesome.
[00:20:40] Nathan Wrigley: Anybody who’s been using WordPress for a small amount, well not even a small amount of time, a fairly long amount of time. But certainly when you began using it, this feature didn’t exist. And it strikes me as so bizarre that you couldn’t create pages at at the beginning.
[00:20:54] Aaron Reimann: Oh, right, right.
[00:20:56] Nathan Wrigley: I mean, it was a blog roll, it was a blogging platform, so everything was a post.
But tell us about that, because that also is a fairly significant thing. You could create pieces of static content, which are not in some sort of hierarchy with other pieces of content, and that, again, crucial, important step.
[00:21:09] Aaron Reimann: Yeah, and to be honest, I’m kind of going in the back of my head. I probably, maybe 15% of the websites that we build use the blog. That’s probably a high number for us. Most of our clients don’t want a blog. They don’t see the value. And sometimes I think, you probably should have a blog, and try to push them. It’s a way to create content. If it’s a marketing site and their goal is for someone to push the button, fill out this form, and that’s the call to action. You don’t need a blog, but what would you do without pages?
So, that really, that kind of predates me. I always had pages with 1.5. I used it, All I had for my blog was I had one page that was a contact page. I mean, that’s it. But I needed that. I couldn’t have a blog post about my contact information because it’ll get lost in the shuffle.
[00:22:01] Nathan Wrigley: It’s kind of interesting that, well, I’ve read a post recently, I can’t remember where, if I can summon up where it was, I will add it into the show notes. But I read a piece recently, which describes what you’ve just been talking about, this 15% or less. The person writing the post essentially said, can we make it so that the blog, the posts are an option? So it’s toggleable. So you download WordPress and you enable or disable all of the blogging functionality. So the posts menu disappears, and actually would clean up a lot of the interface.
And in the sites that you are describing, building where it’s page, page, page, page, custom post type, whatever. That might be quite a neat feature, but it’s curious that it is totally the opposite of how the thing began. It began that way, and yet it has morphed. My use is the same as your use. It’s all about the pages. And quite often clients will say, I will create a blog, and you know, it never gets beyond the first post.
[00:22:55] Aaron Reimann: They’ll write one or two and then it just, it disappears. I try to always try to tell them, if you’re going to start this, you can’t stop. It just makes you look bad when you, your most recent blog post was five years ago. At least go in and change the date, do something. It is interesting that we don’t have much of a use case for blogs and I don’t think I host a single web, I also do hosting. I host probably about 300 websites and I don’t think any of them are just a blog. All of them are WordPress installs that’s page focussed, that maybe, maybe has a blog. So it is interesting how it completely shifted and that’s probably true for the majority.
[00:23:37] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, I think so. That seems to fit. I’m not suggesting that we get rid of that functionality. It’s crucial, but it’s kind of interesting. Just that blog post, it was interesting to me that you could switch that off. And they also showed what the UI might look like when all of the different things that are attached to WordPress’ post functionality. If you remove those from the UI, it does become a little bit easier for a novice who’s got no intention of using a blog to manage.
[00:24:00] Aaron Reimann: I remember when I was first trying to theme, I was trying to figure out what are the differences between pages and posts. I just couldn’t figure it out for a little, I kept getting confused. Should this be a post or should this be a page? Then I just realized, okay, so posts are chronological, it’s date based, and pages are not. And I’m like, okay, that makes sense. Have you’ve looked at the hierarchy graphic?
[00:24:24] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah.
[00:24:24] Aaron Reimann: If you’re listening to this and you don’t, you’re not familiar with that and you make themes, you’re missing a big golden nugget of information because the hierarchy page, it’s awesome. It’s really cool and it’s gotten more complex as things progressed.
[00:24:38] Nathan Wrigley: So we have pages, we’ve done custom post types. We’ve done the beginning of the platform, with its rivals there. One other thing which we haven’t touched on, which I think we should is Gutenberg. That’s been a very, very big push for WordPress over the last three or four years?
[00:24:53] Aaron Reimann: Five.
[00:24:53] Nathan Wrigley: Five.
[00:24:54] Aaron Reimann: It’s been five years. It was released, sound like a know-it-all. It’s just, I only know this stuff because I just did a, did a talk about it. 2018, 5.0, is when it came out. It seems like it would’ve been just a couple years ago.
[00:25:07] Nathan Wrigley: Right, it really does.
