What Would it Take For WordPress to Lose its Dominance?

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WordPress is 11 years old and used on over 20% of the web. Its popularity is made up of many facets including, the community, themes and plugins. In the realm of open source content management systems, nothing comes close to what WordPress has accomplished. Although it’s the market leader, its dominance won’t last forever.

Mike Johnston of CMS Critic asks, “What It Will Take to Dethrone WordPress?” In the article, Johnston explains why WordPress is on top and why Ghost is on the right path to possibly achieving similar success.

We’ve seen some successful upstarts come out of the wood work to try to take a piece of the pie and some are doing quite well in gaining momentum. One particular contender that comes to mind is Ghost.

While Ghost is doing well in its own right, I don’t think it will knock on WordPress’ door anytime soon. Johnston lists four things contenders must do in order to dethrone WordPress.

  1. Focus on marketing to developers
  2. Offer a migration path
  3. Offer hosted and self hosted options
  4. Build up a community

The four steps he lists are a good start, but it’s going to take a lot more than that to take a chunk out of WordPress’ market share. In 2009, I outlined six ways WordPress could die and named Habari as a viable competitor. Five years later, WordPress is bigger than ever and no one seems to remember the Habari project.

A Combination of Factors

I don’t think any one thing will put WordPress in second place. Instead, a combination of factors would likely need to take place. In no particular order, here are a couple of things that might lead to the project’s demise.

  1. Project leadership routinely ignores the majority.
  2. It becomes a large, bloated, legacy project that blocks innovation.
  3. A competing CMS comes along that does everything WordPress does, except better.
  4. The community in mass disappears or loses interest in favor of a competing product.
  5. A huge scandal takes place involving Automattic, the WordPress Foundation and those close to the project.

I doubt any of these things will happen and WordPress will continue to be the market leader for at least the next 10 years. What risks or series of events do you think would lead to WordPress losing its dominance?


86 responses to “What Would it Take For WordPress to Lose its Dominance?”

  1. Joomla, Drupal, and other CMS’s have at one time looked like they would win out over WordPress. After all, WordPress was just “blogging software.” But what killed their progress were major releases that did not include an upgrade path from the previous. WordPress has always maintained a simple upgrade path so that older versions were not alienated. If they abandon that for a new release it could open the door for a new CMS to take the lead.

      • You can’t call something a CMS when you can’t easily manage content. This is the case with Drupal. You can call it framework where developer is required to manage it.

        Level of expertise required to manage it a main hurdle in the success of other CMSs. WordPress solved this issue thats why it was quickly adopted.

        • I was using Drupal until I was at a DrupalCamp back in 2008 or so, where they had invited some WordCamp guys to speak a bit about “things WordPress”. I could just feel how much easier my life would be, if I switched to WordPress. Just the plugin (modules in Drupalese) updates would be automatic, not cumbersome as with Drupal.

          Later came Drupal 7, a big disappointment, due to its “design by committee” design process. D7 could have been so good, yet missed the mark.

          Anyway, if a project is to overtake WordPress in popularity, it would require a leader as good and charismatic as Matt Mullenweg. Every movement needs a leader. Drupal had (has?) Dries (?) but he’s not been as visible publically as Matt.

          Kasper Skaardhøj was also crucial to Typo3’s success. When he stepped down the throne (literally, there was a video haha) Typo3 had peaked.

          In my opinion, I’m at times a bit frustrated with WordPress. It is, in my opinion, suffering from some of the same flaws as Joomla (although to a much lesser extent): too reliant on plugins to do anything but the most basic stuff. That makes it less stable, because so many parts have to play along together, and each can be a weak link.

          What I’d love to see, is a more… framework-like… building block… experience. But that’s some years out in the future before we see that happen.

  2. Two words: flat structure. WordPress is a political organization in every respect. To continue its trajectory it needs to start working like one. That means hierarchical leadership and clear long-term plans based on democratic processes.

    • Democracies are notorious for very occasionally making very VERY bad decisions — just because the majority (who each usually have their own bias opinions and concerns etc) think something is a good idea, doesn’t mean it is! Let’s say the vote went to cut backward compatibility (just to pick and example of hundreds)? There are various strong arguments and many advocators for this… But if it was done (against Matt’s wishes say as a consequence of him being outvoted) and it did kill off WordPress — simply saying ‘oops – the majority was wrong’ in such a circumstance isn’t going to cut much mustard. Personally, I say whilst Matt’s doing such a great job at least, why upset the apple cart?

    • I seriously disagree with your statement that it needs to be democratized. In the collaborative commons which is a new social organizational structure we are already showing that groups can functional quite well in a semi autonomous fashion. If you are interested in learning more about the collaborative commons check out raymonjohnstone.com or checkout the current software we are working on at metamaps.cc

    • First of all, I disagree that “WordPress is a political organization”. It’s not. It’s an open source programming project. Period. Within that *volunteer* organization, politics may occur, but that’s not the same thing at all. As someone who has managed entirely different kinds of large volunteer organizations, though certainly not the size of the WordPress project, I can tell you that a strong leader or group of leaders is far better than true democracy if you want to accomplish actual goals.

      Secondly, don’t confuse Automattic with WordPress. Yes, there is a LOT of overlap, but it’s not the same thing. I suggest you read A Year Without Pants, which has some great insight into how Automattic is run and, in fact, how Automattic has transitioned into having more hierarchy. It’s also an interesting look at an alternative way of running a business and doing large-scale development that’s different from the old-school norm.

