General History Of WordPress


In this lesson, you will learn the story of how WordPress began as simple blogging software and then developed into the content Management System that it is today.


After completing this lesson, you will be able to:
* List and describe 6 Major Milestones of WordPress, including:
* Pre-History of WordPress.
* The conception of, and original contributors to, WordPress
* The introduction of Hooks, Plugins, and Themes to WordPress.
* The founding of Automattic.
* The introduction of the modern dashboard.
* The evolution of becoming a CMS.

Prerequisite Skills

Participants will get the most from this lesson if they have familiarity with:

  • Basic understanding of blogging.
  • Basic knowledge of the internet.
  • Basic knowledge of using a personal computer.

Readiness Questions

  • Have you ever written a blog post?
  • Have you ever worked with WordPress?
  • Have you ever wanted to build your own website?

Materials Needed

  • Slides (included in this repo)

Notes for the Instructor

  • Facilitation Directives:

    Facilitator – action items, such as navigating in the slide presentation, are presented as a block-quote with the bold label.

  • Optional talking points:

    Facilitation Talking Point – These aren’t crucial to the objectives of the course, but are fun or interesting anecdotes from Milestones: The Story of WordPress These will be italic block-quotes. These points are often open to interpretation, and depending on your expertise in the subject matter, are excellent opportunities to open the floor for questions or discussion, depending on audience size.

Have You Thought About…?

  • There can be some misunderstanding/misinformation, or even disagreement about the history of WordPress. How will you handle different opinions?

Lesson Overview

  • This course is presented as a Lecture Discussion.
  • Bullet points are meant to be a guideline, not a script.
  • Facilitators should read Milestones: The Story of WordPress to build expertise before facilitating the discussion.


Exercise name

  • None


Who were the original founders of WordPress?

  1. Donncha O’Caiomh
  2. Mike Little
  3. Matt Mullenweg
  4. Michel Valdrighi

Answer: 2. Mike Little and 3. Matt Mullenweg

In what year was WordPress officially launched? 

  1. 2001
  2. 2002
  3. 2003
  4. 2004

Answer: 3. 2003

What does the abbreviation “CMS” stand for?

  1. Content Migration System
  2. Content Management System
  3. Context Management System
  4. Content Management Structure

Answer: 2. Content Management System

What is the name of the company that owns the WordPress trademark?

  1. Automatic
  2. Automattic
  3. The Open Source Project
  4. The WordPress Foundation

Answer: 4. The WordPress Foundation

Additional Resources

  1. Milestones: The Story of WordPress book
  2. History

Pre-History of WordPress

Facilitator – Show Slide 1 – Title Slide


Facilitator – Introduce yourself and provide a short background of your expertise to establish your credibility.

Lesson Objectives Overview

Facilitator – Proceed to Slide 2 – Objectives

In today’s talk, you’re going to learn about how WordPress was born, and grew into the project we know and love today.
* The Origins of WordPress, before it became known as WordPress.
* The conception of, and original authors of WordPress.
* The introduction of Hooks, Plugins, and Themes – which gave WordPress the capability to adapt to your needs.
* The founding of Automattic, which gave WordPress the financial underpinnings to grow its developer base.
* The introduction of the modern Dashboard, which is now your window to writing on the internet.
* The evolution to a true Content Management System, or CMS.

Late 2000 – Pre-WordPress – B2 Café log (also referred to as b2)

Facilitator – Proceed to Slide 3

  • The concept of an online diary, known as a “Weblog,” started as early as the 90’s.

    Facilitation Talking Point – The phrase “Weblog” was jokingly pronounced “We Blog,” which simultaneously shortened the term to “Blog,” and made it into a verb.

  • At that time, skills in Web Programming were needed to publish their content to the Web.
  • Here you can see the post that started it all, when French Blogger Michel Valdrighi announced he was working on a “PHP+MySQL alternative to Blogger and Grey Matter.”

    Facilitation Talking Point – Valdrighi named his new blogging software “b2 Café Log”, for the popular rock song “Song 2” by Blur. Woo-hoo!

Facilitator – Proceed to the next element in the slide to display the caption.

  • Michel announced that features included in his new software would include many of the ones you use in WordPress now, including:
    • Built-in comment system.
    • Good user management.
    • User-avatars.
    • Multiple ways of archiving.
  • Notably, the software could be installed on a hosting platform by making small edits to a config file, and then running an installation script; very similar to the famous “5-Minute Install.”
    > Facilitation Talking Point – Years later, Valdrighi was quoted regarding the idiosyncrasies of WordPress’s Code, saying, “When you look at WordPress’s code and think ‘Wow, that is weird; why did they do that this way?’ Well, often that was because they just kept doing things the way they were done in b2, and I sucked at PHP.”
  • Most notably of all, Valdrighi made the decision to license b2 under the GNU Public License, which meant that it could be modified by anyone.