[00:25:08] Aaron Reimann: We’re coming up on, I think five years of Gutenberg.
[00:25:11] Nathan Wrigley: It was a radical change. It really did upend the way that you create content. For some people it’s highly desirable. It allows them to do all sorts of things that they were not able to do. And it puts the, if you like, page building type functionality in front of people without the need to download any kind of plugin.
But from the shared show notes that we’ve got, it’s one of the things in the last 20 years roadmap, which you are not entirely sold on.
[00:25:38] Aaron Reimann: Not yet. So I’ve got a project, we’re going to be starting in the fall where I’m going to be using Gutenberg. The reason why we’re going to be using Gutenberg for pages and posts is I’m going to need this website to last me 10 or 15 years with content. Most websites that we build, it’s a marketing site. It’s going to get rebuilt, redesigned or whatever in three or four years, where if the page builder goes kaputs, you know, and disappears, no big deal, we’ll just, when we rebuild the site, we’ll just pick a better page builder.
In this case, this is going to be, this is for a state project and it’s going to be, the content needs to last 10 years or so. And to me, at that point, that’s where, okay, I’ve gotta use Gutenberg because I know Gutenberg, because that was the chosen way to do it. I’m going to stick with that, and that’s going to be good for my client for this specific case.
In the day-to-day stuff, simple marketing websites, it would be hard for me to go to a client and say, here’s Gutenberg and you can edit the pages using this. It’s a lot more overwhelming than, I’m a big Beaver Builder fan. And every client that we hand over the site, we give them these little videos. Here’s how you edit this. We record it and give it to ’em. So they’re able to see how to do it. They’ve got a video on how to do it, and it’s, to me, just Beaver Builder is, it’s so easy.
And so that’s why I’ve, still haven’t jumped, you know, on that bandwagon yet. I know I’m going to have to you know, at some point. So, it’s a hard shift for me.
[00:27:12] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. I can well understand when it’s shipped in version five, the UI looks broadly the same as it does today, but the things that you could do with it then.
[00:27:22] Aaron Reimann: A lot more.
[00:27:24] Nathan Wrigley: Well, you can really do a lot more now, but it also felt that it was extremely limiting at the time it was released. I wonder if we could rewind history and replay that moment in time, I do wonder if perhaps more features should have been added so that the experience was much more obvious.
In other words, maybe it should have been an opt-in thing for a period of time, rather than, here’s Word Press 5.0, it’s now the default, and I wonder what your thoughts are on that. That it should be some kind of toggleable on, off thing?
[00:27:53] Aaron Reimann: I have no problem with, I like diversity when it comes, just options with things. I love the fact that the Elementor people that are here. Obviously that’s a plugin that’s very, very popular, but no one’s forced to use it. You know, you can use whichever one you want and, knock on wood, right, and hope that that will continue. Where WordPress doesn’t get so Gutenberg focussed where Beaver Builder and Elementor and Divi and all those, can’t work on WordPress. At that point then there’ll probably be some forking of some projects, which would be kind of interesting.
But I think it probably came out a little too early, in the aspect of it was the chosen choice, but I don’t think people had much of a choice. I mean it seems like it was decided, and you kind of had to start using it. And then you have the Classic Editor plugin becomes extremely popular. All of a sudden there’s what, 6 million? I don’t know, it seemed like it was five or 6 million active installs for that, because that was a big, we’re not interested in Gutenberg. We tried it. We didn’t like it.
It’s different now. If it were released today, you know, where it has a lot more features, we wouldn’t have had so much of a, should I use the word backlash? I mean it, I don’t know if it was a backlash. I know in my WordPress community in Atlanta, Georgia, nobody embraced it. It was too abrupt.
[00:29:20] Nathan Wrigley: I think it’s fair to say that in the time that I’ve been a user of WordPress, the stories that got generated, the amount of time that was given over to talking about it. It’s like nothing else. It was really, kind of bifurcated the community. There were those that loved it, and there were those that didn’t like it. And I think you’re right, it’s definitely matured and it’s got to the point now where I think a lot of people have just, they’ve gotten on with it and they’re using it.
But interestingly, like you, you’re still able to use the tools that you liked and trusted prior to that as well anyway.
