If you're just starting out however, terms like ‘open source' and ‘content management system' probably won't mean much to you. So, here's a much more beginner-friendly run through of what WordPress really is — one that will hopefully make a lot more sense.
I. What is a ‘Content Management System'?As we mentioned earlier, WordPress is a content management system (or CMS, for short). But to explain what this really means, we first need to talk about what websites really are and how they work. When you type the address of a website (for example, sabmadigital.com) into a web browser (such as Internet Explorer, Chrome, or Safari), your computer connects (via the Internet) to another computer (called a server) and asks to see the code stored on that computer at the location (i.e., the web address) you specified. The browser then loads this code and shows you the corresponding web page that the code was created to display. The important thing is to know how this code was stored at a specific location on the server: someone – or something – put it there. This can be done in one of two ways: a) someone wrote the code by hand and uploaded it to the server manually, or b) it was done using a content management system (CMS). A CMS, you see, is software that allows someone to quickly and easily manage all the different code on a server that goes together to display web pages – all through a user-friendly, easy-to-understand interface that creates and edits the code on their behalf. As a CMS, WordPress writes – and manages – all that complicated code for you, allowing you to publish the content you want without having to worry about what's going on in the background (i.e. on the server). So WordPress is an application (i.e. software) that allows ordinary people to create, modify and manage their own websites via an easy to use (some would even say intuitive) interface.
II. The Power of WordPressThe goal of WordPress is to enable people, no matter where or who they are, to publish content online in any form they choose. Want a simple website that displays a collection of blog posts next to a sidebar with an author's biography and a few images from your Instagram feed? No problem! Or maybe you need a more complicated, state-of-the-art eCommerce store that sells homemade handbags with a payment solution that allows people to buy your products from anywhere in the world? No problem! Or maybe you're after a website for a service-oriented company with a way for customers to make restaurant or hotel reservations online. No problem here either! With WordPress you can create almost any kind of website you like! And best of all, WordPress gives you the opportunity to do all this yourself: without having to hire a professional – and possibly very expensive – web designer.
III. WordPress is everywhereBelieve it or not, you have almost certainly encountered the power of WordPress many times before. How can we be so sure? Because WordPress is currently used to create and manage more than 25% of all websites. Not only does WordPress now account for one in four websites, it is also used by many well-known brands such as The New York Times, Forbes, UPS, eBay, Sony – and many, many others. WordPress is not only something for DIYers – quite the opposite. Websites powered by WordPress cover a range of sizes, from personal blogs receiving only a few hundred visitors a week to multinational companies with weekly traffic in the tens of millions.
IV. Ease of use and expandabilityThe popularity of WordPress is partly due to how easy it is to use – it allows people in everyday life to create their own websites. Once it's installed (which in itself is easy to do), you'll find a dashboard that's not only beautifully designed, but also easy to use. The real strength of WordPress, however, is not in its usability – yes, the real strength is not in that at all. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the real strength of WordPress lies in its incredible extensibility. You see, WordPress is not something that is limited in its way: It is a system built to add all kinds of additional features to it via themes and plugins.
V. Themes and PluginsAs a CMS, WordPress allows you to add or change the content of your website at any time – but without detailed instructions on how to arrange this content on a web page, it cannot be displayed. A WordPress theme is therefore this completely necessary set of instructions. When you install WordPress, it comes with a default theme – a very simple set of instructions for viewing your content that lets you instantly view a version of your website. But that's just the beginning, because by separating your site's content from the viewing instructions (i.e., the specific theme you use), WordPress says it doesn't care how you view the content you manage with it. As long as your theme meets a number of conditions, you can use any theme you like. Of course, you could create your own theme (or hire a web design agency to do it for you), but one of the true beauties of WordPress is that there are already tens of thousands of themes to choose from. Topics are all about the presentation of content, but what if you want more features than just those that WordPress comes with? Whether you're looking for a fancy picture slider, a contact form or maybe something more complicated like an eCommerce shopping cart, WordPress opens the door for you via plugins. Plugins are a set of instructions that define additional features and functions. They are essentially code files that can be uploaded to the server via the WordPress dashboard, but they can be used like themes, so WordPress can do just about anything. And as with themes, thousands of them are already available. The possibilities are endless – limited only by what others have already created (and made available for use). (read more about plugins – and where you can get new ones)
VI. FlexibilityWhen WordPress was launched in 2003, it was a simple matter – almost exclusively focused on a single type of website: Blogs (if you are interested in the history of WordPress, here is a short introduction). Everything has to start somewhere, but it didn't take long for its horizon to expand. Nowadays WordPress is far from being just a blogging platform – in combination with the additional power of plugins it is indeed an extremely flexible piece of software capable of running almost any type of website. Because it is so easy to extend, many would argue that it has become one of the most flexible content management systems ever created.
VII. More than just a piece of softwareThe widespread use of WordPress has resulted in a huge user base, which in turn has led to a wealth of WordPress-oriented developers who want to make a name for themselves (and sometimes make money) by creating all kinds of themes and plugins. Furthermore, this thriving community is very welcoming and almost always happy to help. All over the world (did we mention that WordPress is available in more than 50 different languages?) there are user groups, Facebook groups, forums, meetings and more than 100 WordPress-oriented conferences called “WordCamps” – not to mention a large number of WordPress-oriented blogs. All this means that support is easy to get, which is a real plus for new users.
IX. WordPress is ‘Open Source'.Meanwhile, you may be wondering who makes WordPress. Is WordPress a company? To explain this, we have to cover the term ‘Open Source'. When it comes to software, open source refers to a type of license where the copyright holder grants the rights to study, modify and distribute the software to anyone for any purpose (read more on Wikipedia). This means that WordPress doesn't really “belong” to anyone – instead it is developed and maintained by a number of volunteers, many of whom are sponsored by companies interested in seeing WordPress grow. In addition, due to its open source nature, thousands of people contribute to WordPress every day in a variety of ways. The fact that open source and so many people are working to make it better not only increases the WordPress experience for people in all areas, but also makes it a high quality piece of software. Here are some of the benefits that come from such a strong community:
- There are thousands (if not more) of free themes that anyone can choose from.
- There are tens of thousands of free plugins.
- There are an ever-growing number of high-quality premium themes and plug-ins with all kinds of features and great support.
- There are secure, stable and frequent new developments and releases.
- There is a very active community forum.
- WordPress is available in all major languages.