WordPress at 15 - Inside the web's most popular hosting service

May 27th 2018 will see the 15th anniversary of WordPress. First released in 2003 as the successor to b2/cafelog, today it supports more than 60 million websites and is totally free to use - so it's no surprise that around 30 percent of all websites currently online are built on its services.

But how has the technology evolved over its lifetime and what's coming next? We spoke to WordPress hosting experts WP Engine and their EMEA MD Fabio Torlini to find out more.

What makes WP attractive to companies and individuals who adopted it? 

Organisations adopt WordPress because of it’s low cost of ownership (free & open source), scale on the web and effects that it has on hiring and marketing technology integrations (currently 30 percent of all websites), and it’s extensibility and flexibility to create rich experiences with a faster time to market.

With WP turning 15 this year, how has the platform evolved to better suit its customer’s needs? 

Originally envisioned as a blog platform, WordPress has gone through several major changes that has evolved the platform to be the leading CMS on the web. 

The first major change happened around 2010 when WordPress core released “custom post types,” which added the ability to create modularized content fields. This update made WordPress more of a true CMS. 

In 2015 WordPress core released the WordPress rest API, which made the modularized content of WordPress extensible. This release gave WordPress the ability to push and pull data to/from other applications and devices. 

The third major release occurred in 2017 when WordPress core released “WP-CLI” or a method for developers to use command line interface functions to control the functions of WordPress. This release helped developers create more automated experiences in WordPress and increase their development velocity. 

In 2018 WordPress core will release the “Gutenberg” update, which is the biggest update yet. The Gutenberg update will add “page builder”-like functionality to WordPress, making it much easier for content creators to create experiences using WordPress.

What are some of the common mistakes brands are making when designing and maintaining their website?

The biggest design mistake people make is not going with a “mobile first” design philosophy. Starting with designing your mobile experiences is helpful because for many sites most of their traffic comes from mobile devices, Google is using a “mobile index” for SEO, and the practice of starting with a smaller screen forces designers to only include elements which actually support the objective of the site.

From a maintenance perspective, the biggest mistake businesses make is not maintaining their sites at all. Outdated plugins or WordPress core can open up security vulnerabilities that can decimate the trust of visitors and your business. 

The main lesson here is to *not* set it and forget it!

With WordPress 5 set to launch in the near future, what new features can customers expect to see?

The looming WordPress 5.0 release (“Gutenberg”) is focused on adding “page builder” functionality to WordPress core. This will make it much easier for content creators to create experiences without the need for a developer or designer. Enterprise teams can also use these features to make it easier to make sure content teams create content that are aligned with their brand guidelines and code standards. 

Since the Gutenberg update is one of the most significant in WordPress’ history, you should test the update on a copy of your site (staging / local) before pushing to your live site. The current estimated date for the Gutenberg release is April 2018, but it could be later depending on the progress the team makes in making sure this release is as backwards compatible as possible for the 30 percent of the web that uses WordPress.

WP Engine just released a plug-in that automatically converts text to voice, what role will voice activation play within WordPress?

The WordPress core team is not currently working on any voice activation technology. Their main focus is on the looming Guttenberg release. That being said, accessibility has always played a major role in the WordPress ecosystem, and our recent partnership with Amazon on the Polly plugin is an expression of community support in pushing WordPress forward. 

It is possible that voice activation will play a role in WordPress core in the future, with a community of hundreds of thousands of developers and tens of thousands of plugins, it’s highly likely that voice activation will play a stronger role in how those contributions deliver value to webmasters.

With 5G predicted to be available for consumers in 2019, what advancements will this allow brands to make when building their website?

The speed advantages of 5G will mean that webmasters can create richer and more dynamic experiences especially on mobile. Traditionally webmasters have had to limit the experiences they create for mobile because of spotty or slow network coverage. Now that broadband speeds will be more ubiquitous with 5G, this opens up what webmasters can deliver on the mobile web. 

Additionally, rural markets underserved by broadband will be able to use 5G wireless technology to achieve broadband speeds in their homes. This will also open up the types of experiences webmasters can deliver to desktop browser experiences to rural and underserved markets.

What changes will we see in how users interact with the internet over the next five years to ten years?

One of the big changes we’re seeing in how people interact with the web is the push into voice activated and voice based content delivery. While this will be a trend in the future, the limited speed and scalability of voice based interfaces though will never fully replace text-based digestion of content. 

In a recent international survey we conducted, voice was listed as the top method expected to be used to access the internet over the next five years, followed closely by a much more predictive experience (i.e. the internet will predict your needs and alert you before you need it). The next big evolution in digital will be driven by human machine interfaces specifically around augmented reality and virtual reality as the hardware, software, and technology that enables those experiences matures and is adopted by more and more people.

Fabio Torlini is managing director, EMEA, WP Engine

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Mike Moore
Deputy Editor, TechRadar Pro

Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK's leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he's not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.