[00:29:49] Aaron Reimann: Right. And I tell people, when you’re editing a page, you’re going to be using Beaver Builder, and when you are blogging, you’ll be using this new thing called Gutenberg. And they’re okay with that, because they’re not trying to, it’s a post, right? So I mean, it’s going to have text and pictures and not much else.
We’re not trying to build functionality like a slider or anything crazy in there. I don’t even know, is that even in, I hope that’s not in Gutenberg. I think using it just for a blog, you’re not going to push the limits of Gutenberg. Like I’ve said, I’m going to have to start doing it, because I know it is the future.
[00:30:27] Nathan Wrigley: So far we’ve talked entirely really about WordPress as a piece of software, but yet here we are at WordCamp in Europe, Athens in particular. You’ve just presented in front of a bunch of people, so you probably have a much greater idea of the magnitude of this event. If you just walk downstairs, I know this is going to be hard to get across in the audio, but it really is a giant event. It’s truly enormous.
So I wanted to get into the community side of things, and whether or not, when you think the word WordPress, do you generally think of just software, the piece of software that you download from the internet? Or do you also have the community of WordPress in your head when you are thinking about that over the last 20 years?
[00:31:03] Aaron Reimann: I started using WordPress in 2008 and I went to my first WordCamp, I don’t know if it was 2012 or 13. I think it was 12, in Nashville. And that is where I just fell in love with the community, because nowhere else in the world have I been able to just ask people, the people are just so willing to help.
So if you’re a newbie or you need someone, you’re trying to figure out how do you fix this plugin, or add this functionality and you’re at a WordCamp. People are, they’ll jump in and just start, oh, maybe you should do this. I mean people are extremely helpful. That’s where I started falling in love with WordPress as far as the community.
And since then I’ve spoken at 20 plus WordCamps. Mostly in the southeast, US. It’s something that I don’t think is replicated anywhere else. For a little while I was in the Rails, Ruby on Rails world. They don’t have a community like that. The PHP community in Atlanta at least is it’s good, but it’s still not, and in Atlanta pre covid, we had 14 active meetups in the Atlanta area. It was extremely popular, and our WordCamp that we used to have every year, we would have 650 people there. And the only reason why it was 650, limited at 650 is because the venue that we used, that’s all we could do.
The community, at least in Atlanta, it’s been incredible. I’ve made friends there. Now we’re planning WordCamp Atlanta, and, you know, every Friday we’re on a call. Talking to these people that have become my friends over the past 10 years, which is really cool.
[00:32:45] Nathan Wrigley: I can’t disassociate the piece of software from the community now. In my head when I say WordPress, those two things are inextricably linked. And I think the fact that WordPress is able to be used by a whole different swathe of people. So you’ve obviously got the really technical people who enjoy the code, there’s all of that.
And then there’s the people who are into their SEO and marketing, and who knows what. There’s a million different pathways. And the fact that they can all combine in an event like this. The talks are not limited to one subject. There really is a broad spectrum of things on offer.
I think it is pretty special. I don’t know, I don’t quite know what the secret sauce was there that made that happen. But it did happen, and it is pretty unique. I think you hit the nail on the head. I’ve yet to encounter another community that’s loosely based around software that is quite as welcoming. It’s amazing.
[00:33:32] Aaron Reimann: Where these people become your friends, that’s weird. And this being at WordCamp Europe, I haven’t seen people since 2019, and I’m running into people and it’s great. I’m remembering people’s names, you know, which sometimes I don’t do great at, but it’s awesome. And it sounds kind of cheesy, but you have friends and brothers and sisters, you know, it’s a really cool thing.
[00:33:56] Nathan Wrigley: If you’re listening to this podcast episode and you never have attended any kind of WordPress event, I would say give one a try. It is definitely worth it. And if the first one doesn’t hit your expectations, give a few more a try, and see what happens. Because I can absolutely identify with what you’ve said. It’s embedded in my life. Lots of long-term friendships. And with people that I definitely, definitely would never have met. And who now I consider to be my good friends.
So over the last 20 years, WordPress, if you look at the graph, so on the one hand we’ve got the years running, and then on the other we’ve got the usage data. The line just keeps going up. 2011 is higher than 2010. 2013 is higher than 2012. We keep talking about this figure of roughly 40 something, 43, 42, it hovers around there, percent of the web. So it’s seemingly experienced more or less unstoppable growth.