    • It’s funny you say that because at times, I’ve compared the WordPress project to being somewhat of a political organization or something Government run. It’s not, but there are similarities. I don’t have a problem with the way decisions are made and the formula has worked so far, why change it now? At least with Matt as the benevolent dictator, WordPress is going in a particular direction and the supporting cast is doing its part to steer WordPress in that direction.

      • Gotta giggle every time someone calls him “the benevolent dictator” Lol – I wonder who it was that first referred to Matt with this term?! But seriously, the fact that Matt’s taken it this far and doesn’t want to give up control to a ‘committee’ (read my comment/s below for my thoughts on committees) is such an important fact in these types of discussion that it makes me almost angry when people suggest him relinquishing his benevolent dictator powers to a democratic vote… don’t people remember what happened to Apple when Steve Jobs was forced to give up control of Apple to a table of elites who thought they knew better than he did? Really, more people need to read Job’s biography…

  3. What I fear most: 1. Developers like me (those who have dedicated our lives to WordPress) leaving the project due to burnout and/or a lack of excitement around the project; 2. New developers being interested in other technologies due to WordPress’ lack of innovation and meeting real needs; 3. Total lack of clarity around Automattic / WordPress.com / WordPress.org / the Foundation / etc. to the point where what happens with Automattic adversely affects WordPress; 4. Something else comes out of nowhere and eats up the market.

    I have no plans on leaving WordPress and most of the above fears are at present overstated, but I do think of them often and I do think that they are valid concerns; nothing, of course, that the great minds in the WordPress community can’t figure out.

    • These are probably my biggest concerns too, particularly the concerns about developers. WordPress has made it to where it’s at because of an awesome developer community. I know when I was just starting out, I knew very little PHP but was able to jump into development quickly. I’m not so sure that it’s so easy anymore, which does raise concerns for me with new devs.

      My main concern is WordPress focusing too much on having built-in user tools and not on development tools. I don’t see that happening anytime soon because there are so many areas there ready for improvement.

        • By “tools” I mean APIs for building stuff. WP has come a long way, but it has a ways to go. The reference is great, but I don’t think there’s ever been a lack of documentation. You can pull up practically anything with a Web search.

          Some of the things I currently have in mind deal with custom post statuses, comment statuses, comment types, taxonomy term meta, post relationships, better capabilities/permissions, bridging the gap between plugin and theme templates, and much more. Basically, pick something and go. There’s loads and loads of developer goodies that have been on some of our minds at least since post types were added to core. Many dev features are currently possible, but you have to jump through a lot of hoops to do it.

          The better tools we have for devs, the nicer it is for users because what devs build will end up in the hands of users.

  4. wix.com seems to be doing well with 50 million plus users! it’s much more user friendly but at present lacks some of the functionality of wordpress but give it a few years and think wordpress may be surpassed by it for the average everyday user

    • I agree that Wix is very good at being easy to setup up a good looking site. That does have it’s charm. For a small business, particularly a new one, that is quite an allure.

      The one issue I have with it is that the user is stuck with Wix to host the site, no going anywhere else. Being so proprietary knocks quite a bit of the luster off for me.

      • Wix has its place. I try to sell folks on the freedom and customization possibilities of WordPress. None of these one-size-fits-all platforms really come close in that area. If someone only wants to spend a tiny amount on a site, then they probably aren’t in the picture for most WordPress designers/devs anyway.

  5. I think about this a lot. Everythig has a life cycle. I think WordPress’ size and reliance/commitment on, and to, certain technologies may ultimately be it’s undoing, as well as poor managerial decisions. It’s hard to say with any certainty, of course, because with the acceleration of technology being what it is, standards are being replaced constantly, on small scales, and some larger, and no one knows exactly what’s around the corner. And corners are approaching more and more rapidly. And we don’t know much about what goes on behind closed doors with management, but some existing strategies are curious.

    If the internet, web browsers, and websites stay somewhat the same, Ghost is positioning itself to be the top contender. If unforseen pivotal changes happen, then it’s anyone’s game. John and Hannah are very smart in the way they’re being so deliberate and patient with the development of Ghost. Time is both on their side, and against them, in a way.

    While an established community, especially with open sourced projects, is vital to a lot of projects, proper marketing is more important, in the traditional definition of aligning the product to people’s needs and wants, while innovating and keeping a high degree of sustainability. WordPress has become so massive that it’s not nimble at all and seems to work in a reactive manner. It’s like piloting an aircraft carrier through stormy waters. Ghost has an advantage that it doesn’t have to be so backwards compatible and can adapt much more easily to needs, wants, and problems.

    In the end, there’s plenty of room for coexistence, and there typically is in any marketplace. Neither really seem all that worried about market share, or else there would be a lot more aggressive marketing than we see. Who knows? Maybe Drupal will surge from behind and surprise us all.

    • I think WordPress has done a good job, adopting technologies or frameworks when it’s made the most sense. Not on the cutting edge but instead, implementing them after they’ve shown their worth after 2-3 years.

      If we look back at how WordPress become so popular to begin with, it was a matter of timing and luck :) the MovableType licensing fiasco and WordPress at a point where it had a lot of similar features of MT made it a nice, free alternative. At that point, word of mouth took over, WordPress didn’t need any fancy marketing programs.

