Dependent on your requirements, the answer will differ. My answer is written from the perspective of a non-technical founder, who knows just a little bit about code. This post is also written as each year I do a review of everything, and this year I have included an item called “WordPress”.
1. WordPress = Inexpensive Failures and Scalable Success
Over the last two years and nine months, I have been engaging in “customer discovery”. I have tried about a dozen ideas, some incredibly dumb and others are worth pursuing. To try these things out, I am spending money and earning less (as compared to my research and consulting work). In fact, my biggest worry is to proverbially “lose my shirt” and so I need to fail fast, and succeed even quicker. WordPress is perfect for quickly trying out an idea. More importantly, with WordPress, it is just as easy to close down a project that is not working as it is to take the next steps on a project that is working.
To be clear, I spend about the same amount of money on WordPress products and services (hosting, themes, plugins, courses and paying consultants) annually as I do on office rental. There are good reasons to reduce the costs on both items, but the point is that the cost of testing ideas is fairly inexpensive but far from free. (In case you wondering, my office rental costs are not that high).
WordPress supports this sort of experimentation because:
- A WordPress install is a WordPress install. Everything you learn on one project is transferable to another project.
- WordPress has several hundred thousand free and paid themes and plugins. A little bit of searching and you are likely to find an exact match for what you want to do.
- Hosting companies offer installation services which sorts out the most demanding technical. I have hosted with several companies, and all have an easy WordPress installation. The cost have come down significantly on this line item, and compared to my very first WP installation (in 2009) is about 75% less in nominal terms. (This is the cost of installation plus hosting for a year.)
- Integration – WordPress integrates with virtually everything. If you pair up WordPress with freemium services such as MailChimp or Zapier, the costs of running a website are significantly reduced. WordPress integration for many of these services is not a nice-to-have, as WordPress powers just under 20% of the web.
- Easy local installation – I use InstantWP for developing a local installation. It is the easiest option that I know of, and works well. Immediately I can test a plugins, themes, write copy and work through user interface. This is pretty awesome. I have used XAMPP and WAMP before, and they work just fine. I should note that I am not yet proficient enough to export a local site to a live site, but having a space to test various things (without breaking a live site) is very liberating. I prefer doing a local install, even when hosting companies offer a development area as I can work offline.
2.Future Proof = Return On Investment
Reducing the costs of experimentation is very important, but if you are so lucky to need to scale, costs will go up. This is however a problem every entrepreneur would love to have. WordPress however has an approach to backward compatibility that reduces future costs.
WordPress takes backward compatibility seriously. That literally means that WordPress 3 x, is compatible with WordPress 2, and maybe even WordPress 1. It also means that WordPress 4.0 will be compatible with WordPress 3.0. There is thus a strong likelihood that investments in buying themes and plugins will be usable in future.
This approach is different from Drupal. In a discussion between Dries Buytaert (founder of Drupal) and Matt Mullenwag (co-founder of WordPress) is palpable. The video is fairly long, but for Dries their is a willingness to break backward compatibility, to make cutting edge engineering changes. Not so, for Matt sees backward compatibility as a core value for WordPress. (The video is worth watching.)
There is something valuable in the Drupal approach. The opening statement on backward compatibility reads as:
Everyone considering Drupal should understand that Drupal development is always on the cutting edge, and with each major release there will be radical improvements. While the upgrade path will reliably preserve your data, there is no backward compatibility with the previous Drupal code.
The valuable part is that Drupal is able to experiment with new ways of doing things, and I can see the value in separating data from code. WordPress has a different approach, which is discussed under “Sensible Innovation” in this article.
From my perspective, I am not a developer but a bootstrapping entrepreneur. Being on the cutting edge means paying for future upgrades, and I have better use for my limited startup funds than to satisfy the whims of engineering excellence . The excitement for me is not in the code, but in helping my subscribers.
3. One Version at a Time
The latest version of WordPress is the latest version. That is simple to understand. Not so for Joomla and Drupal. I simply do not understand which version to install in either Drupal or Joomla. I will not pretend to understand what exactly which version is being supported in Joomla and Drupal. It takes me too much time to comprehend what is going on, and that makes me nervous about committing to either of Drupal or Joomla. If I cannot understand what is going on, I cannot plan my strategy and invest resources. I worry that I will need to spend more and more just to be up-to-date with the community.
At this point if you are thinking that I have not taken the time to understand release schedules and support commitments in Joomla or Drupal, you would be 100% correct. It is too much work for me to comprehend what is going on, and too much of an investment in terms of time to get started. (And yes, I have used both Drupal and Joomla on websites).
