Alex Williams  —

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In 2019 WordPress celebrated its 16th birthday. Looking at WordPress statistics then and now, one can’t help but be amazed.

In that time, WordPress has gone from a small obscure platform to power over 75 million websites, and plenty has changed since its inception. The last few years, in particular, have seen a faster rate of change than most.

As the year comes to a close, let’s look at some of the stats, features, and changes that defined where the WordPress platform is at the turn of the decade and into 2020.

You Can’t Have the “The Internet” Without WordPress


WordPress defines the modern internet; consistently being the most popular platform for new sites and showing no indication of slowing its constant growth. In sheer numbers alone, WordPress dominates its competitors, user numbers alone being many times greater than its nearest competition.

  • Those 75 million sites I mentioned constitute a colossal 32% of all websites on the internet
  • This is a 4% increase from 2018
  • Around 22 percent of New US domains are created on WordPress
  • It only takes 6 months for another million WordPress domains to join the roster
  • WordPress is 10 times as popular as its nearest competitor, Joomla
  • It equals Facebook in numbers of monthly unique visitors
  • Search for ‘WordPress’ in google, and you’ll be delivered a colossal 2 billion results.
  • When looking at content management system’s (CMS’S) in isolation, WordPress accounts for over half the entire market share (some estimates put it as high as 60%)
  • Though the exact number varies, the number of new daily websites created is always in the tens of thousands.
  • The majority of WordPress sites are business websites, ranging from eCommerce to company portfolios
  • In 2016, over 100 billion words were published on WordPress!
  • Each month, around 77 million new comments are posted.

The History of WordPress


First created in 2003 to replace the recently discontinued b2/cafelog blog software, founders Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little quickly realised that a simple copy wouldn’t do.

With a rapid uptake of the new software by thousands of internet users, the pair set about the ambitious task of creating a CMS suitable for the modern internet. The first 1.0 ‘Davis’ Version was published in 2004, and this was the first WordPress version we might vaguely recognise as something akin to its modern form; from here, the software has done nothing but improved.

  • B2/Cafelog was launched in 2001, and abandoned in 2002. Many consider this the primogeniture of WordPress, sometimes calling it WordPress version 0.5.
  • The first community plugins were created in 2004
  • The Spam filter plugin Aksiment was the first plugins created by the founders themselves, back in 2005
  • In 2005 the running company Automattic received 1.1 million in a funding drive, in their next drive 3 years later, they raised 30 million.
  • In 2005 they hired the former CEO’s of Oddpost and Yahoo! as CEO’s of Automattic, bringing to total employee number up to 5.
  • It wasn’t until 2008 that opensource custom themes were included with the theme’s directory
  • In 2011 they hosted just over 10% of the worlds websites with 50 million blogs. Three years later, it was 22%.
  • WordPress became the world fastest growing site in 2011, and from then on has continued to hold that title
  • In 2013, they reached their first billion in valuation, and still only employed 253 people!
  • 2013 was the year WordPress accrued the majority of the CMS market
  • By WordPress 4.1, the platform already had nearly 400,000 lines of code
  • The current 5.2 version has been downloaded 32 million times, although this represents less than a quarter of the full number of users

Putting Users First


WordPress from its inception has been user-centric, focused on delivering the best platform it can for as little cost as possible, and their commitment has not waned. The regular updates constantly hone every aspect of the website, from adding more languages to its polyglot repertoire to improving troubleshooting auto-feedbacks.

  • WordPress has over 160 languages available, only 65 are considered fully operational, but the number is constantly growing.
  • 2018 was the first year that non-English downloads surpassed English downloads in number, although 71% of sites on the platform are in English
  • There are 54,257 free plugins on the WordPress directory, ranging from shopping software to SEO
  • There are almost 6,000 free themes to customise your website with
  • WordPress deal with over 20,000 support requests every month
  • Despite numerous updates, WordPress can still be installed in under 5 minutes
  • Trivia: the two founders of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little, are huge fans of Jazz, and so every major update is named after one of their favourite jazz musicians.

The Most Popular CMS by Market Share


WordPress Certainly achieves the title of the peoples' CMS, being the most accessible platform available whilst still being totally free. That being said, it doesn’t mean that those at the top, from huge companies to national governments, don’t find WordPress useful either.

  • 15% of the world’s top websites use WordPress
  • Despite being statistically least popular with news sites, WordPress is still host to the likes of The New York post, CNN, Forbes magazine and BBC America.
  • WordPress hosts the official sites of huge companies like Coca-Cola and PlayStation
  • Many major government institutions around the world use WordPress, including the official Swedish gov website, and the official Whitehouse site.
  • The number of big names on the platform is huge, ranging from bands like the beetles to fashion sites like Vogue

The Company Behind WordPress: Automattic


Automattic is the company that runs the day to day needs of WordPress. Named in honour of its founder Matt Mullenweg, this company has an interesting decentralised structure.

It’s so decentralised in fact, that they eventually abandoned their San Francisco office after staff got so accustomed to remote work than no one showed up anymore. This has only led to further success for the company, and their remote style allows people from dozens of differing countries to all pool a wide variety of knowledge.