What do we think about the next 20 years? Do you think there’s a plateau at which one platform like WordPress can reach, and then we just have to meter our expectations and say, well, that’s as far as one can expect it to go? Or are we after, I don’t know, 86%, double?
[00:35:02] Aaron Reimann: Has it not plateaued? I feel like it has plateaued, and I can’t tell you why. I don’t know why it’s plateaued. I can just give you general ideas. There’s still some people that will never use WordPress. They’ll say, oh, I see it in the news. It’s hacked all the time. And it’s like, it’s not hacked. It’s WordPress core is secure. It’s hosting issues, not updating things, or a plugin that’s not updated.
But there’s always going to be, you’re going to get the stigma from certain groups of people, that are never going to want to use that. And then there’s people that are going to want to use different, they don’t want to use PHP. If they’re going to build, they’re not going to until WordPress is no longer PHP based, you know. I think it’s not going to be able to surpass that, because of the fact that there are other technologies out there that aren’t compatible with that stack.
[00:35:55] Nathan Wrigley: I guess it’s impossible for something to keep growing exponentially, because at some point there’s just a natural limit. There’s other people who will be interested in other things. It’s amazing that it got, even if it did stay where it is or possibly decline, it’s pretty remarkable that it got where it did in 20 years. So I think we can all be content with where it is right now anyway.
[00:36:14] Aaron Reimann: Yeah, well I ended my talk telling people that chances are, even if WordPress were to stop today, I don’t know what would, cause, you know, where everyone’s like, we don’t want to build on WordPress anymore. I probably will still retire fixing WordPress sites because there are so many millions of sites that are out there that are going to linger for years on end.
I’ll be able to make a little money off of maintaining WordPress sites 20 years from now. Which is pretty cool. And I think about like Cold Fusion. I know Cold Fusion, I think they got an update a couple years ago or maybe a year ago or something like that.
There’s still Cole Fusion sites, which Cold Fusion to me died in 2007 or, or something like that. But it’s still lingering. And I think if WordPress stopped today, we’d have a very similar thing. Where I could still make a living off of WordPress. Which is a cool feeling, I guess.
[00:37:05] Nathan Wrigley: The rise of WordPress, if you drill down into the statistics, you just look over the last, let’s say eight years. It’s risen remarkably quickly. It’s got faster and faster towards this 43 or whatever it may be, percent. It feels like if you drill down into the data that page builders were a big part of that. And I do wonder, we were talking a moment ago about Gutenberg, and I wonder if in the future, I wonder what that dynamic will do? If the page builders all get consumed or Gutenberg eats their launch.
I don’t know what’s going to happen there, but I thought that was a curious thing to tease out of this. That the growth that we’ve had recently, probably in large part can be attributed to page builders, and the ability to create pages, and all of that relatively easily inside the UI. I don’t really have any thoughts on how that will carry on?
[00:37:53] Aaron Reimann: I would definitely agree with you. I kind of went down the path of, I first used Visual Composer, probably like 2015 or so. I was like, that’s a cool idea. It seemed buggy to me, but once I tried Beaver Builder, I was sold. And I think once people realize, for example, a couple weeks ago I built a website for my brother. And he just needed something pretty simple, but I showed him using a page builder. I said, I built the header and footer, and I said, here’s how you put content in. And he built the other pages. He did, change it, upload the images and stuff like that. He knows nothing about computers.
So the page builders have definitely made it where you don’t need a developer. I mean, obviously for something more complex, if you need some kind of functionality to talk to some third party API, yeah you’re going to need a developer. But I mean, if all you’re trying to do is display content, the page builders have just made it so easy. Beyond easy.
[00:38:52] Nathan Wrigley: I do wonder in the future, it seems like every podcast that I record at the minute ends up at this question, what AI will do to WordPress. And I know that we didn’t discuss this in our show notes, but it’s interesting, Page builders made it fairly straightforward for non-technical people to, what you see is what you get. And it truly did that. It literally almost pixel for pixel. It was exactly what you were looking at before you click publish.
And I wonder what’s going to happen to WordPress with AI, and whether or not the job in the future will be entirely different for people like you. Whether it will be more talking to an interface and telling it, no move left. Make that red. Get me a picture of a cat over there.
[00:39:33] Aaron Reimann: I don’t know man. I watched Terminator 2, when I was 15 and I’m not interested. And I think people are going to be using it to write their term papers and, you know, all that. It’s interesting, I think, I don’t know, have me back in five years. We’ll figure out was this a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not using, ChatGPT much. I’ve tinkered with it, but I can’t, I haven’t put it into my, day-to-day yet.