4. I buy benefits not features
Much is made of the fact that WordPress requires only a little time to learn. This is however true for Joomla and Drupal. Do not listen to the chorus that suggests that Drupal or Joomla are too difficult. It is simply not true, and within a day you can understand the basics of both these systems. Simply stated, the ability to learn a system is in my humble opinion not a strategic advantage for a non technical founder, or for any business owner. If you can run a business successfully, running any CMS is a walk in the park.
WordPress in fact has less features than compared to Drupal and Joomla. For instance, implementing access rules (e.g. restricting content to logged in users) is standard in Drupal or Joomla. In another instance, control over content creation and publishing (e.g. Dries can write an article, but Matt can edit, and Ebrahim can read the article) is easier in Drupal . So, Drupal and Joomla offer more out of the box.
So if WordPress has less features and offers no strategic advantage because it is easy to learn, why choose WordPress? The answer is not in features of the system, but in the benefits it provides.
We have already spoken about the affordability and backward compatibility. This translates to three benefits:
- Dream Testing: I have I can sleep easily at night knowing that what works today is likely to work tomorrow.
- Affordable experiments: I can try things out, without busting the bank.
- No (or less) new problems: WordPress will solve problems without creating new ones for me, because it is backward compatible. I have enough problems just trying to run a viable business, and do not want to worry about dramatic changes that are about to hit my CMS.
Now some might quibble whether these are really benefits, or unique to WordPress, but the point is that new features are pointless unless it matches where I am at the moment.
So, I am willing to install a plugin to restrict content on WordPress, and spend money and time because the foundation is strong. Granted it is a bit of a hit and miss in finding a well supported plugin that meets my requirements, but once it is found there is every probability that it will work for at least a year or two. Of course, there are ifs and buts on choosing any solution based on plugins, but it is the best option at the moment.
5. Publish Once or Planning for a Mobile Future
Automattic – the company behind WordPress.com – takes mobile seriously. Currently, the focus is on publishing via mobile devices. However, given the spat of acquisitions by Automattic recently it seems that the focus will be on publishing reading on and publishing to mobile devices. WordPress is thus planning for the future, and innovation is focused on user needs. This is big one for me, as mobile Internet access is mostly via mobile devices in South Africa. In fact, it is pretty much the pattern everywhere, but more so in emerging markets.
The vision of publishing once and having content display across devices and app stores looks most likely to be realised on WordPress. In fact, even if Automattic does not deliver there are a couple of application builders that are looking very promising.
6. Sensible Innovation
There are arguments that WordPress is falling behind competitors like Ghost or Medium. The merits of these arguments are less important, than the view that WordPress is losing its edge. This would be worrying but WordPress has a new approach that has value in ensuring that it continues to innovate.
The approach is to test future features as plugins. This simply means that space for experimentation and continued development of the core is being actively encouraged. In practice, this means that users can test and provide feedback on new features to be added to the core. This is a sensible route.
7. Support = 10x Value
I have licenses for many themes and plugins, and the vast majority of these companies offer exceptional support. In fact, the cost of buying paid WordPress products is minuscule given the levels of support. For every $1-00 I spend, I often receive $10-00 worth of support. There is a reason for this, WordPress users can walk-with-their-feet to other plugins or themes. There are literally a dozen good membership plugins, and about two dozen form builders that do a good job, and a theme for every conceivable taste. Developers and designers are thus required to provide amazing levels of support, just to retain current customers.
I have had bad experiences as well, and this is the subject of the next series of posts. Do follow this blog to get to learn about my WordPress War Stories.
WordPress is an open source project that requires an active community. There are some bloggers who contribute hours answering questions on WordPress.com. There are others that develop many useful free plugins. Add to the mix, that many bloggers make a buck with affiliate links and WP based adverts, and there is an answer for every conceivable question. Often, the “free support” is better than the paid support, and that is a good thing.
So in sum, to answer the question “why WordPress?”
- Affordable search for business model that works,
- Future proof and as such provides a return on investment,
- Preparations under way for a better mobile experience;
- There is just one latest version of WordPress
- Support is largely excellent;
- Innovation is happening in a sensible way.
- I trust WordPress to provide me with a platform on which to build a business.
Drupal and Joomla solve problems for different users, and are working hard on building their systems. I wish them all the luck in the world in doing that, even if these systems are not build for me. The best option would be to have three open source content management systems that are more equal, but I recognise that I have my own particular set of needs.