  • Despite the huge number of hosted sites, Automattic only employees 940 people
  • In terms of collective hours put into building WordPress, its estimates to have taken 151 years to complete
  • Automattic is currently valued at $3 billion, an almost 3-fold increase from its 2014 valuation of $1.16 billion.
  • Automattic helped build many of the major WordPress plugins, such as WooCommerce, Jetpack, Simplenote, and Gravatar.
  • Despite the hundreds of people-years put into building WordPress, a big proportion of the modern WordPress code comes from unpaid contributors, creating an even more communalistic, decentralised platform structure
  • Automattic built a plugin called ‘Happy Tools’ to help co-ordinate their global remote workforce, and the software is now freely available to help other companies in similar situations

Collaboration and Community


WordPress has a thriving global community that collaborate regularly with other users and developers. This has culminated in huge regular events called WordCamp’s, these take place all over the world with a diverse array of speakers and workshops, all seeking to further develop the knowledge of the community.

  • Since starting in 2006, almost 1,000 wordcamps have taken place.
  • 65 countries over 6 continents so far have hosted WordCamps
  • WordCamp are all organized, run, and hosted by volunteers, any ticket fee’s going to venues and equipment costs
  • In the 2017 Europe event, almost 2,000 people attended, making it the largest WordCamp to date
  • All the events are live streamed and archived, so it’s possible to watch them at any time and learn their insight from the comfort of your own home
  • Many thousands of smaller WordPress café-workshops and events also take place every month all over the world, the official site is called Meetup.com, and has roughly 740 associated groups and nearly 400,000 members.
  • WordPress runs a charitable foundation that earned $4.3 million dollars in 2019, all of it going towards charitable causes and keeping the platform free and open-source
  • Many Wordpress users earn money on the platform, but a full 25% of users make their entire living on the platform.
  • WordPress developers make on average $63,000 anually
  • WordPress is not controlled by a for profit company, but its founders set up the WordPress foundation to maintain the open source nature of the platform indefinitely
  • Trivia: Wordpress has a mascot called Wapuu, who first appeared in the 2009 at the Tokyo WordCamp

Security and Ethics


WordPress takes great steps in looking after the security of its users, and even stands up to governments when it believes they are overstepping their ethical boundaries. That said, being the biggest makes them a big target, and it’s still an uphill battle.

  • WordPress allows only 35% of government information requests, considering the other 65% to be violating privacy concerns.
  • WordPress has a good track record with copyright claims, catching the 60% that are legitimate and rejecting the other 40% that were filed, but deemed too dubious to enforce.
  • Owing to its owning of 50-60% of the CMS market, it also attracts 80% of the hacks
  • WordPress has undergone 98 updates since its inception
  • Nearly every WordPress update improves security, and 40% of hacks are directly linked to using outdated software.
  • Only 22% of websites on WordPress are using up to date versions of the software
  • Over half the security risks are attributed to plugins rather than the core system
  • The Wordfence plugin stopped a colossal 3,389,940,569 attacks in the last 30 days alone and blacklisted 68,398 malicious IP addresses in the same period. Check their site, where they show a livefeed of every attack taking place!
  • By far the biggest breach on a WordPress platform was the Panama papers hack in 2016, leaking 2.6 TB of Data. Like so many other compromised websites, they were using outdated WordPress versions at the time
  • Plugins are often responsible for breaches, such as the iThemes data leak, a result of the fact the plugins servers stored their user passwords in a plaintext with no form of encryption or adequate security.
  • TimThumb, Gravity Forms, and Revslider make up the top three most hacked plugins
  • Trivia: a WordPress platform was once used to guide missiles!

Plugins


WordPress has a plethora of plugins for every need and whim, making the platform suitable for an endless variety of uses. Each year the number of plugins available increases, their variety widens, and the established one improve upon themselves.

  • There are nearly 50,000 plugins available, though only a select few dominate the downloads
  • In terms of individual downloads, theres been somewhere in the region of 1.5 billion since WordPress’ inception!
  • It’s a few hundred plugins that make up the majority of downloads, with only 30 having over 100,000 downloads. Ones like Jetpack having 2 million downloads in a single year.
  • Nearly 80% are functionality focused, such as calendars, sliders and forms
  • CodeCanyon sells many of the most popular premium plugins, being host to over 6,000 of them
  • The Woocommerce plugins powers 9% of all online stores, constituting 70 million online shops and nearly a quarter of the top 1 million eCommerce sites.
  • The most popular paid for plugin is a cosmetic designer system called Visual Composer, with almost 2,500 downloads per week.
  • Yoast SEO is the most Popular SEO tool, with 176 million downloads.
  • Jetpack is a generic improvement plugin developed by Automattic, and has almost 120 million downloads to date
  • Used to easily create effective contact forms, Contact Form 7 has over 112 million downloads. Its integrated partner plugins Akismet (a spam comment blocked) has over 133 million downloads itself.
  • The Envanto market/Theme forest paid theme plugin, has sold over one million dollars’ worth of themes to date, and a new one is purchased every 5 seconds.
  • The most popular paid theme of all time is Avada, accumulating 12 million in sales.

Conclusion


WordPress has grown and changed significantly since its inception, but the sleek, straightforward and inherently collaborative construction meant it was always primed for a mass appeal.

Rather than falling prey to its own success, the website leaned into what made it unique and continued to do so, which is why the platform is still growing and thriving to this day.


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