Six Ways In Which WordPress Could Die

wordpresslogoEver hear that saying, “All good things must come to an end“? All things end, even good things. Even though WordPress is the number one blogging platform across the web today, at some point, it will have to claim a number other than one. So with that in mind on this Friday the 13th, I’ll take a look at some of the things I believe would need to happen for WordPress to fall off its pedestal. By the way, this is the topic for tonight’s episode of WordPress Weekly so if you disagree or have an idea of your own, be sure to call into the show tonight and join the conversation.

Third Party Support Disappears

Ask anyone why they use WordPress and I guarantee you third party support in the form of plugins and themes would be an answer high up on their list of reasons. It’s one of the reasons why I use WordPress. While the software can’t be all things to all people, plugins and themes enable end users to add or remove functionality from the initial software package. With such a wide variety of themes available, you can easily change the look and feel of your blog without much difficulty.

Take away themes and plugins and you end up taking away the myriad of possibilities and situations in which WordPress would be the software of choice.

Change In License

If you take a look back at the history of WordPress, you’ll discover that in 2004, Movable Type, a competing publishing platform created by Six Apart changed their licensing terms for their software. As a result, a mass exodus of users migrated over from MT to WordPress.org and .com. This is the best thing to ever happen to the WordPress software as at the time, WordPress was on a slow but steady growth curve. The MT situation put WordPress on the map and opened the doors to new possibilities.

As it stands, the WordPress.org stand alone software is licensed under the GPL. This license enables you to copy, modify, and redistribute the code which one of the major reasons why there are so many plugins available for the software. If at some point in the future the license changes to where it becomes more restrictive in nature or less beneficial to end users/developers, there could be a repeat of history with a mass exodus of users from WordPress to a competing platform.

Just A Pile Of Bloat

As with all software, the project or idea starts off small but as development progresses and additional features are added to the package, the software grows in size, complexity and puts it even closer to being considered bloat by the majority of users. While at this stage of the game, WordPress can mitigate bloat by using their WordPress Ideas section of the project to see what the majority of users want in terms of features or functionality. However, there is always a constant battle between whether something is better handled with a plugin rather than being included in the core of WordPress.

During the evolution of a piece of software, it seems inevitable that at some point, the software will contain so many features and enhancements from user input as well as development that it will be considered bloatware. While the definition of bloat is different for every individual, if the majority of people end up with the mind share that the software is filled with bloat (unwanted, unnecessary features, or core plugins) then you will have alienated those users. These users will most likely search for a related piece of software that either handles their problems exclusively or is at a stage of development that is not considered bloatware.

If WordPress ends up making more wrong decisions than right when it comes to adding features to the core, we could very well see the majority of the user base label WordPress as bloatware which would be a disaster.

Someone Else Does It Better

While WordPress development is 24/7, there are other open source alternatives that are making headway such as Habari (That ones for you Andrew). The WordPress user base is large and each small change or core addition has exponential effects. At some point down the road, WordPress could reach a point where it doesn’t make sense to use anymore because a competing platform does it better. For example, publishing information in WordPress could end up much harder than it currently is. Or, the installation process becomes difficult. Any open source alternative that can do things either in a different way or better than WordPress has a shot at eroding its market share.

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In its current state, I don’t think WordPress is too little for what people need or use it for. But considering enhancements are taking place all the time, WordPress could become too much for what people need and thus, end up using simpler software. The writing on the wall will become apparent if a large number of plugins being developed for WordPress end up reversing the feature set being added by the core developers.

Security Blunders

I don’t know about you but it’s been a long time since I’ve heard any news about major hacks taking place across the web on WordPress powered websites due to some sort of exploit. I’m not sure I want to classify WordPress as lucky but I’m happy to see that the WordPress software itself doesn’t have a terrible security track record.

Of course, if that changes to the point where WordPress goes through a rung of terrible security blunders where major sites across the web succumb to hacks thanks to exploits in the WordPress code, this will seriously taint the reputation of the software. Security blunders are an excellent reason to look into using publishing software that is much less popular than WordPress and perhaps has a better handle on security.

Leadership Heads South

While my exposure into the WordPress community has not been as long as some, from what I’ve seen so far plus what I’ve read on the archives of WordPress.org, Matt has done a great job leading this huge project. Sure he has made mistakes in the past, but those mistakes don’t seem to have an effect on the current success of the software. I was very pleased to hear Matt say in the special interview I conducted with him that the decisions he makes regarding WordPress.org are made with the community in mind. That is exactly what I wanted to hear.

While I may not agree with all the decisions Matt makes, if he believes it is best for the community, than it is much better for him to make that kind of decision rather than fulfilling his personal agenda. If Matt who is the leader of the WordPress project develops a track record for making decisions based either on the commercial entity that makes up Automattic and WordPress.com or decisions that are not in tune with what the community wants, I can see a huge backlash taking place. As part of the backlash will be a ton of negative publicity and it could snowball from there until it reaches the point where hundreds or thousands of users migrate to somewhere else.