      Now, the things that WordPress built it’s reputation on are in question. Easy of install, ease of use, range of possibilities, etc. If the mindshare in the WordPress ecosystem changes so that it’s not considered the easiest way to publish content online, that could certainly open the door to rivals.

      Drupal seems to be dead set on enterprise and not so much on the mom and pop bloggers. I don’t think a software project will get nearly as far as WordPress with that strategy because there are far more mom and pop bloggers versus big enterprise clients.

      You mention WordPress being massive and not nimble. Do you think the addition of the REST API will change that?

      • I was mentioning Drupal tongue-in-cheek. They’re basically dead in the water.

        Timing was a major factor I think many people aren’t willing to admit with the success not only of WP, but a lot of WP personalities and businesses that rely on WP like remoras. Word of mouth marketing is the best type of marketing, and the hardest to come by. If you can manage that, it’s quite a feat. But I don’t think anyone should rely on it, because what makes you can easily break you. With some smart marketing, WordPress could become a phenomenon, but that doesn’t seem to be part of the vision.

        I think the addition of the REST API is a big step in the right direction. But there should be some blue ocean strategy involved with planning for the future of WP, and any product/organization needs to be able to adapt quickly to external forces. WP seems very monolithic to me.

        I just happened to come across this post by John Saddnigton tonight: http://ghost.desk.pm/why-ghost/ He used to be a HUGE WordPress guy. And it’s shifts like this that I think will eventually undo WP, slowly.

        • Kind of hard to tell from the outside, but it always looked to me like John’s brief news startup stepped on too many toes in the “remora” crowd and next thing you know it was dead, and so was his business. Whatever went down, I’d guess there was more push from WP than pull from Ghost acting on him.

  6. I don’t know what software will take the place of WordPress, but I can tell you what it *won’t* have to do: have feature parity right from the start. The iPod was *dumber* than competing MP3 players at launch — ridiculously so, in fact. The iPhone, too, started out so locked down nobody thought it could stand a chance in the market. Android? Everybody laughed at the idea that it could possibly dethrone the already entrenched iOS at the time. And don’t even get me started about 7-inch tablets…

    For what it’s worth, one trend I’m paying attention to nowadays is static website generators. They used to be popular before virtually all hosting providers started offering LAMP stacks, and they’re looking up again now that blog comments are losing popularity while attacks of all kinds are on the rise. For now, most solutions are overly complicated Ruby or (shudder) Node.js contraptions. But one of these days someone will come up with something as easy to install and use as a text editor, and you won’t believe how fast people will migrate.

    Will that relegate WordPress to a niche? Of course not. As I like to point out, laptops haven’t displaced desktops, and tablets haven’t displaced laptops. But the landscape will definitely change. And frankly, I can’t wait to see what happens, because the same core skills — HTML, CSS and JS — will still be front and center.

    • I have to disagree with you on a few points…

      1. – ” The iPod was *dumber* than competing MP3 players at launch”

      I’m curious to know what MP3 players you were referring too? I had a Nomad Jukebox when the iPod came out and I can tell when it came to ease of use and ability to easily sync your song libraries. Nothing during that time was even close.

      2. – “The iPhone, too, started out so locked down nobody thought it could stand a chance in the market.”

      Who would these folks be. The Techies? Well of course they did but techies are notorious for not being able to judge what the average person wants. The buying public spoke with their dollars and so began the downward spiral of feature phones, keyboards and RIM.

      3 – “Everybody laughed at the idea that it could possibly dethrone the already entrenched iOS at the time.”

      Only the idiots laughed. When you have one company making a phone with 1iOS and everyone else making a phone with Android it was bound to happen as every phone sold including the cheapos running obsolete versions get counted against it. With the sheer numbers of folks creating Android phones it was bound to happen. But let’s look closer, the biggest winners in the smartphone field is Apple and Samsung. No one comes close to making what these two do off of their phones though I hear Xiaomi is doing VERY well.

  7. Hi Jeff
    A great talking point this one.

    “Five years later, WordPress is bigger than ever and no one seems to remember the Habari project.”

    Once you’re the market leader it becomes difficult for competitors to catch you up.
    Guys like me have invested too much time in learning how to handle WordPress plus WordPress themes and plugins…. would be very difficult for me to switch platforms.

    The WordPress “vocabulary” is something we are all familiar with and barring any of your “five points for demise” it looks as though WordPress will continue to grow.

    BTW “A huge scandal takes place involving Automattic, the WordPress Foundation and those close to the project.” What have you heard? LOL

    • Guys like me have invested too much time in learning how to handle WordPress plus WordPress themes and plugins…. would be very difficult for me to switch platforms.

      If a better platform comes around, that does not require vast amounts of learning, you’ll switch. I probably will to. Ease of use is a seductive drug. :)

    • I haven’t heard anything and if I did, I would have written about it! While ease of use is definitely a good qualifier to use a platform, what about ease of development? Ultimately, I think the sweet spot in the middle is the ideal situation for an open source platform. I think WordPress has gone out of the Easy To Use realm and with the REST API on the horizon, I think that will help make it extremely easy to develop for. So I hope in the future, WordPress can get back to Easy To Use so it’s in the sweet spot.

