WordPress: An Operating System for the Open Web? More than just a Dream.

Imagine a future where the web isn’t just a passive canvas for consuming content, but a dynamic platform for expression, creation, and collaboration. A place where anyone, regardless of technical skill, can build their own digital corner of the universe. This vision, audacious as it may seem, forms the core of a growing perspective for the future. It’s the idea of WordPress as an “operating system for the open web.”

While this might sound abstract, it’s rooted in the very DNA of WordPress.

Matt Mullenweg’s vision

For Matt Mullenweg (co-founder of WordPress itself, founder of Automattic and a prominent voice in the WordPress ecosystem) this vision is all about empowering creators. He talks about a web where “individuals have the agency, the tools, and the community to build and own their own experiences.” It’s a shift from passive consumers to active participants, shaping the web based on their unique needs and voices.

This vision manifests in several ways. Firstly, WordPress itself provides a user-friendly, accessible platform for creating and managing websites. Its open-source nature allows for endless customization and flexibility, while a supportive community ensures help and learning are always at hand. This low barrier to entry empowers beginners and non-technical users to become creators, not just consumers.

Secondly, the vast ecosystem of plugins and themes extends WordPress’ capabilities beyond simple websites. E-commerce stores, membership platforms, learning management systems – the possibilities are endless. This makes WordPress not just a content management system but a “web operating system” enabling any kind of online experience imaginable.

Jonathan Wold’s Talk

But it doesn’t stop there. As Jonathan Wold, a core WordPress contributor, argued in his 2019 WordCamp US talk, WordPress fosters a “culture of ownership” on the open web. Unlike closed platforms controlled by corporations, where users are merely tenants, WordPress empowers individuals to truly own their online presence. They own their data, their code, their digital destiny. This fosters a sense of agency and responsibility, leading to a more diverse and vibrant online landscape.

Jonathan Wold talk at WordCamp US 2019

The principles of having open and interoperable data across the web is shared by many other communities outside of the WordPress context. The IndieWeb movement, for instance is rooted on the same ideals and already provides a WordPress plugin to help people establish an “IndieWeb identity”.

The core OS and building blocks

What could this operating system for the open web look like?

  • Plugins become superpowers: Instead of siloed apps, imagine a vibrant marketplace of interoperable plugins. Need a forum for your online community? No worries, plug it in. Want to turn your site into a collaborative canvas? Boom, another plugin. This modularity unlocks endless possibilities, empowering creators to tailor their online havens to their wildest dreams.
  • Themes become interfaces: Themes, currently responsible for visual aesthetics, could evolve into dynamic UX engines. Need a minimalist blog? Select a theme that prioritizes text and clean lines. Craving a gamified learning platform? Another theme transforms your site into a quest-driven wonderland. The flexibility is boundless, catering to diverse needs and learning styles.
  • Blocks become building blocks: The WordPress block editor (aka Gutenberg), already a game-changer, could become the Lego set of the web. Paragraphs, images, videos, polls – all snap together seamlessly, allowing even the most tech-shy individuals to construct compelling content with ease. This democratizes creation, putting the power of web publishing in the hands of everyone.

The future is open

Of course, challenges remain. Scaling WordPress to truly become a ubiquitous “operating system” will require overcoming technical hurdles, fostering greater community engagement, and addressing issues like security and privacy. But the potential is undeniable and the future is open for disruption. A WordPress-powered open web could be a haven for creativity, innovation, and individual expression.

So, let’s imagine this future together. How can we make WordPress an even more robust platform for building the open web? Should the core focus on further scalability and interoperability? What role can plugins and themes play in diversifying online experiences? How can we ensure community-driven growth while maintaining security and user trust?

This is a conversation for the entire WordPress community (and for other open-source communities) to participate in. Let’s share ideas, contribute code, and build together a future where anyone, anywhere, can unleash their creativity and build their own digital haven on the open web. What will this WordPress-powered future look like? The time to start dreaming, and building, is now.


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