I’m talking to a developer friend of mine. He is, at his company, they’re making them learn how to use it because it’s going to, not replace them, but it’s going to make them more powerful and make them quicker and be able to build things faster. And I think that’s where we get to look forward to. You know, until the robots take over. We’ll see.
[00:40:19] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. We’ll have you back in five years and we’ll see. We’ve really gone around the whole subject, but I was wondering over the last 20 years, if you had any wishlist things that you wish had gone into WordPress. If you could rewind and say, wouldn’t it have been good to put that in, to slot that in, in year five or seven. Honestly you can make anything you like up here. Really interesting just to get your insight.
[00:40:41] Aaron Reimann: Yeah. I don’t, because of the fact that I’ve always been a, I shouldn’t say always because I don’t write code anymore, but I, you know, I had 15 years of writing code and I now have people that write code for me at my company. And anything that WordPress couldn’t do, we just built it. So I needed WordPress to be stable and be a core where it gives us a login. Something that gives us pages and posts, just the real basics and everything else we can build, which is pretty awesome. I love it.
[00:41:13] Nathan Wrigley: That’s a perfect place to end it, I think. Aaron, If there’s a URL you want to drop or a Twitter handle or someplace that people can get in touch with you to talk about this, what would we do?
[00:41:22] Aaron Reimann: My company is clockworkwp.com, and then my Twitter handle is @reimann, so A R E I M A N N.
[00:41:32] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you very much for talking to us on the podcast today. I really appreciate it.
[00:41:35] Aaron Reimann: All right. Thank you.
On the podcast today we have Aaron Reimann.
Aaron is a PHP developer who started working with WordPress in 2008. He is currently running ClockworkWP, a design, development and hosting shop. He’s built sites for companies of all shapes and sizes, ranging from small nonprofits to Fortune 100 companies. He’s been an organiser for WordCamp Atlanta and the Atlanta WordPress Meetup. He also speaks regularly at events throughout the WordPress community, including WordCamp Europe 2023 where this podcast was recorded.
Aaron gave a presentation at the event called ‘Where did we come from?’ In that session he spoke about something which we don’t often dwell upon, WordPress’ history. In the technology space we’re always looking towards the future. What new features are being worked on? What’s in the latest version of WordPress? So this is an opportunity to gaze back over the previous twenty years and see just how far WordPress has come.
We do this by looking at some of the more important milestones in the WordPress landscape. Which features were added that allowed the CMS to become the success that it now is.
Back in the early days WordPress’ success was anything but certain. There were a set of rival CMS platforms all vying for the attention of developers and website builders. Joomla and Drupal may be familiar names, but there were many others as well. All of these platforms, WordPress included, had their strengths and weaknesses, and at that time it seemed like any of them could become the dominant CMS.
We discuss what might have been the key things which set WordPress apart, and made it the pick for many people who needed an online presence. The fact that WordPress was easy to install, and easy on the eye were certainly important.
Then there’s the advent of the plugin architecture within WordPress. It’s fair to say that a vanilla version of WordPress will get you many of the features you need to get a website up and running, but if you want to do more, then it’s likely that you’ll be relying on plugins. The fact that you could install and update from a growing range of plugins made WordPress indispensable; able to create websites for almost any purpose.
Then there’s themes. It’s nice to have a functioning website, but it’s nicer still to have a functioning website which looks great. Themes enabled non-designers to make an impact online, and made an entire industry for those who could turn their hand to theme creation.
Another pivotal moment was when custom fields were added into Core. You were no longer bound by simply adding content to your posts and, later, pages. You could now create complex websites in which all sorts of data could be manipulated and displayed. WordPress now had all the hallmarks of a fully fledged CMS.
Then there’s Gutenberg in WordPress’ more recent past. Aaron is not yet completely sold on Gutenberg, still preferring the page builder that he’s grown accustomed to, but no discussion of WordPress’ first twenty years would be complete without a mention of this important change.
Then there’s the community of people who made, and continue to make, the software. Without the people, there would be no WordPress.
We round off the discussion talking about the fact that there appears to be a very high chance that WordPress will still be around in another twenty years. Will it still be the popular choice for website building? Who knows, but it’ll be fun to see what the future holds.