Those of us who have been using the web since the early days remember a different experience to those who grew up in the age of Facebook, Tumblr, Medium, and other publishing platforms that aim to “eat the web”.
Back then, blogging felt truly radical. People from all walks of life felt that the web gave them a voice they’d never had before. They could publish their thoughts and form communities without oversight and without interference from organizations whose interests impose subtle — and not so subtle — constraints on what can be said and what content should look like.
It was an era of bold experimentation, and WordPress, although it came somewhat later to the party than other blogging software, is one of the few remaining publishing platforms that consciously focuses on giving ordinary non-technical users the power to create their own space on the web.
In 2017, WordPress is more popular than ever, but for the niche that it traditionally occupied — bloggers and small publishers — there’s a strong pull towards platforms like Facebook and Medium that make it even easier to publish. They provide the network effects of a large platform with millions of users. And they provide a pleasant — if anodyne — writing experience.
But in exchange, I think we lose a lot.
On a self-hosted WordPress site, the space is ours to publish what we want, to make money from it how we want, and to build a community entirely independent of the auspices of other interests. As we watch a company like Medium, fueled thus far by venture capital, struggle to find a business model to keep it alive, it’s worth pondering what will happen to the fragile communities, relationships, publications, and content that it hosts.
When I look through the front-page of publishing platforms, I’m struck by the homogeneous nature of the content that bubbles to the top. On any given day, it seems much of the content could have been written by the same person, so similar are the sentiments expressed and the topics chosen.
And of course, it all looks the same too. The same design, typography, images that come from the same free image sites.
One of the most exciting things about the new WordPress API will be to see how developers take on the renewed challenge of building new experiences for the front and the back end. In the coming years, WordPress will be transformed, becoming the backbone of an ecosystem of web applications that take full advantage of the capabilities of modern web technologies.
I’m hopeful that in time, small publishers who have chosen to put all their eggs in a publishing platform’s basket will make their way back to platforms like WordPress. Platforms that allow them to build a unique experience to amplify unique voices.
About Graeme Caldwell — Graeme works as an inbound marketer for Nexcess, a leading provider of Magento and WordPress hosting. Follow Nexcess on Twitter at @nexcess, Like them on Facebook and check out their tech/hosting blog, https://blog.nexcess.net/.