I wrote a comment over on Justin Tallant’s blog post titled WordPress is not an application framework. My comment got pretty long, so I figured I would also post it here. You should read Justin’s post first. He ends by asking “What do you think? Is WordPress heading in the right direction with the goal of being a Web Application framework, or should they focus on being a blogging platform and CMS?”

My Comment:

WordPress is heading in the right direction. Matt’s goal is to have WordPress used for EVERY “website” on the Internet. Our Internet use is moving away from sites to apps, and allowing more apps to be created more easily with WordPress is a good move.

It’s not just a good business move for those of us with interests in having WordPress used more often. There is something fundamental about WordPress that makes it popular and useful for people wanting to setup sites quickly with the flexibility to extend those sites later.

When you say “it’s a blogging platform that can work well as a CMS”, you are understating WordPress as a CMS. It’s the most popular CMS platform in use*. There must be some reason for that, no?

* http://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/content_management/all

This wasn’t always the case. Matt and the WP community made CMS functionality a priority and CMS use went from a fraction of a % to the 50%+ market share it has now.

This is why people may say you are short sited to think that WP can’t take over framework market share just because they are behind right now. We remember when people said the same thing about WP as a CMS… or hell WP as a blogging platform.

You can already think of WordPress as an application framework with some very successful apps running on top of it: WordPress blogs, CMS, ecommerce sites, membership sites, forums. It already works well for building custom apps and can be improved on in that area without being detrimental to the existing blog and CMS functionality.

The secret sauce of WordPress is not the UI or blogging feature set… it’s the plugin architecture, platform stability, and community.

MVC, REST, and database migration support are not requirements for building apps. MVC is a useful way to organize things, but not the only way. The theme/plugin paradigm works great for separating design concerns from programming concerns. I am a little bit removed from using other frameworks, but I know that I can easily build RESTful APIs and migrate databases with WordPress.

The way that WordPress really shines as an application framework is if you think in a “Lean Startup” kind of way. With WordPress you can start with a minimum viable product and incrementally develop it into a full blown application using the same platform the whole way. Something like:

  1. Simple one pager built in WordPress, using an existing theme, to announce the concept of your app.
  2. Add a blog to discuss development, etc.
  3. Use Paid Memberships Pro and free levels to get people to sign up for the beta release (gathering emails).
  4. Use plugins to integrate with MailChimp to start emailing the mailing list.
  5. Combine existing plugins and simple content to develop a wireframe or proof of concept.
  6. Create a custom plugin to house your beta app classes, logic, and customizations.
  7. Create a custom theme for your branding.
  8. Use Paid Memberships Pro (see a pattern here? 😉 to accept paying customers.
  9. Re-factor your plugin/app for a version 1 release.
  10. Use plugins for forums, social integration, analytics, caching, SEO, third party integrations.
  11. Scale your system at the server level. Rewrite individual bottle necks in lower level PHP when it helps.
  12. Rinse and repeat for version 2.

The beauty is that all along the way your app always has the same user base and underlying infrastructure. Your gathered emails become users then become paying customers. You can quickly add and test new features. You can use the same WordPress developers throughout the entire process and if you business pivots at steps 2-6, you didn’t waste time or money building a full blown app.

I’m excited to continue this discussion over the next couple years. 🙂 Pointing out how WordPress lacks as a framework is important to improving its functionality and use that way. What may look like insurmountable shortcomings to you are just challenges to be overcome by me.

I think your prediction that WordPress can’t “catch up” feature-wise and your fears that “WordPress will become a Molotov cocktail of code” as we try to build out WordPress as a framework are wrong. The WordPress core team has shown their ability to push updates that pretty successfully juggle new features with reverse compatibility and clean code.

There are advantages to having a platform built with applications in mind from the get go. There are also advantages to having a platform that is scrappy, accessible, and practical.