The History of WordPress from 2003 – 2020

Have you ever wondered about the history of WordPress? If you are one of the many WordPress users across the globe or are looking at starting a WordPress website or blog, you’ve probably heard about this popular website builder which powers over 33% of all websites on the web. This article will take a look at the history of WordPress from its very beginnings and show you how it has changed and evolved to become the powerful piece of software that we know today

To tell the story of WordPress is also to tell the story of open source communities and how they work in a way that makes technology usable to the public, without having to compromise software freedom. The WordPress project was developed by such a community of dedicated developers, supporters, and users and it’s this community that has allowed WordPress to become what it is today (and importantly, remain free to use). 

WordPress began back in 2003 when two b2/cafelog users, Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little decided to create a new platform after the b2/cafelog blogging software was discontinued by its main developers. This small decision by enthusiastic young developers would set them off on a journey that would lead them to create an industry-leading product that would be used by millions of people all over the world, create thousands of jobs, and even create an entire industry of users, bloggers, developers, designers, and publishers, all based around the WordPress platform.

It was back on May 27th, 2003, that Matt Mullenweg announced the first version of WordPress was now available. While based around  b2/cafelog, it contained significant improvements and was very well received by the online community. The initial version of WordPress featured a new admin interface, new templates and generated XHTML 1.1 compliant templates. The post editor may look dated by today’s standards but was a huge leap forward back then. Below you can see what the editor initially looked like.

Version 1.2 of WordPress was released in May 2004 and featured plug-in architecture. This feature enabled users and developers to further extend the functionality of WordPress by allowing them to write and design their own plugins and share them with the WordPress community.

What’s interesting is, that while WordPress was opening itself up to users through community-based development, the market leader in the blogging tools industry at that time – Moveable Type – was moving in the opposite direction. Movable Type announced new licensing terms that were unpopular among users, in turn, forcing many to search out a new blogging platform.

Many of these users found what they were looking for in WordPress 1.2, which proved to be an ambitious development project that offered users an easy-to-use and flexible platform that was also stable, well designed, and contained features that rivaled its more established competitors. It was with version 1.2  that WordPress really started to take off.

As the number of users increased, so did the quality of the product. As an open source project, developers and users flocked to the platform, which was gaining further popularity and interest

The next big installment in WordPress’s development was in February 2005, with the release of version 1.5. With this version came pages, comment moderation tools, and a new default theme – Kubrick. It also featured a totally new theme system, which is best summed up by Matt Mullenweg himself:

“In 1.5 we have created an incredibly flexible theme system that adapts to you rather than expecting you adapt to it. You can have your entire weblog run through a single file, just like before, or you can literally have a different template for every single different category. It’s as much or as little as you want. We’ve also broken common site elements like headers, footers, and sidebars into their own files so you can make a change in one place and see it everywhere immediately.” – Matt Mullenweg, announcing WordPress 1.5.

WordPress 2.0 was released in December 2005, featuring a new admin dashboard, and revealing a complete overhaul of the WordPress administration screens.

The dashboard used JavaScript and DHTML to build a more user-friendly user interface, in which users were not required to load a page to perform some simple tasks. Instead, users now had the ability to add categories and tags to posts without having to leave the post editor, and also delete comments without reloading the comments screen. 

But, this impressive new admin user interface wouldn’t be the only significant improvement we would see with this release.

Version 2.0 was the WordPress release that would introduce us to the Akismet anti-spam plug-in, a plug-in that you can still find in the latest WordPress releases. The plug-in came pre-installed alongside another pre-installed plug-in, wp-db-backup – a backup plug-in that was later discarded in 2007.  Another significant development brought to the table with this release was the introduction of a functions.php file in the theme system.

On March 1st, 2006, the company founded by WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg – Automattic, filed the trademark registration for WordPress and the WordPress logo.

2008 saw a web design company named Happy Cog join the WordPress project to assist in the development and design of a new WordPress admin interface. A subsequent usability study was undertaken to further improve the design of the admin UI.

It was throughout this year, 2008,  that we also saw new features added to WordPress, such as shortcodes, one-click updates, and built-in plug-in installation.

Then, in June 2010, Matt Mullenweg’s company Automattic transferred ownership of the WordPress trademark and logo to the WordPress Foundation. The significance of this act cannot be overstated, as it ensured that WordPress would be able to continue to grow, as it was no longer dependent on a company or group of developers, but would instead rely on the support of the wider WordPress community.

WordPress 3.0 was released on June 17th, 2010 and was a significant step forward for WordPress as CMS.  With this release, we got several new features such as custom post types, custom backgrounds, better custom taxonomies, as well as, header, menus, contextual help on admin screens, and more.  The WordPress MUu project then merged into WordPress core, creating Multisite networks.

Another new development was Twenty Ten, which began the tradition of a new default theme for each new year.

The next year, 2011, saw Post formats and admin bar added to WordPress. It was also around this time that we begin to see some WordPress plugins start to develop powerful e-commerce platforms to run on the WordPress platform, allowing WordPress users to create online stores and build Powerful e-commerce websites.

2012 saw the introduction of theme customizer, theme previews, and a new media manager.  These developments significantly helped new WordPress users create image galleries and to preview themes before changing their WordPress theme. 

In 2013 WordPress 3.7 was released and featured new automatic updates that enabled WordPress to automatically update users’ software for minor releases. The automatic update feature is in a way very similar to how the Google Chrome browser updates. This new feature didn’t prove to be popular among all users and received some criticism, leading some users to disable it.

 It was by this time that WordPress had become the world’s most popular CMS.

Version 3.8 was released in December 2018 and introduced users to MP6 -the new WordPress admin interface. This new interface was designed to be responsive and aimed at providing a better user experience on any device or screen size.

WordPress 3.9 was released on April 16, 2014, and saw improvements to the WordPress visual post editor. Users were now able to drag and drop images inside the editor, while at the same time, being able to view their gallery previews without leaving the editor. Version 3.9 also saw the introduction of live widget previews, audio playlists, as well as several other  enhancements.

Further refinements to WordPress core were made throughout this year with the releases of versions 4.0, and 4.1. 2014 also became the year when downloads of non-English versions of WordPress surpassed the number of English-language versions downloaded.

2015 saw the release of WordPress 4.2, 4.3, and 4.4. These updates focused mainly on improving localization, theme customization, emoji support, as well as laying down infrastructure for the WordPress REST API. 

It was at this same time that WooCommerce, the most popular WordPress e-commerce plug-in was acquired by Automattic.

2016 saw WordPress 4.5, 4.6, and 4.7 released. With each new version update came new features and improvements, most notably, streamlined updates for plugins and themes, content recovery by user browser storage, and custom CSS feature for the theme customizer.  Towards the end of 2016, WordPress.org announce the active support of HTTPs.

WordPress 4.8 and 4.9 were released during 2017 and featured new default widgets that added audio, video, images, gallery, rich text, and HTML,  laying down the foundation for the new WordPress block editor.

WordPress 5.0 was released in 2018 and featured a new editing format – WordPress block editor project, Gutenberg.

So, what’s next for WordPress?

Thanks to being open source software, WordPress is continuously improving and evolving to meet the growing needs of the millions of users from all over the globe. At the end of the day, it’s this user demand that dictates in which direction the product is likely to go. However, one thing is almost certain – WordPress will continue to enable users to build and grow their online entities and businesses and create stunning and engaging websites.

We hope this article gave you some insight into the history of WordPress and the online community based around this world-changing software.

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