WordPress started life on the web in 2003 as a blogging application, but it started to grow fairly quickly beyond that original mission. Today, while still a powerful blog maker, WordPress is a full fledged web application development platform that can be used to build sites of vastly varying function and complexity.
Some key historical points that shaped this change include:
- May 2004: Plugin architecture introduced in version 1.2. This was the beginning on WordPress’s ability to extend and grow beyond blogging (or any other singular purpose).
- February 2005: Theme architecture introduced in version 1.5. Flexible theming has become key to WordPress’ ability to fashion sites of widely different styles, accommodating expectations in different industries, market segments, etc. Version 1.5 also saw the introduction of several other features that are key to blogging and various community functions (including the Pages content type and comment moderation). In these early days, many folks found WordPress comments to be overly simplistic and rather inflexible, and this gave rise to various plugins that could augment and even replace WordPress comments. Since this time, the native WordPress comments system has matured, and while there are indeed plugins that add worthwhile augmentations to comments, my own preference is to use as much of the native system as possible rather than gut or replace.
- December 2005: The
functions.phpfile was introduced in version 2.0. This new feature allowed developers to add a near endless variety of functionality directly into the theme of a site. Later standards would decry some of the experiments executed in this manner, calling often for some code to be deployed via custom plugin rather than theme (a far better approach indeed for any code that affects functionality, rather than look and feel). But the importance of this feature remains critical to the evolution of the platform. Version 2.0 also saw other features, such as a more capable and agile admin.
- March 2008: The Shortcode API was introduced in version 2.5. With a bracketed phrase typed in a post or page, the Shortcode API allowed developers to make potentially sophisticated functions that are callable by any user typing in the WordPress editor. Galleries, CTA’s, forms, and more can today be “magically” popped into a page or post simply by typing in the associated shortcode, enclosed in square brackets.
- June 2010: Custom Post Types were introduced in version 3.0 (as were enhancements to taxonomies and a variety of other features). With this new capability, WordPress was transforming into a full service CMS. And with WordPress MU merging into WordPress Core, version 3.0 also added significantly to WordPress’ power in enterprise and agency contexts.
- December 2015: Phase 1 of the REST API was released with version 4.4, ushering in a new era of true web application development.
- December 2016: REST API Content Endpoints came with version 4.7, further solidifying WordPress’ capabilities as a web application development platform.
Of course, throughout the above history, the WordPress ecosystem also saw the introduction of key contributions by important third party players that further added to the evolution of the platform from “mere” blogging to full service CMS, and even web development platform. These included plugins that enabled WordPress to do e-commerce (my favorite is WooCommerce), online learning (my favorite is the LearnDash LMS), and many more.