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Happy Anniversary WordPress: The Beginnings

On August 16, 2005, became blog ID number 72 on the brand new .

The first post was appropriately titled “Lorelle on WordPress” to introduce the site.

Looking back, it’s amazing how true to form that I’ve kept the mission of this site all these years later as proposed in the first published paragraph.

Lorelle on WordPress will be a look at how to use WordPress and make it work FOR you, not against you. There is a lot you can do with a WordPress site and it can be simple or challenging, depending upon how much time, effort, and customization you want to put into it.

This was not my first WordPress blog nor post. As I and others celebrate the ten year anniversary of the founding of , this is one of many articles I’ll write about the history of WordPress, including celebrating my own involvement and history with the free and open source web publishing platform. I urge you to put together your own tribute to WordPress on this year-long birthday celebration, telling your story of how you and WordPress met.

Last year I put together “The History of WordPress” on my teaching blog to help students in the college courses on WordPress I’m teaching learn about the humble beginnings of one of the most powerful publishing platforms in the world. Today, I want to share my own humble beginnings with WordPress, and how WordPress has literally saved my life and sanity over the past ten years.

The Start of a Great Relationship

In 2003, I was coming to the end of a multi-year search to find a better way to publish my site, , one of the oldest websites in the world with over 2,000 articles at the time. A static site, I hand coded every page. If I wanted to make a change, I had to do a search and replace across every page on my computer and upload all of the files back to the server. It was painful and exceptionally frustrating.

I’d tried every system out there. All were cumbersome, designed for web development, programming, and design, not publishing. Once the design was in place, I wanted to focus on continuing to publish content, the stories of our travels, technical articles on web development, design, travel, and nature and travel photography, as well as advice on the road. I didn’t want to jump through five to ten hoops to just publish one article. I was doing that already with the static web pages.

By summer of 2003 the name “WordPress” kept cropping into online conversations, search results, and reviews of publishing platforms and CMS systems. It was described as “that blogging platform.” In my mind I was publishing, not blogging. Online journaling was the closest I would come to the word blogging.

Running out of options and frustrated with everything else, I installed WordPress on a lark in August 2003. From the first moment I entered the WordPress Administration Panels, as they are now known, it was Zen-like, peaceful, calming, and ready for me.

After years of hand-coding and dealing with a variety of Content Management Systems that required a rocket science degree to navigate, the clean, blank slate of WordPress greeted me like a crisp white piece of onion-skin paper in a typewriter, an old friend waiting for me to have my say. I have to admit that I actually wept.

That was the beginning of this never-ending love duet between WordPress and me. It hasn’t been an easy road. There have been more than enough bumps along the way. At ten years old, WordPress is not baked yet. It has much growing to do, but it is still the best web publishing platform out there.

In my first article on WordPress, “Test Driving WordPress” published on on October 6, 2003, I’d just installed it and spent months converting those 2,000 static HTML web pages into something I could import into WordPress.

There is a lot to think about in preparation for putting WordPress on our site and ramming our site down its throat. The first thing I needed to do was set up a “test” area on my site to start working on all of this. If it is a complete failure, then I can delete the test area and go on about my business, and if it is a success, I would then move it up into the root directory to allow it to take over. Lots of decisions to make!

So I created the test area. I set up a subfolder on my website called “test.” Yes, I come up with imaginative names, but it works. I then used the Famous 5-Minute Installation of WordPress, which actually took less than five minutes because I’d already been through the setup of the database before with my blog, and set it to reside in the /test/wordpress/ folder on my site.

CSS Experiments by Lorelle VanFossen - examples from Cameraontheroad.com.Taking on challenges like converting a static HTML site to WordPress were part of my day-to-day work life. Two months before, I’d finally completed a twelve article series called “CSS Unleashed – Experiments with CSS Designs, creating one of the most extensive examples of CSS artwork at the time. I’d spent several years collecting newspaper, magazine, business cards, brochures, and pictures of signs with design work I’d love to recreate on the web without graphics. CSS was still new and I wanted to torture test it by creating CSS-only based designs.

I spent eight weeks in the deadly heat wave that is summer in the Middle East locked down behind shuttered windows in the dark, diving into depths of web browsers, web design, Cascading Stylesheets, browser bugs, and more. I was in heaven. It was one of the most tortuous and joyous experiences of my life, pushing the boundaries of what could be done with CSS-based designs. Few others were pushing the CSS envelope at the time. Today, many of these first CSS designs are now incorporated into web designs and WordPress Themes all over the world.

As summer heat turned into fall bake, I stayed focused on work and WordPress, putting out of my mind the terrorists bombing cafes, buses, and public areas around me. The next two months were spent torturing WordPress, pushing it beyond what it thought it could do at the time. There were few importers at the time. The Movable Type import was the closest I could get to a plain text (static HTML) importer for my content. I converted all 2,000 web pages, losing a few along the way, into something that would work as a Movable Type import.

Throughout the process I revisited articles I’d written and published ten years before, an experience I’m recreating during this anniversary year another ten years later.

