This guide covers what WordPress does, how to use it, and how to get involved in and get help from the WordPress community. It is intended for people new to using and building sites with WordPress.
History of WordPress
WordPress started in 2003 as a branch of a piece of blogging software called b2. The primary developers at that time were Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little. Over the years, hundreds of developers have contributed to the WordPress software to make it what it is today: a powerful publishing platform great not just for blogs but sites of all styles.
How WordPress is Used Today
The State of the Word
The best way to stay up to date on how people are using WordPress around the world is to watch Matt Mullenweg’s annual talk, The State of the Word. You can find the 2012 State of the Word talk on WordPress.tv a site dedicated to WordPress talks and video tutorials.
WordPress as a CMS
The majority of people still use WordPress as a blogging platform, but more and more people are using it as a Content Management System (CMS). The difference between using WordPress in these two ways is that a blog has one type of dynamic content: blog posts. The rest of the content is usually static pages. A site using WordPress as a CMS on the other hand will likely not just have pages, but several types of dynamic content, like events, services, and blog posts.
Other Uses for WordPress
In conjunction with two powerful WordPress plugins, BBpress and BuddyPress, people are building powerful social networking and forum sites with WordPress. Thanks to some powerful ecommerce plugins like Woocommerce, more and more online stores are also powering their sites with WordPress. There are a few examples of applications that use WordPress as an application framework, but this is not common and generally not encouraged in the application development field. However, many of the advanced WordPress plugins are basically applications built on top of WordPress.
The WordPress Community
When you first get involved in the WordPress community you will want to connect yourself with avenues for support. WordPress.org and WordPress.com each have support forums where both developers and bloggers will help you answer your questions. Before you post a comment it’s a great idea to search the forums to see if someone has already posted.
In addition to the WordPress sponsored forums you can also find third party forums like the StackExchange’s WordPress forum. Companies like WordPress HelpCenter also offer paid support forums that may better fit you or your company’s needs if you need a professional to quickly respond to your questions.
The next step to connect with are tutorial sites that post about WordPress. Of course Treehouse can teach you How to Make a Blog and WordPress.tv, mentioned earlier, can offer collections of talks related to WordPress. WordPress.org maintains a WordPress Resource Feed that pulls articles and tutorials from all over the Internet.
Here are a few other other helpful sites that post about WordPress:
- WP Beginner (For beginners)
- DigWP (from Cris Coyier of CSS Tricks)
- WP Tuts (Part of the TutsPlus Network)
- WP Engineer (More advanced)
- WP Candy
- Cats Who Code
- Smashing Magazine WP
- 1st Web Designer WordPress
In addition to these tutorial sites, you’ll want to keep up to date on the Official WordPress News Feed.
If you’re on Twitter you should definitely follow tweets with the hastag #WordPress as well as the official WordPress Twitter streams: @wordpress, @automattic, @wordpressdotcom. As for individual people to follow, try checking out Twitter’s suggestion of what WordPress people to follow.
Unlike some other CMS development communities like Drupal or ExpressionEngine, WordPress events have a great balance of personable bloggers and site owners as well as technical developers. To meet these people, look for a WordCamp in your area. WordCamps are locally sponsored WordPress annual events that usually have a track of talks for WordPress users and WordPress developers. The best part of WordCamps though are the people. You might also want to search Meetup.com to see if there are any monthly WordPress meetups in your area.
An important topic to know about when using WordPress is security. WordPress is mistakenly referred to as not secure. Intrinsically WordPress is secure software. It becomes insecure when you do not keep it updated or follow some basic security tips. WordPress also has some more technical security tips you can find on it’s Hardening WordPress page. If you’re not very technical, but are concerned with the security of your WordPress site, contact your hosting company and ask them for help.
Unless you’re using the WordPress.com hosted version of WordPress, you will need a hosting company. Although WordPress is free to use, you should not try to be too cheap with your hosting companies. One of the highly recommended WordPress hosting company is WP Engine. You can also find some lower cost hosting companies on WordPress.org’s hosting page. If keeping your WordPress site online is mission critical, check out Rackspace’s WordPress hosting.
WordPress themes change the how WordPress sites look. They include custom CSS as well as custom templates that let you easily create all sorts of different types of pages and layouts. You can search for and install free themes from the admin area of a WordPress site by going to Appearance > Themes and clicking on the Install Themes tab. There are also what are called Premium Themes, which are paid themes, often with quite extensive styling and functionality. Usually you either pay for individual themes, like at ThemeForest.net, or you subscribe to get access to a number of themes at a site like WooThemes.
Plugins extend the functionality of a WordPress site and are arguably one of the greatest things about building sites with WordPress. Plugins do everything from improving the SEO of your site, to adding forms to making it easy to work with custom post types and custom fields. If you search for top recommended plugins you can easily find lists of plugins that people in the WordPress community recommend. In general you’ll usually want to have plugins for some of the following extended functionality: caching, backups, analytics, seo, social, forms, spam, custom post types. If you cannot find a plugin for what you need by search from within your WordPress site, try using a search engine to see if any paid plugins do what you need. Free plugins (and themes) cannot be found by searching from within the admin area.
Look the Part, Play the Part
This is totally a personal thing, but I love having some cool shirt or schwag from my favorite nerd/geek related products and companies. If you’re into that sort of thing you can check out WordPress’s Schwag Store for some cool hoodies and shirts. (Don’t forget to pick up your Treehouse Island shirt too!)
However, you won’t really begin to play your part in the WordPress community until you start using and building sites with WordPress. Get out there in the community, both online and in person, and start asking questions, answering questions, and sharing what you know.