  8. Matt’s done a truly fantastic job with taking WordPress so very far; we all know and love that he’s such an inspiration — not to mention genuinely all round friendly guy! But what happens if Matt suffers personal setbacks or problems that take him away from the project? I know the Foundation is now all set up but, in my mind, Matt’s absence is the biggest fear – and the one thing that could stop it in its tracks… I do so hope he’s given this due care and attention! :(

    • I think you’d find the conversation we had on WPChat about the unthinkable interesting. http://wpchat.com/t/a-discussion-of-the-unthinkable/322/8 We discuss what might happen if the unthinkable happened.

      The overall conclusion is that thanks to the Foundation and the principles Matt has put into place, WordPress would likely continue into the future for at least a few more years. Would someone be nominated or take it upon themselves to replace Matt? Would a committee be put together to figure out how to get a new figurehead for the project? Who knows. Matt is not WordPress but he’s a huge influence in the direction it goes.

  9. …Also, I occasionally hear opinions that WordPress needs to have a committee and hierarchical leadership with decisions made democratically… but in my mind this could also be fatal if it leads to indecision and arguments that end up slowing or even halting progress (which it very well could – no?) — after all: “A committee is a group of people who individually can do nothing, but who, as a group, can meet and decide that nothing can be done.” – Fred Allen. Lol. I guess it depends on individuals in the committee but still… it could all start out well enough but what happens if a bunch of bozoos end up somehow getting in the committee at some point down the line…

    • You’re exactly right. Operating by committe is a terrible way to handle most things, and making decisions “democratically,” ie: mob rule, assures nothing but eventual mediocrity. That’s speaking statistically as well as empirically. I’m sure everyone can think of examples when a large group of people ended up making some horrible, unrecoverable decisions. There are far more successful and relaible structures available.

    • In 2008-2009, I was of the mindset that a group or committee of people needed to band together to make decisions for the WordPress project. The more I’ve learned and researched, the more I’m glad WordPress development is not based on committee. I like the approach WordPress has and want it to continue that way.

  10. I would argue points 1, 2, 4 and 5 are already happening or in the process of happening. The public just isn’t fully aware of it yet but if you look close enough and know the right people a lot of this is in the present right now. It isn’t future-speak.

    There is no other tech company in the world that operates like WordPress does, and there are some distinct disadvantages, and advantages to their approach.

    At the end of the day, without Matt, there is no WordPress. He and his team are in control of .org, .com, the foundation, and Audrey Capitol (hell even this blog). Thing is he doesn’t have the resources to manage all of this like your typical tech company because he doesn’t have the funding. $160 million and a billion dollar valuation is a speeding ticket in Silicon Valley. By comparison the San Francisco 49ers football team just built a billion dollar stadium and has already drawn even in less then a year. WordPress is arguly equal to a city of 850,000’s sports teams stadium.

    Tech companies are valued these days by either revenue, users, or data or a combo. Matt’s entities have users who haven’t been properly monetized and who’s data is under lock and key (for healthy philosophical reasons). This is ultimately what makes WordPress much less valuable in the eyes of investors. Meanwhile .com’s user base is in major decline this past year and .org has plateaued.

    It also isn’t enough to compete with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or Apple over talent. All the best engineers and talent end up at the major tech companies. WordPress is severely limited by its talent pool and simply cannot compete with what major tech companies pay their engineers. They have to rely on their distributed model to find everyone else who can’t or doesn’t want to live and compete in the Bay Area. Not to say the people who work for Matt in one way or another aren’t talented, they are, there just isn’t enough of them to accomplish all of WordPress’s goals as quickly as necessary to stay relevant, and innovative.

    They’ve been late to the party when it comes to mobile, and they’re still trying to play catch up. Meanwhile they’ve totally missed the boat on ecommerce and are arguably behind even on content managment and keeping small businesses on WordPress. WordPress abandonment rates will likely skyrocket in the next few years as small businesses look elsewhere. There’s a lot of new services and software that can build a website for you without the use of a full CMS or web developer.

    Meanwhile, the open internet as we know it today is far more closed than it’s ever been, and with net neutrality issues looming over everyones heads the free and open internet is at risk. The idea of owning your own website, let alone a blog, may become a mere novelty 5 to 10 years from now and serve little purpose for the masses. Not to mention blogging isn’t cool anymore, and hasn’t been for some time. Publishing on the Internet isn’t going away, but 8 year olds don’t want to use the same tools as their parents to communicate just the same way that people in their 30’s and 40’s today don’t send each other letters in the mail anymore. There’s a lifecycle to what WordPress is to the world, and the windows of opportunity are getting smaller by the day.

    I don’t think another CMS is going to come along and disrupt WordPress tomorrow. What is far more likely is fading into irrelevancy. Between social networking, enterprise crms, cloud hosting and services, and new communication tools the idea of having your own website or forum or ecommerce store hosted on your own server is going the way of the dinosaur. Everything is already connected to centralized networks powered by a major tech companies and its likely to get worse. All that has to happen tomorrow is for Google to devalue any site powered by WordPress in search results and WordPress will slowly wither away. It won’t be replaced by anything in particular, but rather a wide range of specialized tools and services financed by big data companies who would love to get their hands on over 20% of the Internet.

    While I truly hope for the best for WordPress, publishing online, and ultimately freedom of speech and data the sad reality is things are changing faster then WordPress is adapting, and it is going to be an uphill battle.

      • It’s a fascinating question. There is no doubt Automattic has played a substantial role in the success of WordPress by offering resources such as development time, technology resources, and funding. I think Automattic was especially important in the early days of WordPress but if you look at the landscape now, I’m not sure if it would negatively affect the project as it would have a few years ago.