Thinking back, this might have been the first of many times WordPress saved my life, keeping me off the streets, and focused on work.

The WordPress Community

There is absolutely no way I could have done all this on my own from Tel Aviv, Israel. Not a chance. Luckily, the WordPress Community is made up of savvy people who know how to network from wherever they are in the world.

The WordPress IRC Chat had been going for a couple months when I opened its door and walked into what would become the core of the WordPress Community. There I met people who would be the first hires with , leaders in developing WordPress.

We trashed and thrashed all things WordPress 24 hours a day. No matter what time it was, I could turn on my computer and have access to one or dozens of WordPress fans helping each other. The conversations rarely stopped, crossing over each other, themed or not, interrupting each other, or all attacking the same issue at the same time. Me in Israel, others in the United States, Canada, UK, Australia, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, even Russia. We didn’t care where we lived. We didn’t even care how expert the others were at anything as long as we could talk WordPress.

Willing to tackle any problem with WordPress, when the first WordPress Plugins were born, I soon became the first official WordPress Plugin Crash Test Dummy. My site, Camera on the Road, was a testing ground for many of them, some of which are still in development today. Many a WordPress developer cut their teeth on my sites as I tried to break theirs.

I met in the IRC. He didn’t hang out there much except in the earliest days, but we connected and he changed my life as much as WordPress did, by example and tone. He is a perfect leader for WordPress. His vision will enable it to out last himself, something we talked about often in the earliest days of WordPress as a business.

As the number of people involved expanded and projects were spinning off in every direction, I recommended we meet weekly to coordinate our efforts. We started the first official WordPress business meetings on the IRC, with all the various volunteer and their projects reporting on their status, discussing the business at hand, and making plans for the future. This was the beginning of what would later become Automattic and the WordPress Foundation.

In 2004, the , the online manual for WordPress Users, got rocking. I watched its slow development, busy with my own work, until that fateful day when the never-ending misspellings of the word “separate” forced me to hit the Edit button and, against my better judgement, I soon became one of the senior editors and developers of the WordPress Codex, writing hundreds of articles and editing many more for many years. Many of the first articles I wrote on my Camera on the Road site about using WordPress were converted to be among the earliest documents on the Codex.

In 2007, I attended my first WordCamp, speaking at the second annual WordCamp San Francisco. By the end of that year, I’d been the keynote speaker at several WordCamps including the first official international WordCamp in Israel. The next few years found Matt and I in competition for the most miles traveled to WordCamps. He’s beat me soundly ever since.

It was amazing to watch the WordPress Community grow from a few dozen to hundreds to thousands, now millions. In 2012, WordPress is estimated to be on 1 in 6 websites globally and 1 in 4 within the United States. The growth this year and predicted for the next five years is through the roof. How far we have all come.

The Birth of WordPress.com

This site, , was born on August 16, 2005. Donncha O’Caoimh asked me to climb on board and rip it apart as I was an expert in breaking WordPress.

Screen capture of news satellite radar perspective of Hurricane Katrina hitting the US Gulf Coast.A week later on August 23, Hurricane Katrina formed over the Bahamas. On Sunday, August 29, my husband and I packed up our 5th wheel trailer in Mobile, Alabama, and headed for Atlanta, Georgia, our way west blocked by closed interstates in preparation for the oncoming storm. The storm smacked the Gulf Coast of the United States the next morning, bringing death and complete destruction. It followed us up to Atlanta, hitting us with floods, tornadoes, death, and destruction hundreds of miles from landfall. When we returned a week later, the campground that had been our home for ten months had been damaged by the Dog River flooding over 14 feet from the storm surge, with mobile homes, trailers, and neighborhood homes destroyed by tornadoes, water, flying debris, and trees. It was also filled with hundreds of first responders and insurance adjusters as a front line entry point into the worst of it in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Amid all the horrors around me, the power and all utilities going on and off constantly throughout each day, battling depression and a sense of uselessness in the face of the devastation and death around me and across the Gulf Coast as I traveled to help and volunteer and document the destruction and recovery, this site saved me in so many ways.

I kept most of my personal struggles with the hurricanes on . On , I could write about anything and everything else. It was not just a distraction, it was a life saver.

I could blog about the next release of WordPress 1.5.2, and ongoing development on WordPressMU, which later became WordPress MS. I could help web designers working on WordPress Themes for WordPressMU and make jokes about all the buzz about the new WordPress.com, and the silliness of selling WordPress.com invites on ebay.

There is so much to talk about in the world of WordPress, from the basics to advanced techniques, who is doing what when with WordPress, WordPress events, WordPress advice, help, and volunteering and contributing options…I’m eternally grateful for WordPress and my blogs to keep me distracted from the woes of the world, keeping me focused, on track, and sane.

Lorelle on WordPress logo.Take a look at my site logo. I use it as my Gravatar and social media avatar. Let me tell you why I use this and not my photograph.

This site was born during a hurricane. In the background is the WordPress logo swirled around to form a hurricane.

