Do you want to know about the history of WordPress?
If you are starting a WordPress blog or website today, then you may know that WordPress is a popular website builder which powers more than 43% of all websites on the internet. But it didn’t start out that way.
In this article, we want to take a look back at the history of WordPress to show you how it evolved over time.
The story of WordPress tells us how open source communities work to make something so useful without compromising software freedom. The WordPress project is driven by a community of dedicated developers, users, and supporters. That’s why WordPress is free.
WordPress started out because the development of an existing blogging software b2/cafelog was discontinued by their main developers. In 2003, two users of b2/cafelog, Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little, decided to build a new platform on top of b2/cafelog.
They probably didn’t know that they were about to start a journey that would eventually benefit millions of users around the globe, and that a whole industry of thousands of developers, designers, writers, bloggers, and web publishers would make their living off it. Today, WordPress powers over 43% of all websites on the internet.
Let’s take a look at the history of WordPress.
On May 27, 2003, Matt announced the availability of the first version of WordPress. It was well-received by the community. It was based on b2 Cafelog with significant improvements. The first version of WordPress included a new admin interface, new templates, and generated XHTML 1.1 compliant templates. The post editor looked like this:
In May 2004, version 1.2 of WordPress came with the plugin architecture. This enabled users and developers to extend the functionality of WordPress by writing their own plugins and sharing them with the rest of the community.
As WordPress was opening itself to the community, something totally opposite was happening in the blogging industry at that time.
The market leader in the blogging tools industry at that time was Moveable Type. They announced new licensing terms which were not liked by many of their users. This forced many of their users to look for a new blogging platform.
In contrast, WordPress 1.2 presented itself as an ambitious project offering users a mature, stable, easy, and flexible platform with features that rivaled their proprietary competitors. The adaption rate of WordPress skyrocketed with this release.
With the increase in the number of users, WordPress started getting better with the help and interest of the community.
In February 2005, WordPress 1.5 came with Pages, comment moderation tools, new default theme Kubrick, and a completely new Theme System. Matt announced themes with these words:
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“
In December 2005, WordPress 2.0 was released with a new admin dashboard. This new admin area was a complete overhaul of the administration screens in WordPress.
The shiny new admin UI was not the only significant improvement in this release.
It was the first release that came with Akismet anti-spam plugin pre-installed. It also came with a WordPress database backup plugin, wp-db-backup, which was then dropped in 2007. Another first for this release was the introduction of a functions.php file in the Theme System.
On March 1, 2006, Automattic, the company founded by WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg, filed the trademark registration for WordPress and WordPress logo.
In 2008, a web design company called Happy Cog joined the WordPress project to help design a new WordPress admin interface. A usability study was conducted to design the admin UI.
Throughout the year new features such as shortcodes, one-click updates, and built-in plugin installation were added to WordPress with different releases.
In July 2009, WPBeginner was launched by 18-year-old web developer Syed Balkhi. He decided that instead of maintaining his clients’ WordPress websites, he would teach them to do it themselves.
WPBeginner quickly became the largest unofficial WordPress resource site for beginners, and it led to the birth of Awesome Motive, the leading WordPress product maker whose plugins are used by over 25 million websites.
In June of 2010, Automattic, the company founded by WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg, transferred the ownership of WordPress trademark and logo to the WordPress Foundation. This was a significant moment in WordPress history, because it ensured that WordPress will continue to grow, and is not dependent on a company or a group of developers to continue the project.
On June 17, 2010, WordPress 3.0 was released. It was a major step towards WordPress as CMS. This release introduced several features such as custom post types, better custom taxonomies, custom backgrounds, header, menus, contextual help on admin screens, etc. WordPress MU project was merged into WordPress core to create Multisite networks.
It also came with the Twenty Ten theme, which started the tradition of a new default theme for each year.
Around that time, some really cool WordPress plugins were building powerful eCommerce platforms on top of WordPress. This enabled WordPress users to create online stores and build powerful ecommerce websites using WordPress.
In 2012, theme customizer, theme previews, and new media manager were introduced. These features tremendously helped new users in creating image galleries and previewing themes before they change to a new theme.
In 2013, WordPress 3.7 came with the new automatic updates feature that allowed WordPress to automatically update your site’s software for minor releases. The automatic updates feature is very similar to what Google Chrome browser does. Several users didn’t like the feature, so we wrote a tutorial on how to disable automatic updates.
By this time WordPress had already became the most popular CMS in the world.
In December 2013, WordPress 3.8 was released which introduced MP6, the new WordPress admin interface. This new interface was responsive and was aimed at providing a better user experience to users, on any device or screen size.
On April 16, 2014, WordPress 3.9 was released. It focused on improving the WordPress visual post editor. Images can now be dragged and dropped directly into the post editor. Users are now able to edit images right inside the editor and see their gallery previews inside the editor. WordPress 3.9 also introduced live widget previews, audio playlists, and several other enhancements.
2014 was also the first year when non-English downloads for WordPress surpassed English downloads.
In 2016, WordPress 4.5, 4.6, and 4.7 were released. Each release introduced some new features and improvements. The most notable changes during the year were streamlined updates for plugins and themes, content recovery by using browser storage, and custom css feature for theme customizer. By the end of the year, WordPress.org announced actively supporting HTTPs.
In 2017, WordPress 4.8 and 4.9 were released. These releases brought several new default widgets to add audio, video, images, gallery, rich text, and HTML. These releases also laid the groundwork for the new WordPress block editor.
In 2018, WordPress 5.0 was released with a brand new editing experience. The new WordPress block editor project was codenamed Gutenberg. See our complete Gutenberg tutorial – WordPress block editor.
The block editor remained the focus of WordPress development as the community moved towards widespread adaptation.
In 2019, WordPress started implementing the Site Health project into the core. With WordPress 5.1 and 5.2, Site Health started showing users notifications when an older PHP version is detected.
It also added protection for White Screen of Death by allowing users to log in securely in case of a critical error and then fix it from within the WordPress dashboard.
In 2020, the WordPress community faced unexpected challenges due to the break out of a global pandemic. WordCamp events around the globe were canceled and the community organized meetups virtually.
Luckily, a large number of WordPress community members and developers were familiar and used to the remote work. The development continued and three major WordPress releases (5.4, 5.5, and 5.6 ) came out.
Among many improvements, work began on the Full Site Editing experience, automatic updates were added, and block directory, block patterns, and lazy loading images were introduced.
In 2021, work took off on full site editing features with WordPress 5.7 and 5.8. A new templates feature was introduced along with several site-wide blocks to easily create site-wide templates in WordPress.
Over the last few years, WordPress has continued to improve the block editor in an effort to offer a full site editing solution.
A lot of progress has been made in this area, but for now, we still recommend readers use a drag & drop WordPress page builder instead for more design control.
In 2022, WordPress remained focused on improving the full site editing experience. More site editing blocks were added in WordPress 5.9, and many WordPress themes started offering a better site editing experience based on the block editor. See our list of full site editing themes.
In 2023, WordPress 6.2 was released where the WordPress full site editing came out of beta. A new template browsing experience was added to make it easy for anyone to create custom WordPress layouts using the site editor (no coding needed).
Aside from that WordPress also re-introduced the distraction free writing mode in the block editor (a.k.a Gutenberg).
What’s Next for WordPress?
WordPress is continuously evolving to address the needs of the millions of web publishers around the world. The direction of WordPress directly depends on the needs of users. We can safely assume that it will continue to empower people around the world to create wonderful web spaces.
We hope this article helped you understand the history of WordPress. You may also want to see how WordPress works behind the scenes (infographic) and what are the best WordPress plugins that every website should use.