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One Year Anniversary Review: In the Beginning WordPress Begot WordPressMU Begot

The dream was “how to make WordPress available to everyone, no matter what level of experience or expertise they had”.

Individual WordPress blogs are great, but the popularity and ease of blogging got the corporate world interested in providing blogs for their employees as a way to communicate with the outside world on what they were working on as well as with each other. While a blog can have multiple bloggers, the vision was to create a blogging tool that would allow multiple blogs, not just bloggers.

, aka “WordPress Multi-User”, was that dream. An installation that would help a company, network or group set up a blogging service where everyone who signed up would be able to create their own blog. While the blogs might look the same, they didn’t have to. Each blog could have its own look but they would all be interconnected as part of a community.

The first test subjects were and, a “teachers only” blogging service, and, an educational service where public relations professionals help other public relations students and educators. was different from the full version of WordPress in a few ways. While on the surface, the interface was basically the same, users were not allowed to access the WordPress Theme template files, styles, or use WordPress Plugins, javascript, or any programming language within their blogs. In other words, no customization features. and other WordPressMU blog services were for blogging not tweaking. And it offered a great way to introduce people to WordPress.

For the novice, this was heaven. No installation, no work, no effort, no learning curves. Just blogging. Pick a pretty theme and start writing or uploading photographs. Simple and easy and still free.

So bloggers now had two choices: the full editable, customizable or the free, just blogging, . And corporations, businesses, associations, and groups now had two choices: the full editable, customizable WordPress with multiple bloggers, or , which allowed multiple bloggers multiple blogs.

The First Peeks of

A began by invitation only. You got your new blog and one invite to share with a friend, neighbor, or in some cases, sell on ebay. A lot of fuss was made over those invitations, and those who got in the door immediately started racing to be the first to show off the new interface. For the most part, the new interface wasn’t much different from the full version of WordPress at the time, just blue instead of grey. The new Ajax boxes were added, allowing you to move things around on your Write Post panel, but in the long run, that didn’t impact things much and few people did much remodeling. Have you?

WordPress Administration Panel with movable boxes on the Write Post panelScreenshots of the interface started popping up all over the place. We warned people that what they were seeing was liable to change soon, and it did. Still, people wanted to be “first” to reveal all. Too funny. Still, everyone was talking about

One of the first new features was the image upload section on the Write Post panel, which I believe was put together by , , and . Owen built an amazing prototype for a few of us to test drive a couple months before, which allowed easy interfacing with Flickr and image uploading from your hard drive.

Gone was the slow FTP page for uploading to your WordPress blog. Unfortunately, also gone was the ability to upload more than one image at a time. I hope that changes soon. Still, the new thumbnail link and ability to see a thumbnail of the image before adding it to your blog post is fantastic. Great work.

WordPress Write Post image upload section with images

In the early days, there wasn’t much you could do to customize your blog, but that didn’t stop thousands of people from embracing this new free blogging service. Many got their feet wet with and then went on to independence and customization freedom with the full version of WordPress.

It Takes an Army to Break and Improve WordPress

I wish all of those involved in the work to build WordPress and were working in one giant room so you could see how many are involved and how hard they work. Many of these people have full-time jobs and/or are college students, giving of their ideas and efforts in between the rest of the lives. If they were all working in one big room, you would see steam rising up off the keyboards, smoke coming out of their computers, and servers on fire with the speed and diligence of effort as they drive their brains into PHP, Apache, Ajax, Javascript, and all the various elements that make WordPress run.

Before there were employees in WordPress, volunteers assigned themselves to the tasks that needed doing, finding their own niche naturally. For me, as a professional writer and educator with extensive online and web experience, it was only natural for me to gravitate towards building the much needed , the online manual for WordPress users.

Part of technical writing is ripping and tearing apart what you are writing about so you know how it works and can explain how it works to others. Part of the challenge of writing a technical manual is ripping and tearing something apart until you break it so you understand how it breaks, why it breaks, and can explain to others how to repair it when it breaks.