        Sure, it would hurt but WordPress wouldn’t simply just go away. I’d rather have Automattic around pumping resources into the development of WordPress.org versus not. How important do you think Automattic is to the project?

        • Automattic brings a lot to the table of course, I think whether or not WordPress.org survives depends largely on who’s guiding and building it – and without Matt/Automatic calling the shots, who would that be? That seems kind of key… But more than that, perhaps the future of WordPress.org is most dependent on people’s faith in its future… and if Automattic went under that would immediately be called into question, especially if the things Automattic does control absolutely, like WordPress.com etc all went under with it… but I’m already feeling out of my depth on this subject… I’d need to give it weeks of thought to even think I’ve got a handle on it. Lol.

    • Trent, I share your concerns about the open internet. However, I think in addition to all the walled gardens and platforms we’re seeing countervailing trends towards ownership. I think there are two things that (hopefully) will keep self-owned CMS platforms in play for small-to-medium-sized businesses (though probably at a lower market share).

      1. A lot of people who have invested heavily in business marketing strategies in Facebook and other platforms are growing frustrated with changing policies and distribution rates as the networks seek to monetize their platform more. Facebook in particular has been pushing down distribution rates of business page posts to incentivise their (paid for) promoted posts system. This is causing a lot of dissatisfaction and at least some return to the idea that building a following on a platform you have more control over is important.

      2. Over the last five years it’s become a lot more affordable for small businesses to run app-like programs themselves. Event and ticket management, membership systems, online tooling for CRM or businesses that provide client services, etc. There are a lot more affordable choices these days if you want to run this stuff yourself. That means it’s easier to have a common platform (CMS) that brings together all sorts of tools that before had to be split up.

      I’m not saying the concerns you raised aren’t valid. But I think we will see pushback against the notion that owning your own website is unnecessary. And that will keep the self-owned CMS relevant for a while.

  11. One of the main reasons that other non-deep wordpress developers encourage clients to use other CMS or use a framework like Laravel or something is that WordPress doesn’t enforce OOP programming pattern on developers !!!! I actually think it is the beauty of WP as it gives the developer the full control on what he do and whatever approach he decide to use to create … On the other hand … WordPress has a fantastic API ( OOP ) that doesn’t get into your way and that why I love WordPress … because I am a big fan of simplicity and finding solutions without complicating things like other do

  12. What would it take for WordPress to lose its dominance over the next years? Some examples:

    1. Focusing so much in blogging features (new DFW mode, for example) and treating CMS features as an afterthought (it’s seems 4.1 is going to fix some long-standing issues in this area)
    2. No multilingual support in core

    • Ray’s points are really valid! It may well be time to focus more on multilingual and stop fudging it off to plugins that are never good enough to take seriously – I’ve used just about all of them and can say with confidence that they’re all still, in one way or another, totally sub par! I think it’s necessary for core to take up the gauntlet if WordPress is to really work well in multiple languages at the same time! And there’s a reason why people still say WordPress is great for blogging and weak for sites that don’t require a blog… If WordPress is to become the go-to tool for non-blog sites there’s still heaps of work to be done for sure! Arguably the new very very blog-focused Twenty-Fifteen theme is another a step in the wrong direction here (beautiful as it is)…

    • If you watched the State of the Word from WordCamp San Francisco 2014, you’ll see that multilingual everything is a huge focus for the project. Actually, Andrew Nacin’s presentation from the same event goes into more detail on the future of WordPress is global.

      Multilingual all the things!

      • I did watch the State of the Word 2014 – but I don’t remember anything about the team taking on the challenge of making things work in multiple languages at the same time (although I do remember a lot of work being mentioned on making WP work well in multiple languages separately, i.e. not at the same time – which is what I think Ray is referring to above… confusing Lol). I also remember from when I saw Matt in Tokyo in 2014 him saying that, in his opinion, the job of language-switching-type functionality should be left to 3rd party plugins… am I remembering everything wrong? Lol – I hope so – but don’t think so! Lol

  13. What really scares me is this backward compatibility thing. I’m aware this is a part of success but I see more and more great developers complaining about the core (code messing, lack of documentation, PHP 5.2 support, deprecated, etc.).

    I’m talking about high skilled developers so maybe they’re wrong, maybe not and we are missing something really important. I agree with Justin developers are the key.

    Indeed WordPress is user-friendly and sometimes this is a great counter-argument when you talk with WP haters you can say this might not be designed for the elite coders but it’s usable, working great and people ask for it.

    Maybe this is time for WP to be developer-friendly. Huge work to do.

  14. Personally, I find “dominance” to be a bit (too?) subjective of a term. If you mean market share at the mass market level then yes, odds are fairly good for the next 5 to 10 years WP will continue as it is – reproducing like a rabbit on crack.

    The better question is, which Justin does WordPress want to be: Bieber, or Timberlake?

    With Timberlake you’re a talented artist / entertainer that just so happens to be a pop-sensation. It’s the embrace of quality that drives your art, craft, vision and attention to detail over the long term.

    With Bieber, you use words like “dominance” because it sounds impressive, cool, strokes your ego, quality isn’t a metric, etc.

    That said, there was a time when Apple had next to nothing and Microsoft was “dominant” to the point of having to pony up a squad of lawyers to defend its “monopoly.” Those days are still in the read view mirror.