  • b2 grew in popularity, but its developer, Michel Valdrighi, stopped maintaining the project or responding to communications.


Facilitator – Proceed to slide 4 – The Blogging Software Dilemma

  • On January 24, 2003, Matt Mullenweg writes a blog post entitled “The Blogging Software Dilemma.”
    • In it, he laments that Valdrighi has been missing from the development community, and worries about his safety.
    • Mullenweg speculates about the future, concerned about, among other things:
    • Forward-compatibility.
    • Features and flexibility.
    • Licensing he can politically support.
    • Ease of installation.

Facilitator – Proceed to the next element in the slide, revealing the caption.

  • Mullenweg proposes a fork of b2, since it is licensed under the GPL and is Free Software.
    • The following day, Mullenweg received a comment from Mike Little, a fellow blogger from Stockport, England.
  • Little indicated that if Mullenweg was serious about his intent to fork b2, he would be willing to contribute.
  • Mullenweg and Little submit over 100 commits between April 1 and May 27, 2003.

Whoa. WordPress

Facilitator Talking Point – Matt Mullenweg is known for creating WordPress, but his love of Jazz and Haiku Poetry still survive into the modern-day code. Major releases of WordPress are still nicknamed after Jazz musicians, and the phrase, “Code is Poetry” remains the mantra for WordPress Developers.

Facilitator – Proceed to Slide 5, and proceed slowly to reveal each line of the first WordPress History Haiku.

  • On May 22, 2003, Mullenweg updated his blog with a post titled, “Whoa. WordPress.” In it he says that “WordPress [will be released] soon, very soon.”

Facilitator – Proceed to Slide 6

  • Five days later, May 27, WordPress 0.7 is released. It features a 300% performance boost over b2.
  • Two days after that, Donncha O’Caiomh agrees to work together with Mullenweg and Little to merge his fork, b2++, with WordPress.
    • This becomes known as WPMU.

Facilitator – Proceed to show the caption

  • The Community begins to form, as communication channels are set up in the form of:
    • IRC Chat.
    • WP-docs.
    • The WordPress Wiki.
  • Already, however, factions begin to form between developers and the users who utilize the software without development knowledge.

Facilitator – Proceed to show the sub-caption


  • In January 2004, WordPress 1.0 “Davis” is launched, named after famed Jazz Trumpeter Miles Davis.
  • Later that year, the popular blogging software Movable Type changes its License and Pricing structure, to the dismay of thousands of Bloggers who had relied on its free (as in beer) model.
    • As a result, WordPress downloads more than double and grows from 8,670 active installations in April 2004 to 19,400 in May.

Facilitator – Proceed to slide 7 – Mingus

  • WordPress “Mingus” launches with numerous improvements, including:
    • Hooks and Filters are introduced, providing the extensible framework for Plugins and Themes.
    • Language internationalization is introduced, contributing to World-Wide adoption.

Facilitator – Proceed to show the sub-caption

  • A plugin called “Hello Dolly” is now included in core downloads.
    • A tribute to Louis Armstrong, but also a demonstration of the power to use hooks and filters to modify WordPress.
  • Ryan Boren begins to contribute to the project, not only with Code, but with development strategy.

    Facilitator Talking Points – It’s difficult to overstate how important these changes to WordPress are in its history. Hooks and Filters formed the basis of the WordPress API, inviting developers to extend WordPress in ways that the authors could scarcely imagine; and built-in internationalization attracted those developers from every corner of the World. The core values of devotion to Free Open Source Software (FOSS), compatibility, accessibility, and standards remain, to this day, the driving principles of the project.

  • In late December 2004, Mullenweg is stuck in San Francisco, California, over the Christmas Holiday.
  • During this downtime, he writes the original source for bbPress.


Facilitator Proceed to slide 8 – Strayhorn

  • In February 2005, another leap for WordPress occurred with the release of 1.5 “Strayhorn.”

Facilitator Proceed to show the caption.

  • Strayhorn introduced the capability for users to install Themes, and now comes bundled with the default theme “Kubrick.”
    • By the next month, downloads of WordPress tripled to over 100,000.
    • At the “100 K Party,” Mullenweg asks Jonas Luster to join the development team. He becomes the first paid employee.

