It has had quite a run, powering some 150,000 of the million largest websites in the world, according to Automattic’s Matt Mullenweg. Over on the commercial WordPress.com side, they claim to be hosting some 30 million blogs – up from just 4 million three years ago. With numbers like that, how could anyone question the long-term prospects of the WordPress platform?
Things change rapidly on the social web. Just two years into MySpace’s life, the platform enjoyed some 40 million users – this at a time when the entire population of Internet users was around 600 million (it is over 2 billion, today) – and was one of the most visited sites on the Internet. Facebook would overtake MySpace in 2008, relegating the platform to social web history.
The social web is in a constant state of change, as more people across the world spend an ever-increasing amount of time interacting on it. Social applications will evolve to meet the demands of this online population or, like MySpace, they will stagnate and fall into oblivion. As the original social platform (with apologies to email, ICQ, bulletin boards, etc.), blogging is always being challenged by new social platforms.
During the middle of next year the number of blogs will level out at about 100 million.
– Gartner, 2006
A number of my blogging friends have seen their traffic go down lately. They assume that their readers are off in social networks. I think they are absolutely right.
– Robert Scoble, 2007
Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004
– Wired, 2008
But today, in the face of the dramatic explosion of real-time social media services like Twitter, the future of blogging is far from certain.
– Andrew Keen, 2009
I decided that blogging was getting old and I had to go where the people are.
– Steve Rubel, 2010
But challenge is good when it spurs innovation, and the latest challenge to the WordPress reign is Tumblr. Launched in 2007, Tumblr successfully bridged the traditional blog post paradigm with the faster-paced status updates and media linking of social platforms, like Facebook and Twitter.
Visually, one would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a Tumblr blog and its WordPress counterpart. Yet, in just three years the number of blogs on the Tumblr platform has surpassed 30 million – about the same number as those hosted on the six-year old WordPress.com.
comScore announced that Tumblr broke into their Top 50 U.S. web properties for the first time, with 23.5 million visitors during the month of April.
Purists can scoff at Tumblr’s simplicity, much as I’m sure MySpace panned upstart Facebook back in 2006, but in fact Tumblr has been driving changes to WordPress since post formats were released with version 3.0, in 2010, and enhanced through subsequent releases.
One of Tumblr’s popular features is a simple administrative interface that makes it easy to post different types of content, from traditional blog posts to videos. WordPress has laid the groundwork, with post formats, to enhance WordPress blogs with a similar capability. Expect a WordPress Twenty Twelve theme, next year, that makes much more use of these new post formats.
One of the biggest areas where traditional blogging applications have lagged behind newer social media platforms is in content generation. Paste a link into Facebook or Linkedin and the platform automagically generates a thumbnail image, title and descriptive text. The WordPress Press This bookmarklet, meanwhile, remains unknown or underutilized by most users.
Likewise, the WordPress mobile apps have fallen behind the technology curve with their lack of support for post formats. Tumblr has invested a lot of resources into their mobile applications and they are generally viewed as being fairly robust. Clearly the trend of the social web is towards ubiquitous posting – generating content from outside the traditional administration dashboard, whether that is via a web browser or a mobile app.
Matt Mullenweg writes in Radically Simplified WordPress, “It’s not a matter of a responsive stylesheet or incremental UX improvements, it’s re-imagining and radically simplifying what we currently do, thinking outside the box of wp-admin.”
WordPress 3.3, which is due to release any day, will support mobile devices with an administrative dashboard that scales nicely on smaller screens. This is a good start, but the goal should be ubiquitous posting without having to login to the dashboard, at all. I am confident that in the coming years we will see a lot of improvements in both the mobile apps for WordPress and the Press This functionality (or its replacement).
Will WordPress still be a lead blogging platform in 2015? We may know the answer to that question by the end of next year. WordPress has been playing catch-up for almost two years, now, so 2012 should be the year they reassert their leadership role as a social innovator. We should expect two WordPress releases, next year, building on some of the improvements made in the imminent 3.3 release and introducing both a streamlined posting capability and a new theme, offering better presentation of different post formats and improved theme customization capability.
Social Strategy Coming to WordPress