    Like every other brand / product that has stood at these crossroads, WordPress will falter when it fails to correctly anticipate the future. Current “dominance” is no predictor of the future.

    • Yes, I meant ‘dominance’ as in the market share leader. By the way, nice way of putting it with the two Justins :)

      Current “dominance” is no predictor of the future.

      This is true and at the same time, we’re having a conversation about losing the leading market share position without realizing what advances will pop up and taken advantage of by WordPress. For example, we don’t know yet what the impact of having a REST API in core will do but from all accounts, it seems to be a huge pivot point for the project.

  15. WP focused as a blogging platform is not likely to be a sound long term strategy, unless democratizing publishing is more important than making money and garnering an ever growing share of the available market.

    Take FB for instance – one thing they do not allow is competition to take their market share. When that starts to happen, they buy the competition. Sometimes they close it, sometimes they don’t, but they buy these companies while they are small enough to be good deals or they suck it up and pay through the nose with stock options and as little cash as possible.

    If WP wants to continue to be dominant, strategizing more, and more efficient, ways to get “corporate” business to buy into the platform is critical. A mass of people with blogs on free hosting is great, but having funded customers that spend money to create, extend and deploy is what’s needed to legitimize the platform beyond blogging (or simple small business sites) and to expand the reach of the platform.

    In reality, WP is flexible and expandable enough that it should be able to compete with CMS/CRM integrated systems – and for a much lower cost at entry and during early expansion. Hopefully the API will help it realize its potential, especially in industries with legacy systems that are outdated and in need of replacement.

    • Thanks for the response and in a blog post no less, it’s like the early 2000s all over again :) also appreciate all the Tavern love. As I’ve read the great responses to this post, I keep thinking that our observations are tied to what WordPress is TODAY. Within the next two-three years when hopefully, the REST API becomes a thing in WordPress, it may open the flood gates for WordPress to radically change or at least, the ecosystem of products and implementations to change.

      I don’t know if WordPress needs a renaissance but if it does, the REST API seems like it will be the cause of it.

  16. The only thing that would dethrone WordPress is the dethroning of the Internet. Do you think the Internet is here to stay? So do I. WordPress is here to stay regardless of who is in charge of it. And there will ALWAYS be someone I charge of it. It’s good code. It is well supported. No need to ponder what it would take to dethrone it. It ain’t gonna happen.
    If such a s….y product as Windows has yet to be dethroned, one can safely assume product entrenchment is the Fort Knox of software development.

  17. A paradigm shift that WP isn’t prepared for.

    Blogging was a paradigm shift and WP road that wave. CMSes were a paradigm shift and WP was able to latch on it too.

    Things like Ghost and Medium pose limited threat to WP as they’re not a paradigm shift. They’re just different blogging tools.

    If WP was only a blogging tool, Ghost and Medium would be more threatening. I’m yet to see a standard website built using Ghost or Medium. in fact, Ghost plainly states on their home page “Just a blogging platform”.

    Some bloggers have left WP for the simplicity of Ghost and Medium but it hasn’t hurt WP. Instead, WP has taken on board some of the things that appeal about Ghost and Medium.

    I’ve built a couple of dozen WP client sites in the last 9 years and only one (a cafe) used theirs for blogging.

    The paradigm shift I see bubbling away is frameworks. The problem for frameworks at the moment is they’re still a subset of what WP can do.

    However, the voices of frameworks are getting louder. I know I’d rather build a website on a framework than on WP. I just haven’t found one that can replace WP.

    The next paradigm shift for WP will likely be it becoming a proper PHP framework – with an awesome community of developers and their amazing extensions.

    Just my thoughts.

  18. Ghost imo has long stopped being a potential contender for WordPress. Last time I checked they we’re aiming to compete with WordPress.com as a hosted platform/SasS. However, that field is quite successfully being played on by Medium.
    I can’t see any true advantage Ghost would put forth towards its competitors. The idea started somewhat as a redesign of the WordPress admin interface, and up to now I don’t think there is anything else really valuable Ghost has come up with besides elaborated design.

  19. What would it take for WordPress to lose its dominance over the next years?

    I think that one major thing that could really do damage to WordPress are the constant hacks and hacking attempts. No matter how good an easy a CMS is to use, it client sites aren’t secure they’ll begin to lose faith in a platform.

    More than anything, they just want their sites up and running.

  20. A new, dangerous rival would also do well to focus on developing for marketers and for high efficiency/performance.

    I haven’t seen anything lately on efforts to get WP deeper into academic markets, which is the type of thing that could really help its staying power. And honestly, I don’t see that happening when the main, established solutions in that space are probably less risky and costly to adopt and maintain than WP.

    For years there has been a dominant, established player in CMS for higher education in the US noted for excellent customer support. Their product, and their strongest rivals’ products, are marketed as push-based, with a mix of static and dynamic page generation. Host it in-house and you can probably do it with your existing staff and hardware. Host it in the vendor’s cloud, and the cost difference is negligible. Competitors with a dynamic CMS, by contrast, will expect the customer to provide half dozen servers and database clusters, or opt into a pricey hosted solution. Their price tags will be double or triple that of the push-based options. Then there are the marketing agencies who sell a 2nd generation open source PHP/MySQL CMS. They may not understand or expect to support the technical burden their product creates.

