All the way from San Antonio, Texas, we invited Mr. Barry Abrahamson, the CTO of WordPress.com, to join us for Frantic Future Day in Helsinki. He spent the morning sharing his expertise and after that we even managed to get an interview. Read on to find out what he had to tell us.
What can you tell about Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com?
Probably the most unique thing about Automattic is that it’s a very distributed company, meaning that all the employees work from their home. I think we’re in 28 or 29 countries right now and we’re up to 215 people. Our fundamental goal is to democratize publishing – make it possible for anyone to publish what they have to say and make it easy and accessible to all.
What do you think is the secret behind the success of WordPress?
The fundamental strategy that we’ve had since the beginning is that it was built as an accessible, compatible platform so it was easily used by content producers while very, very accessible to developers. When you look at how WordPress has spread “virally” through the internet, a lot of times the champions are the people who write the content and then people who are responsible for maintaining the website. Because WordPress is so easy to use from both a technical but also a polishing perspective, it’s been really easy to run.
For what kind of sites and services is WordPress the best?
I might be a bit biased, but I would say that WordPress could be used for any kind of site. It has a very flexible database structure so it can store any kind of content in it. Since it’s so easy to get running anywhere, you can use it for small sites, but also for really, really large sites. We got sites running on WordPress that get tens or millions of visits daily.
Tell me one thing that usually surprises people using WordPress?
For less technical people out there, it’s surprising how easy it is to get started with WordPress and publish content on the Internet. We have people that are not that familiar with computers and they can get WordPress running in just few minutes - especially on WordPress.com, where you don’t have to worry about hosting, buying a domain or any of that stuff. You just kind of click and go. And a lot of that is not by accident. We've spent a lot of time and energy on user testing to make sure it's as easy to use as possible.
What is the most common misconception people have about WordPress?
There are few. One is that it can only be used as a blog. As we saw in the most recent WordPress user survey, 65% of WordPress users are using it only as a CMS, not as a blog, so it’s obviously not true.
Another misconception is that WordPress can’t scale. We see that that’s not true as well. Most of the non-scaling we see is from misconfigurations or from poorly designed code of custom themes that are just not written well. As long as the code is good, WordPress can scale as well as any other CMS.
And then there’s the security question. You hear people say WordPress isn’t secure, but that’s also not really true. We’ve not had any major security issues in over 5 years now. Sure, there’s been some minor stuff, but we’ve spent a lot of time to make sure the code is peer-reviewed. The fact that WordPress is open source makes it possible for anyone to review the code, so you can see the code for yourself and evaluate if it’s secure or not.
If you had to pick a single best feature of WordPress, what would it be?
This might be cheating a bit, but I think the extensibility of WordPress is the best thing – so you can extend it to make anything you want using plug-ins and themes and stuff. So really the best thing about WordPress is that you can do whatever you want with it.
How do you see the future of Content Management Systems, what will change and what won’t?
I think we're going to see more and more content creation move to an interface that looks similar to the content consumption. In the next few years, you’re probably going to see a lot more editing and a lot more interaction with the content on the front-end of the site.
The actual content organisation will probably remain the same. People like having the same types of content associated in the same place, but the way in which that content is created, published, edited and curated, is probably what’s going to change.
So what’s next for WordPress?
WordPress is all about iteration so we want to make things incrementally better than in all the versions before. WordPress 3.8, which is the next version of WordPress, coming out in December, is going to focus a lot on performance of responsive design, which is super important now when people are moving towards mobile devices. These might have slower internet connectivity, data limits might be imposed, screen sizes are always different and you might not have a mouse with a pointer.
The new default theme called “2014” is coming as well and our goal is to release it before the end of the year 2014. It’s going to be the latest and greatest in theme design. I think it’s somewhat blog centric, as 2013 was more generic and CMS-y. So it’ll be interesting to see what happens there. But the best thing is that all the development takes place in the open so it’s super easy to follow along and see what goes on. There’s also the new suite of make.wordpress.org blogs, that have all the development from core to design, user interface, documentation, themes and so on. So all those groups of volunteers working on WordPress have all of their discussions on those sites.
“WordPress is not a unicorn”
There’s no denying that WordPress is one of the most popular CMSs out there or arguing with the greatness of its features. It’s flexible, easy to use and accessible to anyone. If you're looking to open up a simple blog or a portfolio, WordPress can have your site up and running in a matter of minutes.
On the other hand, if you're creating something more complicated, you can achieve nearly anything by installing the right combination of plugins.
As Barry said at Frantic Future Day, WordPress is not a unicorn and most of the misconceptions and errors with scaling and security come from either ill-written code or ancient versions of WordPress. But as long as you make sure that your code is peer-reviewed and you're running the latest version of WordPress, then yes, you can make WordPress a hell of a CMS and actually – just whatever you want.