Facilitator – Proceed to Slide 9, and proceed slowly to reveal each line of the second WordPress History Haiku.

Facilitator – Proceed to Slide 10- Growing Pains

  • Like many Open Source Projects, WordPress is still a “hobby” for its developers.

Facilitator Proceed to show the first bullet on the slide.

  • Knowing that the project cannot survive as a side-project, Mullenweg begins to think about ways to make a living through WordPress.

Facilitator – Proceed to show the second bullet on the slide.

  • begins hosting articles designed to boost the SEO for various organizations.

Facilitator – Proceed to show the third bullet on the slide.

  • The community pushed back against turning into a “link farm,” and took it as a sign that the monetization of WordPress was not going to be done in an ethical way.
    • As the community revolts, it also learns that the news has interrupted Matt’s first vacation since starting the project. Most reserve judgment until he’s had a chance to respond.

Facilitator Talking Point – Free (as in Freedom) vs Free (as in Beer) is one of the constant threads of discussion throughout the history of Open Source Software. Mullenweg responded to criticism of this move with transparency and honesty. He posted to the community that his options to fund the project, which so far had been from his own pocket, were limited. He’d made the decision to turn down Venture Capital, and turned down offers to buy the software. He was also opposed to ruining the user experience by adding a call for donations into the dashboard. What are the audience’s thoughts on the issue?

  • Responding to the criticism, Matt and Donncha begin rapidly developing with WPMU, opening it as an invitation-only blog hosting platform.

Facilitator – Proceed to show the fourth bullet on the slide.

  • Mullenweg attends a conference on Spam beyond the inbox, which shapes his thinking as he designs Akismet.
    • He releases the plugin free of cost to non-commercial blogs and asks that commercial sites pay to license it.

Facilitator – Proceed to show the fifth bullet point on the slide.

  • The release of Akismet coincides with the establishment of Automattic, and more developers are hired under the company.

Facilitator – Proceed to show the final bullet point on the slide.

  • As a more clear path toward self-sufficiency is determined, the separation of from Automattic is established.
    • Mullenweg commits to keeping the project both Free and free of cost.

Facilitator – Proceed to show slide 11, and proceed slowly to reveal each line of the third WordPress History Haiku

Facilitator Talking Point – More philosophical and ethical debates took place during this era of WordPress’ evolution. Everything from the Support Forums to Development strategy to inline documentation was a hot-button issue. One of the most famous examples was the ‘Capital_P_Dangit’ issue, in which the code automatically changed the ‘p’ in WordPress to a capital letter. It may seem like a trivial change, but the community responded with ethical arguments that changing a user’s speech amounted to a crime against freedom.

  • During the next two years, WordPress struggles and grows into maturity.
    • Matt introduces WordCamps, where the community can come together face-to-face.
    • The plugin directory is established.
    • The developers establish a release schedule and sane versioning numbers.
    • User experience data is gathered, sometimes from negative feedback to new features and interfaces.
    • The taxonomies of Tags and Categories are introduced.
    • Theme developers begin monetizing their work via links back to their own websites.
    • A new admin interface is introduced but garners negative feedback from the community.

Facilitator – Proceed to Slide 12 – Coltrane


  • Huge improvements, including the widget system and the short code API are introduced.
  • Several projects try and fail, to improve the dashboard user experience.

Facilitator – Proceed to reveal the caption.

  • The modern dashboard is introduced in 2.7 Coltrane.
  • After several attempts to redesign the dashboard, Crazyhorse is based on extensive user testing.
  • In July 2008, the WordPress theme directory is launched.
  • In December, the WordPress Theme directory clarifies its acceptance procedure, specifying that only GPL-Licensed themes will be allowed.


Facilitator – Proceed to Slide 13 – Monk

  • In June 2010, WordPress 3.0 “Monk” was released, with several new features including:
    • Merging with WPMU, now known as Multisite.
    • The TwentyTen Theme.

Facilitator – Proceed to show the caption

  • It also now includes Navigation Menus, which provide the tools to deliver a real Content Management System, and brings WordPress into its modern form.

Facilitator – Proceed to Slide 14, and proceed slowly to reveal each line of the final WordPress History Haiku


It has taken WordPress the better part of a decade to get from its humble beginnings of just an idea (used by just a few), to where it is today as a CMS that powers nearly 1/4 of all websites on the internet.  Many people have worked on the WordPress project and the project continues to evolve.  It is going to be interesting to see what is in store for WordPress in the years to come.

Lesson Wrap Up

Follow with the Exercises and Assessment outlined above.