It was this ripping, tearing, and breaking expertise that Donncha wanted when he came to me and asked me to be one of the first pack of testers on I took him literally and started doing everything I could to push the limits of what was possible in a

I used inline CSS styles, HTML, even javascript, until they took most of those away with the post content filters. I used every in-post HTML I could to make things bold, italic, using various headings, tables, and pushing images of various sizes around. I played around with the blogroll, using a combination of text links and image links. For the most part, these limitations tested the WordPress Themes and not the programming behind it, but in using all the parts and pieces, I put and its interface to the test. If it could be filled in, pushed, shoved, clicked, or messed with, I smacked it as hard as I could.

Poor Donncha, Matt, and all the others working behind the scenes with were probably overwhelmed with my long feedback emails, but they attacked each recommendation and instruction, fixing, debating, problem-solving, and sometimes completely ignoring me. This is the way of team work. I tried to break it and reported in on my breaking, and they did the fixing. Very symbiotic. In time, there were fewer reports as the improvements took hold and everything stabilized.

We learned a lot together about how to work with various bugs and the challenges of blogging online. In Screams Heard From Online Bloggers I wrote about one of the most common and agonizing aspects of blogging online:

Okay, who is the freakin’ idiot who thought using the backspace button on the keyboard as a “back to previously visited web page” in your web browser was a good idea. Curse and pox on his head!

After working for over an hour on an article for this site, the cat or “someone” moved the mouse focus from the textarea of my WordPress Write Post panel to the page itself. I was still typing and hit the backspace quickly to correct a spelling mistake and BOOM…SCREAMS….TEARS…POUNDING FISTS….PULLING HAIR. The cat explodes off her bed on my desk, changing instantly from a curled up sleeping position to flying cat position in microseconds. My husband looks up from his laptop, focuses on the screaming wife and calmly says, “You did it again.”

YES, I DID! DAMN. POOP. CRAP. And all the other politically and socially correct words I dare use on this site.

The backspace button reloaded the last web page view in the screen before I could stop it. Everything I’d been working on was gone, gone, gone. No refreshing, checking the cache, or anything would bring it back. This is not a bug in WordPress. This is the agony of writing and editing directly via web page browsers.

Just recently, an automatic draft saving feature was added, a dream come true for bloggers. As you write your post in the Write Post panel, automatically backs up a copy of it, even if you haven’t saved it yet. My screams were finally heard. Does any other blogging service offer this feature? I’ve heard rumors that this feature will be in the next release of the full version of WordPress. Excellent! new feature - automatic draft saver

Blog Stats and Feed Stats Tab on WordPress Administration PanelsPeople also requested blog statistics and traffic reports for their blogs. It didn’t take long for a Blog Stats tab to be added to the Dashboard panel, showcasing a chart with your traffic statistics, site referrals, most popular posts, and key search words used to find your blog.

Then the Feed Stats tab showed up, offering information on what feed services and programs are being used to read your blog.

WordPress Language Options panelThere were a lot of problems with people who wanted to blog in their native language. It has been a long held policy of WordPress to keep it as user friend and language friendly as possible, with a lot of volunteers working on making WordPress available in many languages, as well as helping with translations of the so everyone can read the instructions. As an free, open, public blogging service, did not want any language barriers either.

In “WordPress in Your Language”, I talked about the various languages the full version was available in, and we all celebrated with the , a listing of the most popular blogs on WordPress, expanded to allow listing the most popular blogs by language, allowing users to sort through bloggers by languages they wrote in. Another announcement invited English and non-English fluent speakers to help translate WordPress elements and Ryan Boren soon announced that was offering language specific blogs in Hebrew, Farsi, Bulgarian, and more as a result of that ongoing effort. Very exciting stuff.

We Want Customization! We Want to Control The Look of Our Blogs!

One of the most begged for abilities with was the ability to mess up our own blog’s designs. We wanted to change a background color, switch the picture in the header, rearrange the sidebar, and do all kinds of tweaks and customization to our blogs. The process was very complicated, as many WordPress Themes are designed by designers, not programmers. WordPress developers worked diligently to add programming capabilities to WordPress Themes to allow them to be customizable.

Many were frustrated blogging within the limits of preset WordPress Themes. There were problems with the the limitations left in the Themes by the authors and designers. Many had no styles for blockquotes, so the text just indented. Others had no styles for <code> or <pre> tags, or had a “bold” style <strong> but not for <b>, nor an “italic” style for <i> just <em>. That’s fine, but what if you have hundreds of posts using the B and I and those are now just another letter in your text with no emphasis? Not very backwards compatible.

There were many other problems with some of the Themes. Some didn’t validate, others had missing code elements, and some just weren’t very well thought out. Luckily, they were few in number, but the support folks had a lot of work to fix them up after making them public and getting a lot of feedback about the boo boos.

My frustration with the limitations and narrow thoughts behind some of the WordPress Themes released for public use and made available on were vented with my popular and much argued over article, “WordPress Theme Designers: Slapping You Upside the Head”.


Do you hear me yet? Listen closely.


This is the sound of the pain and suffering bloggers on and WordPress make when they encounter the most lovely and useful of WordPress Themes that lack a few of the most basic elements. Come on, folks. Can’t you read? This is common sense stuff that I’m about to tell you, so consider this a slap upside your head.

There are few things more frustrating for a simple, unsophisticated blogger, than using a very common HTML tag in their post to make something bold or add a horizontal line and find out that the WordPress Theme designer either didn’t style this common, standard tags to match the look of the Theme, or that they did, or did something that unstyled them, and doing so makes it not look right.

Many thought I was being mean to WordPress Theme designers who generously donate their efforts to helping others simply design their WordPress blogs. I looked at it from the point of view of the users, unable to fix anything and being a victim of the lovely, but limited, design choices they had. I believe that I needed to be mean to get them to understand that beauty isn’t just on the surface. It is deep within the code allowing bloggers to do all that they can and be all that they want to be when they blog with fully rounded and completely styled WordPress Themes.

Wordpress Widgets - sidebar accessories for customizing your WordPress Theme sidebarAs the need for easy, user-friendly customization on blog’s grew, one of the first treats we got was the ability to change the header art on a few Themes. Then WordPress Widgets were released which allowed customization of some Themes to allow customization of the sidebar.

I called them “Sidebar Accessories”, which was definitely more appropriate as “widgets” is a much abused, overused, and inappropriately used term. However, their ability to allow customization and moving around of the various bits and pieces of a WordPress Theme’s design expanded their use outside of the sidebar. So I call them “Blog Design Accessories”, a much better name. See how much influence I have over naming things around WordPress? 😉

A couple weeks ago, we saw our first paid feature with, giving us the ability to customize your blog’s look and theme with the new CSS Editor. As an early tester on the new Sandbox Theme, I created the look of this blog as you see it today. ME. No prefab, tweaked from someone else’s design. ALL ME AND ALL MINE. Built from scratch. Now, I have no one to bitch at for a lousy web design except myself. And what’s even more fun is that no one else on has a blog that looks like mine!

We Asked – Answered

We wanted a way to blog online safely. They answered. We wanted stats. They answered. We wanted to blog in our own languages. They answered. We wanted to design our own blogs. They gave it to us. We keep asking. They keep giving. And except for the new blog design feature, they give it all without thanks, without reward, and without money. All for free.


As I think back on all those early borks in the blog with, I have two very strong thoughts. First, WordPress would not be as fantastic, stable, and user friendly as it is today and continues to become. Without the effort of all of us on, along with the many dedicated hackers, testers, and developers, WordPress would have just been another blogging tool, lost in the dust of growing competition.

If the beginning of had gone smooth, with few bumps in the road, don’t you think the trip would have been boring? In fact, I think it wouldn’t have been worth sticking around the whole year. Every morning, I’d get up with anticipation, anxious to see what had changed or been added to during the night.

As many of you know, I travel a lot as part of my life and job. Life on the road is not easy nor simple, but it can be boring. We realized a long time ago that the fried transmission in the middle of nowhere on the Alaska highway, broken down vehicles, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, blown tires, broken dishes and feet, stolen wallets, refused credit cards, terrorist attacks, missed airplanes, and all the bumps in the road of traveling and life, make for stronger spirits and much better stories.

If didn’t have a few glitches along the way, what would I have to write about? Huh?

Second, I’m so proud of what everyone involved with WordPress has accomplished over the past year. We took each mistake, each bork, each bug, each wish, and each idea and worked it through. Some worked, some failed, but effort was made. Blogging is better for the effort, and WordPress is better inside and outside because of it. Thank you.

Here are a few other articles I wrote about the events and news of WordPress over the past year.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network

Member of the 9Rules Blogging Network


  1. Posted August 26, 2006 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Just for the sake of history: I think the first MU (when it was called b2++) was adapted it next. edublogs actually launched a bit before too.

  2. Jeff
    Posted March 4, 2008 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle,

    I was hoping to find help with one of my annoyances with WordPress. When I hit the backspace key, and a space is immediately preceding where the cursor is located, why does WordPress have to go back past the space and remove the last letter I typed? Maybe I just wanted to add a letter at the end? Is there a way to get WordPress to behave like every other word processor out there that backspace means just that? Back a space up? 🙂



  3. Posted March 4, 2008 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    @ Jeff:

    Maybe I don’t understand you. The backspace key backs over the last letter or space typed in EVERY word processing program and software and typewriter I’ve ever used. The arrow keys move back or forwards without removing text. The Delete key removes in a forward direction. So whatever you are experiencing is what I’ve been experiencing for decades. WordPress does not interact with the keyboard in any way.

    If you are having a problem with WordPress skipping a character space and deleting the next character space, the problem is with your computer or keyboard. Keyboards get dirty or the battery (if there is one) gets low and does weird things. When my cordless keyboard battery gives up, only every other character or so types. That’s when I replace the battery.

    Maybe I don’t understand you, but the backspace deleting from right to left is normal.

  4. Jeff
    Posted March 5, 2008 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle,

    Trust me, I’ve been using computers since I started on a mainframe in 1978 and a PC in 1982. 🙂 But for some reason, when I use the editor in WordPress to post a new entry, and I type “word “, and then hit the backspace, it removes the space and the letter ‘d’. I don’t know why, but I wish it wouldn’t. 🙂 I was just hoping it was a setting I could change.


  5. Posted March 5, 2008 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    @ Jeff:

    I’m not questioning your expertise. Whatever is wrong is not reproducible. I just backspaced to correct the spelling of that word. I recommend you do the following:

    1. If you’ve been doing this for that long, I’m sure you are using FireFox. If not, try that. Oh, and try it on a totally different computer to see if it is reproducible.

    2. One by one disable all add-ons and scripts in your browser, restarting the browser between each disable.

    3. Get a free blog (throw away blog) on and see if it does the same thing there.

    4. Start your computer in safe mode with no TSRs running. See if it still does the same thing.

    5. One by one, disable your WordPress Plugins and see if it continues to do the same thing. If you’ve hacked the core or added any Javascript to WordPress, disable those, too.

    6. Ask for more help on the WordPress Support Forum if none of these things help.

    This is not normal behavior. WordPress has no control over the keyboard as far as I know. Something is interfering with the keystroke behavior for the backspace key, and odds are, it ain’t WordPress.

    Good luck and let me know what you come up with.

  6. Posted March 5, 2008 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    @ Jeff:
    I had a similar problem with WP’s default editor. I’ve since moved to WYSIWG Pro, but I did resolve the problem by updating or removing a plugin. I’m sorry, but I’ve no idea now what the offending program was, but you may have a similar issue.

    I’ve also found in Firefox that Better GReader and Better GMail can occasionally cause some strange behavior (although not necessarily in WordPress).

  7. Jeff
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle and Kestrel,

    I figured it out. 🙂 It’s the paragraph setting under the advanced toolbar. When the path statement shows “path=p”, it’s going to back up over a preceding space and remove the last letter. You go into paragraph mode when you hit enter after a sentence, so I just have to remember to display the advanced editor toolbar and then then turn off paragraph.

  8. Posted March 7, 2008 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    @ Jeff:

    Whew! Glad that mystery is solved. Thanks for letting us know. We can sleep better tonight.

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