Now, nearly everyone has a Facebook or Twitter profile, where publishing a few written words is as simple as a type and a click—but even early platforms like MySpace were clunky until you could spice up your content with a little HTML. Long before technology made podcast and video creation accessible, a group of people were passionate about creating tools to allow the average person to publish written words online.
Today's Patrons of Publishing
Twenty years ago, a few developers teamed up to create a platform that made content creation accessible, giving everyone in the world access to a 21st-century printing press—and giving it away for free. They were so passionate about this need to have a reliable platform for web publishing that they set up a non-profit foundation to protect and support the infrastructure, and made the code behind the platform open source.
Every year, thousands of developers suggest improvements and updates to the software that makes the platform more reliable, secure, and robust for everyone who uses it—which just happens to be a third of all websites online. As of 2019, 33.6 percent of the internet is powered by this free and open source software—including Bloomberg, Walt Disney, and Microsoft News.
If you’ve been paying attention, by now you may have guessed the publishing platform at the center of this story: WordPress.
What’s The Big Deal?
WordPress has become the web publishing standard not just because it’s a slick software, but for many of the reasons that stick out in the genesis of the platform itself:
- WordPress is open source software, with a 20-year history of regular updates and upgrades from several hundred thousand developers.
- WordPress is free to use and download, so each website running WordPress is independent, existing in perpetuity even if the core foundation went belly up.
- WordPress is built for content publication, first and foremost. Over time, it has expanded to include marketing and ecommerce capabilities that naturally extend from that purpose.
How WordPress Works
A super-basic summary of how WordPress works technically is that WordPress publishes content based on the overlap of two groups: database & design. The WordPress database contains your basic settings, the name of your website, and every post or page you ever write.
WordPress themes, on the other hand, act as a layer of design rules that overlay your WordPress database, presenting your content to website visitors through a beautiful and professional lens.
This is a far cry from the early days of web publishing, where styling and formatting rules were written in code alongside the content itself. With WordPress, you can write freely without worrying about editing a single line of code—and to redesign your website, you can install a new design theme with a couple of clicks.
What WordPress Costs
Don't you remember? WordPress itself is free to download—only, you still need somewhere to install it. Once upon a time, that meant putting a computer server in your office that hosted your website database and needed to run 24/7.
If your internet went out, your website went down—and any electrical spark could delete everything you’d written in the blink of an eye. Today, thousands of companies offer professional hosting where you can rent space on their servers to host your website. Many of these hosting companies are excellent, but the absolute best is WP Engine, who I both use and recommend.