In the earliest days of WordPress.com, we had only a handful of WordPress Themes to choose from. The one I chose did not visually separate one post from another on multiple post pageviews like the front page, category, and searches. You couldn’t tell where one started and ended. I added a graphic, then a faked hand-written signature to sign-off the posts to show the break between them. That damn signature is a nuisance but it is now part of my branding. Thus the signature effect of “Lorelle on” in the logo.

In the earliest days of WordPress.com, we all called our test sites “Name” on WordPress.com to differentiate these sites from our “real” sites. Well, most of us. called his WordPress.com site Matt on Not-WordPress.

These are the things that mean more to me than my picture. The logo is a personal as well as professional representation of what I’ve become over the past ten years.

We didn’t know where this was all going to go on WordPress.com. It was the second WordPressMU hosted platform and a new way of using WordPress. Donncha and Matt had great dreams, but they weren’t letting the rest of us know much, so we just dug in and did our best to break WordPress.com to prepare it for the real world.

I’ll talk more about the bumps along the WordPress.com road later, as well as more looks back at the past ten years with WordPress. Today, is home to more than half of all the websites in the world on WordPress, a number we can only guess at in the millions, all on basically a single installation of WordPress. It is 7 1/2 years old and still growing. Amazing.

Happy ten year anniversary, WordPress. Thanks for a great start!


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.

13 Comments

  1. Posted January 23, 2013 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Happy birthday WP!

  2. Cammy
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    Happy Anniversary, WP! And thank you, Lorelle, for sharing the WP.com background, and especially for sharing the story of your logo.

  3. bjohnmasters
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    During 2000-2003 I’d built a couple of html-based websites to start learning about the technologies. Around 2003, I’d come across a script/application that allowed me to incorporate a slightly more user friendly interface to allow for normal people to post updates to sites (I think it was called something like Gray Matter). It was OK, but even with my limited knowledge, I knew it wasn’t adequate. In 2004, I came across Movable Type, and installed it on my domain and played around a little. It struck me as cumbersome and unstable, and not easy to configure or customize if one wasn’t a programmer/developer (which I’m not). Then I found WordPress, and after a lot of reading in the forums, I decided this was the way to go. I tried on and off for several days unable to get the software properly installed and configured, so in desperation I made a donation to WordPress, and IM’ed Matt, who did the install for me, with me following along, and that site is still there today. And now I can install WordPress in my sleep.

    • Posted January 24, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t amazing how much we will suffer with, thinking there is no other alternative, and then take for granted when we find something that blows away the competition. I debated for a couple months and it took me another six months after converting my site to WordPress before I really believed I could live with it. I kept thinking the other shoe would drop and it would suddenly become hard and complex. Still waiting. :D

  4. Posted January 24, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Reading your post gave me not just a few “nodding my head” moments! It’s rather amusing really how much we parallel each other in some parts of your story (I’ll tell you over our next cup of coffee in Tel Aviv), although clearly you’ve been a major force and a WordPress Evangelist from the start.

    I may be an experienced user after moving my self-hosted sites to WordPress.com in 2006, but I’m still learning new things every day from people like you who give so much to make us educated users. Thank you for all you do and thank Matt and WordPress for giving us the platform to do it.

    • Posted January 24, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      You got a deal on that copy of TEA not coffee. LOL!

      We all share similar experiences with WordPress, good and bad, which is one of the things that binds us together from all walks and businesses of life. As for a major force, I was one of so many seduced by all that is WordPress.

      I can’t wait for what the next ten years brings.

  5. Posted January 24, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    This is the most personal story I have ever read about the impact of WordPress on people’s lives. I enjoy some of the insight you gave about the early days of WP. Interesting read!

    • Posted January 24, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for the kind words. This is just a glimpse of the impact of WordPress on so many lives. More to come. How has it impacted your life?

  6. Posted January 25, 2013 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Lorelle, looooong time no talk. Just wanted to thank you for all you’ve done for me by contributing to the growth of WordPress. Carry on!

    • Posted January 25, 2013 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      Hey, Easton! Definitely been too long.

      I’ve done so little, but thank you. I’m honored to have been one of so many who saw the future and it said “WordPress.” :D

      Love your new site! Looks like you are moving in some great directions!

  7. Posted January 25, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Wow, Lorelle! It sure looks like you’ve done your share of rolling up your sleeves. That was a far more interesting story than I expected. Running through my mind while reading was my 20-year ‘story’ in the IT industry (mostly PC Board design and core networking in the New York area, eventually laced with the events surrounding 9/11 while in CyberSecurity at a gov’t facility). It’s not Tel Aviv, and it’s not blogging, but somehow I related and have great respect for your borderline-obsessive, techno-nerd drive (I understand, really I do!). Thanks for sharing a rather jam-packed flurry of events that all occurred in a relatively short span of time. Looking forward to hearing more!

  8. Merlin
    Posted July 22, 2014 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Aw, this was an extremely nice post. Taking the time and actual effort to make a really
    good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a whole lot and never seem to get anything done.

    • Posted July 23, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, and welcome to the club. The doing is the thing, and sometimes we have to do in spite of ourselves.


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