On the least technical level, WordPress is an application which makes it easy for writers, bloggers, e-commerce merchants and website owners of all kinds to put their words, their brand and their message in front of the world.
On a slightly more technical level, WordPress is a content management system, or CMS. A CMS lets anyone with a website collect, manage and publish information on it. That information could be text, pictures, audio or video, and is generally a combination of several types of content. It allows you to control what visitors to your site can see, access and do on your site, but most importantly it lets you do that without ever having to learn how to ‘code’ a website. Virtually anyone can learn to operate a good CMS in hours, and most users become experts, at least with the features they commonly use, very quickly.
WordPress is a good CMS. It is easy to use, fully open source and hands down the most popular and widely used CMS in the world today. It is widely considered to be among the easiest CMSs to use, and one of the most powerful tools for blogging and content curation and management available, proprietary or open source. Because it has such a huge user base and is open source, there is a huge volume of high quality, free to use resources available for it, and dedicated users make more available, generally for free, every day. There is also quite a bit of premium material that is available for pay, and a great many people who provide professional services based on or around WordPress offerings.
Themes, Templates and Plugins
On a very technical level, WordPress is based on both the MySQL open source database management system and the PHP server-side scripting language. It uses a theme or template system which allows users to find (and modify) pre-made templates and add their data to them, which is a huge help to new users and those with no interest in learning any aspects of coding. Users can download and use different ‘themes’, which change the appearance and functionality of their site but retaining the content they already have up. There are a huge variety of free themes available, and nearly as many ‘premium’ themes which must be purchased or licensed to use.
WordPress also features a ‘plug-in architecture’, which means that separate, independently developed add-ons (plugins) can be installed and deleted to change the way the program looks and operates, without changing the core program and usually without harming its compatibility with other systems.
There are currently just under 40,000 recognised plugins available for WordPress, and each adds one or more features or functions that can make your WordPress site do nearly anything, if you use the right combination. It should be noted that an unknown number of these plugins were written for older, now outdated versions of WordPress, and may not work as intended (or at all) under newer release numbers.
Themes and plugins combine to make WordPress extremely customisable, and to make it easy to create your own unique web experience despite the software being used on more than 60 million websites worldwide, and on nearly ¼ of the ten million most popular websites in the world.
A Note on Open Source Software and the GPL License
I have already mentioned that WordPress is open source but that, like everything else these days, is more complicated than some people think. WordPress can be used under the GPLv2 (and later versions) license developed by the Free Software Foundation. In essence, this license guarantees the end users of the software the freedom to use, share and modify the software freely, and gives users the right to make money using the software so long as they don’t attempt to restrict anyone else’s GPL freedoms and rights. Of course, the legal niceties of achieving that are even more complicated, and frankly beyond me.
If you’re looking to develop your own themes or plugins or need some help with your WordPress site give me a call on 01902 213950 or find out more on what WordPress services I offer here.