WordPress started out as a simple way to share your thoughts on the web through, what was then, a new concept, blogging. People wanted to keep "web logs" of their thoughts and have other people read them and contribute comments. So WordPress was born to blog and it still does an outstanding job, but has grown into a content management system (CMS) which is something much more.
WordPress is truly astounding. Whether pushing content to social networks, competing for sales and search engine position, allowing people to subscribe to specific content WordPress is not simply a website, but rather a content-publishing platform. It allows you to take part in today's "instant" information network - the internet. It gives an individual the same publishing power as a major corporation.
WordPress is an interface
We use the term interface quite a lot. Originally it was coined to describe a method of passing information between two very different items. Sometimes between two machines (a hardware interface) to let a computer trade information with a printer as an example. A keyboard lets humans talk to computers; it's also an interface. WordPress is an interface that simplifies the way you communicate with a database. It lets you create and manipulate data with a GUI (Graphic User Interface).
WordPress makes it possible to publish all types of information without knowing how to write code. Anyone can start using a well-setup site without much training. It's fairly intuitive since it has evolved from years of user feedback and constant revision.
WordPress is a publishing platform
The success of early bloggers created a demand for an easy way to publish news or opinions instantly. Remember the Drudge Report during the Clinton Administration? The Drudge Report was an "aggeregator" which pulled news stories and blog entries from other sources and posted them in an aggegated blog. The notariaty of the Drudge Report is only one example of what fueled the demand for easy blog creation.
The first web pages were built one page at a time by writing all the information into a file and making it look good by writing mark-up code (HTML- Hypertext Markup Language). It might take hours to create a single page on a site.
Not very efficient for the "blogosphere", where compettiion for top blogs dependend on instant publishing. This meant that the person doing the writing couldn't always be the same person that did the web development. Information was created faster than it could be disseminated by coding pages with HTML.
The concept of "database driven" websites came about. Partly because of blogs, but also because of demands of web developer to make data available on demand. In a database driven site, all the stories and pictures are stored in a data base, and the actual pages are created only when someone visits the actual URL of the page. Showing and sellng products, creating portfolios, making directories all have a common base of data that needs to be assembled and presented on demand, in different combinations and with different looks.
You could write out various applications and programs for this, but the WordPress developers have written out the programming for you. Now you have a simple, graphical way to enter information into the database. They have also written out the most common ways to display it. And now since all this data is so well organized, other people can write applications which use the same data in different ways or allow you to add new data and combine it with the old. That's what plugins are for. They expand the core capabilities of WordPress with additional applications.
WordPress is a Content Management System
Publishing content isn't easy. It changes all the time. New content is added, old deleted. In ecommerce, prices change, sales and promotions come and go. Information needs to be very fluid, and WordPress lets you manage this ebb an flow. It also writes rules for you. For example, it will let registered users see a post, but hide it from people who aren't registered users. But managing the information isn't it's only function.
This information also has to look good and be organized properly. The underlying programing has to be safe, fast and up-to-date. Design and technology change as well as the information. WordPress handles this by separating the functions so a change in one area doesn't affect changes in another area. That's really the basic concept behind a content management system.
If you change the design, the database is unaffected and can still be used without modification; the programming isn't affected either. The same is true for all three elements. Changing one doesn't affect the other two. If all these weren't individual, you would need to build an entire new website every time there was a change. That would be very costly and very time consuming. There are four basic components to a content management system.
According to the WordPress Codex, "WordPress powers nearly a quarter of new sites today, is the content management system (CMS) of choice for more than two thirds of the top million sites making it the most popular on the web, and is trusted by content publishers both large and small including CNN and the NY Times. With more than 50 million sites globally and eight years of history."
The roots go back to 2001, but it made its first appearance in 2003. You can view it's history in the Codex on this page.
The WordPress Codex
We've mentioned it several times. This is the location of all documentation pertaining to WordPress. It is intended to be an encyclopedia of all WordPress knowledge. It is an "open wiki" which means that it is written by contributors. You can add to or modify wiki articles. You can read more about it here. If you want to contribute, start with this page.
Like most software, WordPress is distributed under a license, which means there are certain things that you are legally permitted (and not permitted) to do with WordPress software and source code. WordPress is distributed under a license called the GNU General Public License, a very popular license in the open source industry. If that doesn't ring a bell, read on.
About the GPL