    Like any successful product that’s supporting a lot of clients, legacy code accumulates and newer rivals can offer more current features for developers and end users, but what seems to win in SMB markets with enterprise needs is a pretty-good, cross-platform, open-standards product with an established brand, a good service and support ecosystem, and a pricetag + TCO that is likely to be the lowest. These are basically the same traits that have made WP so popular with individuals, SMBs and NPOs, but once you get into high traffic multi-user, multi-purpose systems (e.g., academic institutions with 5-10k students), how competitive is WP? If it can’t expand into new markets, hwo long can it hold the ones it’s got?

    • I haven’t seen anything lately on efforts to get WP deeper into academic markets

      I’m not sure if you’re referring to university websites/intranets or academic publishing (which is also dominated by traditional players). But if it’s the latter, I would really like to talk to anyone interested in working in this space. I have been banging around ideas in my head for a while, and have some thoughts on where a start could be made.

  21. There is a simple niche not handled well by WordPress and after reading and skimming comments on this article, it is clear this is rarely discussed and places WP in a vulnerable position.

    Website maintenance is a key frustration for many people running websites. It’s easy to install WP but now – optimize it. What happens? The webmaster spends hours and hours tweaking the site loading only to have a new release automatically (or install a plugin) change things and the webmaster is back at it again. It’s hamster-like behavior. Some nerds might think it is “fun” but after awhile it is just perceived as wasted effort. Think of the abandoned blogs – they are evidence WP is on the wrong track.

    This leaves a big opening for an easily installed site, extremely optimized for fast loading, and hooked for plugin developers to expand the features of the site without slowing things down.

    Next, there is a huge (I mean HUGE or HUMONGOUS) challenge for new users to get support; People new to development, new to setting up a site, new to maintaining a site all suffer. Where do they go to get help? The manuals are written for techies – and not mom and pop or the lone teen wolf.

    My final point focuses on a missed opportunity for WordPress; multisite. Operating numerous sites with multiple domains is a nightmare on WordPress. It’s a PITA. If I want to change the structure then it is a bigger nightmare. WordPress needs to improve sharing of stories and media on a network, easily set up default widgets to pull in posts from other blogs to build a “front page” … default ways to have a single RSS bringing all the blogs together.

    Bluntly, if I could find something else with less hassle then I’d drop WordPress in a heart beat. I know of dozens who already abandoned WP for projects easier to maintain.

    Thanks for reading my 2 cents. Opportunities abound but rough sailing lies ahead if you don’t pay attention to the storm clouds.

    • “This leaves a big opening for an easily installed site, extremely optimized for fast loading, and hooked for plugin developers to expand the features of the site without slowing things down.”

      – isn’t this idea (which incidentally sounds a lot like WordPress – and note: contrary to popular belief, WordPress isn’t inherently slow these days) going to also be a hassle to maintain?

      About the only system I can think of that’s significantly easier to maintain than WP is a static html/css website, which gives you nowhere near the functionality — especially in terms of content management/creation!

      • It doesn’t have to be either-or. There have been extensible static+dynamic CMS platforms for at least 15-16 years. Statamic is an interesting newer example with a commercial license model similar to Expression Engine. Squarespace just bought Brace.io, a CMS as a service that let you separate and dynamically edit presentation and content served from DropBox or AWS. This sounds like an aquihire, but Squarespace may have seen a future threat and intends to use some of Brace’s technology for developers. There are a few other, less funded services that work like Brace did. It seems like a promising model.

        I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that if you looked at small to mid-sized colleges, a large and happy chunk of that market has been served by some type of static+dynamic push CMS since the mid-late 1990s. Their costs can be as low as $25-30k to deploy with $15-30k in annual costs thereafter. Anything built like WP, Drupal, etc. will have trouble competing with the stability, performance and costs that market is accustomed to. That’s why Pantheon came to be — you absolutely need a major assist on the hosting side to cope with the performance hurdles. Static doesn’t have that problem. It will always cost less in money, time, security, and risk management. If there is ever serious static FOSS project that is accessible to a mass market as WP is, it ought to be huge.

  22. Many years ago I took the UK’s financial exams, part of which was a look at investment. This was the late eighties and at that point I seem to recall reading that of the top 100 companies in the UK in 1900 only were still in the top 100 and remember that was when the UK had the largest Empire the world has ever seen.

    The point I am making is that there is a VERY good chance that WordPress will lose its pre-eminence. Maybe not in the the next few years but I would lay bets on it not being the top dog in eighty years time.

    For now though I think that it is the jewell in the crown of the web based world and am very happy working with it

    • Similarly, in the US, the companies that comprise the Dow Industrial Average, which was established in 1896 with 12 firms (there are 30 now) only one remains: GE. And it’s been removed twice. Nothing lasts forever, and as we propel into the future, even moreso.

  23. So, some folks in the comments have suggested that #2 is already occurring. I was thinking about this the other night. Software has life cycles and one of WordPress’ important pieces to its success is the backwards compatibility component.

    The easy solution to me would be to create a fork of WordPress and label it Legacy but Matt M. has said in the past and has indicated that he doesn’t want to build and support more than one official branch of WordPress if he doesn’t have to.

    So with that solution out of the equation, if WordPress continues on its current path, how long will it take before it becomes so enamored with being backwards compatible, that all forward progress stops? Developers become too afraid or can’t find an alternative to make any changes due to whatever number of sites on the long tail of installs might break.

    Microsoft Windows comes to mind in that they’re so focused on backwards compatibility, it doesn’t give them room to innovate with newer, modern technologies and techniques. The luxury Microsoft has that WordPress does’nt is that they have specific products/versions that they can EOL. You can’t EOL WordPress because it’s one product encompassing all versions.

