How did WordPress get to be so popular?

Written by | November 20, 2013 | Posted in Process

In preparation for my presentation at WordCamp Raleigh 2013 this weekend, I’m brushing up on my facts! I found a lot of really interesting statistics and some history of my favorite CMS that I can’t wait to share.

Here’s a little sneak peek from my talk Jailbreaking WordPress: That’s what you’re supposed to do:

A brief history of blogging

It’s not easy to understand this without knowing a little context.

Blogging officially started in the late 90’s. There were several popular platforms that popped up between 1997 and 1999 to help this revolution. Slashdot, LiveJournal, Blogger are a few of the more popular ones that actually stuck around.

In 2001, Movable Type was released.

WordPress was a little late to the game. It was forked from b2 in 2003. It quickly gained in popularity as an open-source blogging software. More on this later.

In 2005, video blogging caught on with YouTube’s launch. That same year, 32 million Americans were actively reading blogs.

Only 5 years later in 2010, there were already over 152 million active blogs on the internet.

Back to WordPress

In 2003, Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little forked b2 and WordPress was created. It became popular pretty quickly and there’s a little bit of a chicken and the egg problem here:

It’s popular because it has a strong community backing and great themes to choose from. But it’s got a strong community backing and great themes because it’s popular.

Thank you, Movable Type

But when it comes right down to it, I don’t think that WordPress would be where it is now without Movable Type. When Matt dreamed up WordPress, he wanted a system that had “the flexibility of Movable Type, the parsing of TextPattern, the hackability of b2, and the ease-of-setup of Blogger.” So it had a strong vision from the beginning.

About a year after WordPress’s release, Movable Type (a very powerful blog publishing system) started charging a licensing fee. This pissed off a lot of people, and you know how much people love trolling on the interwebs. Hoards of people flocked to the free and open-source WordPress from Movable Type. I think Movable Type has gone back and forth over the years with free vs not-free, but what matters is that people were upset about the ambiguity of the matter. People love free stuff and WordPress is free as in speech AND free as in beer.

WordPress’s puberty

So from 2003 to 2010, WordPress was winning the race for most popular blogging platform. They made tons of improvements that were mostly-blog centric, like for themes and plugins.

2010 was a HUGE year for WordPress. This was when version 3.0 was released. It completely changed the game. Let’s call this WordPress’s puberty. It grew custom post types, custom menu management, better custom taxonomies, and it merged WPMU with WP to create MultiSite. This was the year it developed into a full-fledged CMS.

But even before this, people were pushing WordPress beyond its limits to run websites that weren’t blogs. WordPress saw the need to grow and it did.

If you enjoyed this, I hope you will come and see me this weekend at WordCamp Raleigh! If you can’t make it to the presentation, it will be recorded and put up on I’ll be sure to post the link as soon as we get it.

Sources, or some links that you may be interested in checking out: