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.
WordPressMU, 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 WordPress.com and Edublog.org, a “teachers only” blogging service, and prblogs.org, an educational service where public relations professionals help other public relations students and educators.
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 WordPress or the free, just blogging, WordPress.com. And corporations, businesses, associations, and groups now had two choices: the full editable, customizable WordPress with multiple bloggers, or WordPressMU, which allowed multiple bloggers multiple blogs.
The First Peeks of WordPress.com
A WordPress.com began by invitation only. You got your new WordPress.com 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 WordPress.com 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?
Screenshots 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 WordPress.com.
One of the first new features was the image upload section on the Write Post panel, which I believe was put together by Owen Winkler, Mark Jaquith, and Andy Skelton. 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.
In the early days, there wasn’t much you could do to customize your WordPress.com blog, but that didn’t stop thousands of people from embracing this new free blogging service. Many got their feet wet with WordPress.com and then went on to independence and customization freedom with the full version of WordPress.
It Takes an Army to Break and Improve WordPress
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 WordPress Codex, 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 WordPress.com. I took him literally and started doing everything I could to push the limits of what was possible in a WordPress.com.
Poor Donncha, Matt, and all the others working behind the scenes with WordPress.com 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 WordPress.com bloggers. As you write your post in the Write Post panel, WordPress.com 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!
People also requested blog statistics and traffic reports for their WordPress.com 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.
There 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 WordPress Codex so everyone can read the instructions. As an free, open, public blogging service, WordPress.com 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 Top Blogs of the Day on WordPress, a listing of the most popular blogs on WordPress, expanded to allow listing the most popular WordPress.com blogs by language, allowing users to sort through WordPress.com 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 WordPress.com 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 WordPress.com 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 WordPress.com 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 WordPress.com 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 WordPress.com 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 WordPress.com 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.
As the need for easy, user-friendly customization on WordPress.com blog’s grew, one of the first treats we got was the ability to change the header art on a few WordPress.com Themes. Then WordPress Widgets were released which allowed customization of some WordPress.com 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 WordPress.com, giving us the ability to customize your WordPress.com 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 WordPress.com has a blog that looks like mine!
We Asked – WordPress.com 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 WordPress.com 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 WordPress.com, 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 WordPress.com, 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 WordPress.com 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 WordPress.com 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 WordPress.com 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.
- What can you do with wordpress.com
- WordPress Downloads 500,000 and counting
- WordPress.com Buzz
- WordPress.com Invite on Ebay
- Upping the Ante on wordpress.com Invites
- Will WordPress Beat TypePad, MT, Blogger, and all the rest?
- More Contests Over wordpress.com invites
- WordPress 1.5.2
- WordPress Versions – How Many and What’s the Diff?
- Increasing the Benefits on wordpress.com
- WordPress in Your Language
- The Latest News on WordPress 1.6 Status and Development
- Asking for wordpress.com invites
- More News from WordPress, wordpress.com and WordPressMU
- WordPress: Faster Loading Than Ever Before
- Hello, wordpress.com users and testers!
- New Write Post Preview – Real Live Preview
- Users FAQ for wordpress.com
- New Kubrick Header Switcher for WordPress 1.6
- WOW! Image Browsing and Uploading Feature on wordpress.com
- Need Help? The wordpress.com FAQ
- WordPress.com Users Hit By Direct Attack – Stopped in its Tracks
- Want an Invite to wordpress.com?
- Good Review from Blog Savvy for WordPressMU
- Mystery Solved: Introducing Akismet Comment Spam Protection
- News of a Worm to Hurt WordPress is False
- Trap and Kill – WordPress Bug Hunt Success
- How WordPress Users are Benefiting from WordPress.com
- WordPress Beta 1 for WordPress 1.6 Released
- WordPress Developers Still Working on PHP Compatibility
- Give the Gift of Love to WordPress
- WordPress 2.0
- Tiny Problem with WordPress 2.0 and Trackbacks
- WordPress 2.0 Breaks Ecto – Here’s the Fix
- New WordPress.com Forums
- Get Your Free WordPress.com Blog Now
- WordPress.com Now Offers Users More Users
- Automattic, and WordPress, Get a New CEO: Toni Schneider
- Trackbacks and Pings Out of Order? Ping-o-matic now back online
- Why Did You Leave WordPress.com?
- “WordPress Theme Designers: Slapping You Upside the Head”
- New Features for WordPress.com: New Themes, Import, Video Links, and Some Privacy Protection
- Release of WordPress 2.0.1
- Apologies: WordPress.com Still Under Development
- The New Face of the WordPress Plugins Database
- Problems with WordPress 2.01 Feeds
- WordPress.com Widgets – Customizing Your WordPress.com Theme Sidebar
- Breaking the Limits of Customizable WordPress Themes
- Playing with WordPress.com New Sidebar Widgets
- WordPress.com Bloggers Now Have Spell Check
- Customizing RSS Feed Links for WordPress.com and WordPress Sidebar Widgets
- WordPress Sidebar Widgets Goes Full Version WordPress Plugin
- Designing a Theme to Include WordPress Widgets?
- The Blog Widget Competition Begins
- WordPress.com: Trouble With Future Posts
- Problems Logging Into WordPress.com Dashboard and Administration Panels
- WordPress.com New Feature: Feed Stats
- WordPress Server Crash – Well, That Was Fun
- Who Cares About WordPress.com
- Future Posts STILL Not Posting
- Blogging With the Best of Digg on WordPress.com
- Cruising The WordPress.com Blogging Community
- New Interface and Administration Panels Coming for WordPress.com
- Akismet Smacked By Comment Spam: The Stats
- WordPress.com Top Blogs of the Day
- Canvas WordPress Plugin: Build Your Own WordPress Theme
- What Do I Do With My New WordPress.com Blog
- Customize Your WordPress.com Blog’s Look and Theme
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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network