    • Other projects have moved toward separating framework and application layers to solve this problem, but for all practical purposes that is still like a fork where now you have to support two projects and products.

      Another approach would be to give the legacy product a generous EOL and a really solid upgrade/migration tool. With a good marketing campaign and community buy-in — especially from hosting companies and others positioned to offer migration support services — the majority of end users could be moved from old to new WP. Failing to achieve that would be a disaster, but it is one that has been seen before — lots of opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes.

  24. The fact that a talented man such as John James Jacoby (JJJ) had to turn to a crowdfunding site (IndieGoGo) to raise $50,000 in order to devote himself full-time to the development of BuddyPress, bbPress, etc. for 6 months speaks volumes as to just how “far” WordPress has come in my own humble opinion. I began using WordPress almost from the word go, and registered domains such as WordBlog.com, NoteBlog.com, CommunityBlog.com, CommentBlog.com, SpyBlog.com, CustomerBlog.com and so forth way back in 2003/2004 (one of the first domain names I’d hand-registered was Inkblot.com back in 1998), because I saw the potential, but 10 years + on I can see a lot of the pitfalls as well. So many great developers put their time and efforts into the betterment of WordPress and it’s theme and plugin ecosystem, yet they see very little in return for their efforts, especially on a monetary level, and that, in the end, could very well be the actual undoing of WordPress if anything were to ever threaten it’s world-web dominance. Hundreds of millions in investment funding gets completely wasted each and every year on “the next big thing”, that which never usually pans out of course, yet nobody seems truly interested in dumping any really money into WordPress, a proven winner, on anything near those scales of capital expenditure. Imagine if someone “invested” a mere $1,200,000 into providing a decent salary ($100,000 each) for one year to the 10 best and brightest developers in the WordPress community, such as JJJ, to devote themselves fully and completely, to a set list of projects to be completed by the end of that time-frame, what that could do for the platform as a whole when all was said and done. That’s the true way, in the end, to keep WordPress at the summit of the mountain.

  25. This is a really interesting discussion with some great commentary.

    From my perspective, it would simply take arrogance for WordPress to loose its standing. The kind of arrogance where WordPress no longer listened to the needs of its community or lost it’s current vision. The kind of arrogance that a lot of corporations are consistently guilty of (they never learn), driven by greed and a loss of direction away from the initial core values that helped them grow in the first place.

    So, far, WordPress has successfully adapted more towards a CMS and application framework because people (developers, designers and end users) have needed that functionality. Combine this with WP being steered towards that overall utopian goal of making content management as simple as possible and you have a CMS that can be picked up and easily used (relatively speaking) by its main user groups. Take the antithesis of this (Drupal) for example, for a long time (prior to version 7) it largely ignored the concerns of the design community and end users as it pandered almost exclusively to developers, yet, because of that it became difficult to use for anyone but the most technically minded. It’s that vision and perspective from different sides of the equation that WordPress currently has and other projects still lack.

    Okay, WP is not perfect at anything – whether that be blogging, more traditional CMS functionality or an application framework – and the argument about it becoming bloated is already a very real concern. Though, I’m sure over time this situation will improve as certain issues become more apparent and as long as community concerns are met. That overriding philosophy that WordPress has of ‘democratising the web’ simply cannot be met without meeting the needs of developers, designers and crucially the end user.

    As long as WP continues to pay the utmost respect its community, I think it will continue to thrive. However, the minute that WP loses perspective and ceases to adapt and move towards a genuine greater good is the time that it WILL fail as so many have before.

  26. You know what would cripple WordPress? Something most of us can’t imagine: a move away from interest in blogging.

    My arts organization recently farmed out our web development to a group of young artists; the site had just been set up in WP by a pro and we presumed the new group would possibly do something like change the theme and fine-tune the blog features.

    Instead, fueled by their IT expert, they asserted that WP is ancient, outmoded software that is too hard to use, and they wanted to shift the entire site to a template-based free host (in this case, “Yola”). They saw no value in user accounts or commenting, and very high value in posting media clips to a template.

    I don’t want or need comments on the wisdom of tapping naive users for this task; but it was telling that 20-somethings with a college education and a high media IQ see WP as “your parents’ Web platform.”

    For what it’s worth, this same demo has been immersed in PowerPoints since they were 6, and Facebook always existed for them. The Web for them is what the monopoly telephone company was to many of us: it’s just there.

    • Not having it would actually be a bonus for WP. See, plain, run-of-the-mill PHP is part of the reason WP is so easy to get into. There’s no special templating engine. It’s just HTML mixed with PHP. That makes it easy for new theme authors to get into and Average Joe to modify.

      The docs would be only be available at a handful of places that are specific to either WP or a particular templating engine. I’d consider that a disadvantage. Basic PHP + HTML is documented everywhere.

  27. “1:Project leadership routinely ignores the majority..”
    This will be the decider for me. The introduction of the BeepBeepBoop New Post was like a return to kindergarten. WP generously permits me to continue using the old fuddy-duddies New Post page for the time being, but I wonder how long that will last.
    Other changes on the Dashboard appear to have been made for no other reason than hey, let’s just play around today. I can’t see how they have made blogging simpler or easier.
    Eventually a viable alternative will appear to WP. I’m keeping my eyes out.


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