Conclusion

I love using WordPress and the community that surrounds the software. But I think it is foolish to not think ahead to what may be coming down the pike no matter how absurd these events sound. Thankfully, most of what I described above I believe has a very low probability of actually happening with the exception given to reason number three. Although Matt prides himself on keeping anything bloatworthy to a minimum as well as keeping file size down as much as possible, so many people use the software that it could be very easy for a vocal minority to convince others that WordPress has turned into a bloated piece of software. Also, it will be really interesting to see just how many plugins end up as core features. That alone if not done properly could send the software into a downward spiral. However, I don’t think WordPress is that fragile to the point where one small thing could trigger an avalanche unless you talk about the license change which is exactly what happened to MT.

I think WordPress will be the platform of choice for quite awhile to come. I’d give a timeline for how long but things move so fast, it’s not even worth predicting. I will say however that there are a few other publishing platforms of choice that I think at some point, will definitely give WordPress a run for its money and to be honest, I’m looking forward to it. Until then, I will enjoy the present and do my part to shape shift WordPress so it doesn’t go down any of those dark roads.

14 Comments


  1. What a great post, and I hope the WordPress team end up reading it. The best way to improve something and to maintain leadership is to be aware of what risks exist and have plans on how to counter them. I think you’ve done a great job of identifying these and hopefully this will help WP remain the blogging platform of choice for millions (in my head everyone should use WordPress ;) )

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  2. Nice article. Few thoughts:

    WordPress.com & Akismet is mostly free. It costs them a ton of money to maintain the infrastructure. How good is their cash position? In this climate of recession, their burn rate is what I would be most concerned about as VC fundings are harder to get.

    WordPress is not very cooperative (barely tolerates) with commercial plugin or theme developers and relies on people to donate their time & labor to the community only for free. Today we mostly moved away from developing WordPress plugins and down the road I am sure others will too. Let’s see how many people are as willing to donate their labor & time for free when the economy is crumbling all around them and the “day-job” of these moon-lighters may be at stake.

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  3. I’d say the only real “threat” is that someone else shows up doing it better. Aside from that, not much could rock their boat. Third parties come and go, but they came around originally because of WordPress’s success. Change in license couldn’t happen, no way. Anything else is just too unlikely to be concerned with. Matt is really young and (if his pictures are any proof) very healthy; he’s not going anywhere.

    @Angsuman Chakraborty – Also, they offer a premium service on WordPress.com, so there is some revenue coming through that project at least. Also, how should the WordPress team leaders be more cooperative to commercial WP developers?

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  4. Thanks for your thoughts, Jeff! You managed to put together a very concise consolidation of the “risks” that WP faces as time goes on.

    So now “we”, and that should definitely include the folks at WP/Automattic, have a list of things to watch out for. As a loosely knit community we can all make efforts to avoid the known pitfalls.

    WordPress Forever!

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  5. I was very pleased to hear Matt say in the special interview I conducted with him that the decisions he makes regarding WordPress.org are made with the community in mind. That is exactly what I wanted to hear.

    Not to say that Matt was being dishonest or anything, but watch out with that kind of language! Of course he’s going to say what you want to hear in public! The question is whether it really seemed honest and whether they are actually thinking of the community (which they are IMHO, they just don’t always LISTEN to the community, because they think they know better).

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  6. @Angsuman Chakraborty – There is no need for WordPress to cooperate with commercial WP Developers. The developer would be the one who benefits through it, not wordpress or the wordpress community. They have their own developers who not only develop wordpress but also some of the plugins, which are considered “third party”, cause they are released by the persons and not through automattic.

    If they had money issues they would cut the wordpress.com-stats plugin for .org users which runs on wordpress.com and would remove pingomatic as a default service (or strip pingomatic itself down to a lesser server load). that would cut some major costs.

    Automattic doesn´t keep you from developing for wordpress. It´s very accessable for any developer. They just don´t want to host stuff of you if you´re an commercial developer and have link to your commercial site in the foorer. That´s perfectly ok with me, because even if the plugin on their site is free, it´s advertising. Just because its not on the wordpress site doesnt mean you can´t get word about your plugins out there.

    @jeremyclarke – That´s true, sometimes they forget to listen *coughtinymcecough*

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  7. Security is my number one fear and the same for most I think. WP did have an exploit that let a lot of websites get hacked. I have a few clients that were hit (before my services of course :P) and lost all of their data.

    If WordPress suffers a larger hack that infects hundreds of thousands of websites I think most mainstream users will run horrified to another platform.

    Another good reason to stay current on updates :)

    Nice post Jeff, very thought provoking! Looking forward to the podcast tonight, should be frEAkY!

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  8. Actually, I’ve always thought that the main reason MT got overtaken by WP was that PHP is better generally more user-friendly than Perl ;) If it hadn’t been wordpress, it would have been some other PHP-based platform. Budget webhosts were more likely to offer PHP support than Perl, and to offer automated installation of PHP software. The licencing screwup just speeded up the process.

    Therefore if another framework were to overtake PHP in popularity, wordpress would be dead in the water. I have no idea when that will happen but I find it difficult to believe that it never will. Anyway, I have my suspicions that either #4 or #5 will do for them before that happens.

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  9. WordPress will be around and thriving long after I’m gone, and I’m only 25. :)

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