My move from Movable Type to WordPress (the software that powers this site, barring the forum) just over a year ago has turned out to be a great choice with hindsight. At the time I liked the look and extensibility options of WordPress and the fact that a vibrant community had built up around it so I switched and I’ve never looked back.
Ever since then I’ve become a bit of a WordPress evangelist to friends and have used it to build a few sites and encouraged other people I know to do the same. I like to keep an eye on the next version as it’s being developed and have a local copy on my computer that I play with. Early through the 2.7 development process it became clear to me that 2.7 was going to be very good. Things like threaded comments, paged comments, sticky posts, auto-updates, bulk editing and above all the revamped administration interface so impressed me that I started using the bleeding edge builds on this site. I’ve been working in the software industry a long time and have learned to steer clear of beta builds of applications I depend upon (particularly Microsoft ones I have to say) – I’ve been burned too many times to count. But with WordPress I felt differently, and it’s all about the people who work on it and the way it’s developed.
Coming from a corporate development background as I do I’d always assumed that popular open source projects would mean a lot of people pulling in different directions and therefore require a lot of management overhead to filter out the noise and move the product onwards. I assumed that outside of the more rigid “need to make money out of this” corporate environment open source projects would tend to bumble along rather than stride along. But watching the WordPress development process has shown me that I was quite wrong and pretty much the opposite is true.
The more people who use a particular piece of software the more they’ll want it to do this little thing that nobody else would use but they absolutely want and will moan and complain if it doesn’t (I get plenty of that with John’s Background Switcher and that’s nowhere near as popular as something like WordPress). Or you get passionate people who love the product but want to pull it in different directions and won’t back down. A handful of these people can result in a lot of bickering and momentum slows. In the corporate world you’re either a slave to these people and have to create some Frankenstein’s monster of a product to please everybody (making compromises) along the way or they can be ignored completely which is easier as the development process isn’t publicly visible like an open source project is.
What I like about WordPress is that there are a bunch of talented people, passionate about what they do working on it. Matt steers the ship and can have the final say on something that needs the final say, anybody can contribute their suggestions, ideas, bug fixes and so forth and rather than having battles as to what direction WordPress goes in, there’s always the option of “if you don’t like it, fork it and go your own way”. This was how WordPress itself started, as a fork of b2. If someone comes up with a great idea that improves WordPress then there’s every chance it’ll make it into the product. Since the type of person who contributes to the development of WordPress will be passionate and care about the product, they want to make it better for everybody. And as the development process is open to all, there’s no excuse to not be connected to its evolution.
So where was I before I went off on a tangent? Oh yes, installing the bleeding edge version of WordPress 2.7 here. I could watch the development of 2.7 unfold in front of my eyes and if I found something wrong I could raise a bug report or even submit a fix (as could anybody else) and knowing the quality, dedication and passion of the people working on it and seeing how great it was going to be, I wanted to start using it as soon as I could. And you know what? WordPress 2.7 is even better than I thought it would be!
99% of the people who use WordPress no doubt have little interest in its development (quite rightly, being users rather than developers) and the first they know about a new version is either when it’s released or when they read posts prior to release discussing new functionality. Some may moan and complain about releases being too frequent or changes that they didn’t think were necessary (like another redesign less than a year after the last one), but when you see the amount of work, care and thought that goes into each release and the reasoning behind all the decisions (such as the latest redesign making it a platform to take WordPress far further than was possible before), it’s clear to me that they’re doing the right thing and WordPress is in good hands. And if you don’t like it, you can always fork it and take it in your own direction. But I wouldn’t recommend it as you’ll find out just how hard it is to create successful software that people will love. Software like WordPress.