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WordPress is a widely used open source blogging tool and content management system. It is used both for personal blogs and for professional websites. Because the software is free and open source, licensed under the Gnu Public License it is available to a wide range of developers and casual users. According to WordPress, the system “powers 17% of the web," accounting for more than 70 million sites.
In 2003, Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little created WordPress as an extension of b2/cafelog, an earlier piece of publishing software. Since then it has undergone numerous revisions, as the developers added new features and plugins. Version 3.7 is the current version, released in 2013. Mullenweg now runs Automattic, the company that oversees the development and maintenance of WordPress. There are now over 72 million WordPress sites, with 100,000 new ones being created every day. In November of 2006, WordPress-hosted blogs published about 1.5 million posts a month. In September 2013 they published about 35 million posts every month. Total page views on blogs eclipsed 13.3 billion in September 2013. The success of WordPress is not limited to blogs, however, as major corporations such as General Motors and UPS use it for their blogs, while major companies such as Forbes and Izod rely on WordPress software to run their sites.
As an open source content management system, WordPress is available for download through wordpress.org. In order to host content through WordPress in this way, users must have their own servers. For bloggers looking to publish through WordPress, however, WordPress.com offers both free and paid blogging services. Free blogs have only limited features, and are hosted through a WordPress domain name (i.e. exampleblog.wordpress.com, rather than simply exampleblog.com). A premium blog costs $99 per year, and includes a domain name, extra storage space, no unrequested advertising, custom designs, and video streaming capability, which is referred to as VideoPress. Domain names ending with .com are available without premium service for $18 a year.
In addition to offering a blogging service, wordpress.com also functions as a blogging community. Bloggers can connect with others through their “Reader,” and can subscribe to and comment upon other blogs. New blog posts in specific categories are funneled through a “Freshly Pressed” heading, allowing readers to see new posts, which are sorted by category. Following is not a mutual activity, so it is therefore more akin to Twitter in community structure than to Facebook. Bloggers with a large number of subscribers are not required to – and often do not – follow many of their followers.
WordPress blogging bears many similarities to Twitter, particularly in terms of audience. While the what Nancy Baym refers to as the “reach” of blogs is theoretically unlimited, that is no guarantee that a wide audience will read any given post. Instead, readership increases by “tagging” as well as categorizing posts to make them easier to find, but not every post makes its way to the “Freshly Pressed” page. As with Twitter, readership is largely dependent upon number of followers. Because of this, engagement in the community to increase connections is considered to be beneficial to establishing a readership base, as commenting on posts and replying to comments may encourage reciprocal following between like-minded people. Rules of etiquette around following are not always so straightforward, as WordPress’ forums will attest.
Blogging through WordPress offers a wide range of “widgets,” which are features that can encourage interactivity and connectivity by incorporating things like: contact information, categories, site stats, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter into the site design. These allow connections between bloggers and other media sites, encouraging readers to follow a blogger’s activity across many platform. This type of broad-spectrum self-promotion is largely indicative of the broader purpose of blogging, a point wholly inseperable from any discussion of the use of WordPress. Blogging can be a sort of public diary, as with Twitter, but it is also an important promotional tool. In many fields, it is recommended to maintain a blog. People with as different agendas as aspiring authors and businesspeople can benefit from the promotional and connective qualities of blogging. WordPress offers tools to help its users maximize the benefits of blogging.
Because all blog content is user-generated, WordPress blogs can cover nearly any subject. Tags in the Freshly Pressed Section can be as diverse and seemingly random as “Gaming,” “Insomnia,” “Canada,” and “Theology.” However broad its contents might be, that is no guarantee of reliability. WordPress blogs do not require citations, and often express nothing more than opinions or anecdotes. Again, there is a question of purpose, as each blogger will have a distinctive reason for posting each update. As a source of information, WordPress should be approached with relative caution, much like any non-scholarly site. This is not to say that there are not blog posts with valuable information, but due to their nature as a repository for reflection rather than outright “fact,” they may serve as more of a gauge of a subject’s cultural importance than anything else.
Blog content is highly replicable, because past blog entries stay in archived pages indefinitely. The likelihood of a reader finding an older post, however, goes down as newer posts push older posts off of a blog's front page. Therefore, though Nancy Baym might describe blogs as permanent, the window of time during which the post is likely to be read gives it an ephemeral feel. Due to their permanence, blogs are also highly replicable and easily copied.
Communication through WordPress blogs is for the most part asynchronous, as commenting takes a back seat to personal blogging. While comments can pass back and forth between participants, comment threads usually do not progress in “real-time.” Despite asynchronicity, blogs are an example of a participatory culture, where users are mostly both reading and writing, but they seem to exhibit less of a conversational culture than other sites. Bloggers may comment on other blogs, but the most important piece is one’s own posts. Blogging implicitly places an emphasis on writing over reading, creating a community that at times is more concerned about production of content than consumption of that content.
WordPress offers the ability for bloggers to create content and manage it easily. Its tools allows for connections with a wider blogging community, as well as with other social media. Free access and a relatively intuitive interface has contributed to the fact that WordPress is used for approximately 43% of blogs, the largest share for any single service.
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