WordPress has emerged from the distant moon of blogging and is taking over the much bigger solar system of website design, development and delivery. What has catapulted it out of this modest orbit is a combination of key things. When we specify WordPress to our clients we refer to: developer access to its code, ease of use for the website owner and massive yet free system support. But it is also true that WordPress is a success because of the nature of what it was, rather than because anyone planned it to become a core plank of general website design.
WordPress originates from the niche area of blogging. In Blogs interactivity between publisher and reader is a given. This is the way that people are choosing to interact with the web. If you take a look around,the best information is provided by wiki’s, online encyclopedia where anyone can alter, add, change and otherwise improve the information. Personal profiles exist on the web in social networking sites with communication going backwards and forwards between contacts which are dynamically made. The somewhat voyeuristic YouTube has launched successful, bands, products, and celebrities by working outside of the one-way format of old websites.
The area has been referred to as Web 2.0 (spoken as “web two point oh”). The idea that someone publishes something and then others read it and believe it is no longer satisfying the wider world of web wanderers. We are all much savvier than that these days. We read all the hype, we don’t believe it any more, we’ve had all the tee shirts to prove it, they didn’t prove anything anyway. In fact we can now get our information from a source which is open to comments, comments that you can believe and that validate (or otherwise) the information.
Thus it is with websites built on WordPress. This site for example invites you to comment on it. If you do, that comment forms part of the published information. People can join in and comment on your comment and so on. A body of information builds and a fairer, more measured view is arrived at, to the benefit of the reader.
The structure of WordPress is essentially a Content Management System (CMS). CMS is a thing that allows the owners of websites to change the words and pictures, add and remove pages and a whole range of other functions without knowing anything about web design – relying on little more than standard computer skills. If you can write an email or a Word Document, you can manage a website using WordPress.
So, the user gets what they want, the owner gets something they can manage themselves without going back to the designer and the inbuilt standards present a far better website than you tend to get from the zillion and one Dreamweaver and FrontPage designers.
One step back into the engineering, the structure of WordPress follows the same ethos. It is certainly clever – and under the bonnet you can see that.
The key thing with WordPress is that you are allowed to see under the bonnet. It is Open Source, which means that anyone can access the code. They can then change it, improve it and make those changes available for anyone else who might find it useful. This means a constantly improving product, being worked on by more developers than even Microsoft could dream of employing. And this has been going on for years now. WordPress differs from any standard web platform because it has benefitted from thousands of developers worldwide all doing this; making their improvements, and leaving this for others to further improve on.
Long and the short – It automates the difficult stuff. It is massively advanced, brilliantly usable, lightweight and completely free. All you have to do is get someone to make the interface do what you want it to do and modify the functions or invent new ones if you so desire.
Long and the long of it – You can turn it from what it is into anything you want. It carries an underlying set of features designed to alert other people when a site is updated. You write a new page, it tells a series of central library indexing sites that you have written about a certain subject, containing certain key words and so on. Other people searching for information through a range of tools, including SEO. Google, for example can more easily find this information. It is a ‘push’ communication tool within its very nature. It has a set of sub features called plug-ins. Mini bits of functionality made to tweak the website without needing a code monkey to build it all.
This system is in layers, with a set of functions which sit between and connect to, an interface design layer above it and a database of all the information below it. This means that if you want a new look and feel, a new navigation system and new system of interaction, then you can find a new theme, or design, and perhaps with a few modifications, simply switch it on. The database supplies all the existing information to the new design via the WordPress system. It is therefore possible to have a range of bespoke interface designs created to sit on top of the system and switch form one to the other, at the click of a button, depending on the mood you are in.
Why would you want to do this. Well here’s an example. The New Number 10 Downing Street website has been built on a WordPress platform. If the Queen dies, that site will need to reflect a more sombre mood in the country. That is how they will do it.
This piece started with a sort of Star Trek metaphor. And this is not unreasonable. It occurs to me that WordPress somewhat like the feared Borg. A collective race of half human, half machines, from a small and distant moon. As they go along their way, they assimilate all they come across, becoming improved and strengthened by the knowledge and experiences of each new person or planet assimilated. It makes the Borg very strong and irresistible but it frightens the life out of everyone else in the universe.
I do not think WordPress is so invidious. However I do think that it is frightening the life out of web developers around the world. It has blown a hole right through their inflated fees model, it represents a modern, up-to-date way of presenting through the web medium, and has further liberated website owners.