WordPress is the most popular blogging platform in the world by an enormous margin. That would be at least the reasonable conclusion to be made from Pingdom’s recent survey which revealed that self-hosted WordPress powers 48 of the top 100 blogs in the world (as ranked by Technorati).
Furthermore, it can be convincingly argued that WordPress is also the world’s most popular Content Management System (CMS) – with a 54% share of the market, according to this study by W3Techs.
But “most popular” does not always align with “best”. After all, popularity can typically be objectively analyzed, whereas quality is open to debate. Despite WordPress’ dominance, there is value in exploring the alternatives and assessing where our favorite CMS stands in the pack.
WordPress’ Biggest Blogging Competitor
What is interesting to note from the Pingdom survey mentioned above is that self-hosted WordPress’ nearest competitor as a blogging CMS is in fact WordPress.com. Whilst both options are built upon the same platform, they should certainly be considered as two different beasts.
Although we could spend all day discussing the differences between self-hosted WordPress and WordPress.com, for our purposes the breakdown should be this simple: for the most part, WordPress.com is for beginners. Most WordPress.com users with a burgeoning blog would be best served by moving to self-hosted WordPress and taking advantage of all the extra capabilities available.
So without wanting to sound too dismissive, WordPress.com is essentially a feeder for self-hosted WordPress. What else is out there?
The Best of the Rest
There are of course a multitude of blogging platforms out there. You will probably recognize some of the “competitors” listed in the Pingdom survey – Blogger, Movable Type, Tumblr, Typepad, and so on. I use the word “competitors” in inverted commas very deliberately – as these platforms offer very little in comparison to WordPress.
Platforms like Typepad and Movable Type are clearly on the decline, as evidenced by Google Trends:
Most web developers would tell you with little hesitation that neither platform has much to offer. Matt Mullenweg (the founding developer of WordPress) himself expects the likes of Typepad and Movable Type to “disappear” in time.
Meanwhile, Blogger seems to have plateaued over the past few years, but Tumblr (the new kid on the blog) has been experiencing a steep climb in popularity:
However, neither of these platforms are directly comparable to WordPress. What they do, they do rather well (Tumblr especially), but they are limited in scope. No one is using Blogger to run an online store, or Tumblr to build a corporate site.
When blogging was in its infancy, the focus was very much on providing “set and go” blogs, in the vein of Tumblr and Blogger. But as soon as the likes of WordPress managed to reach an effective compromise between ease of use and power, the future began to look bleak for such publishing platforms. Whilst there will probably be room for platforms such as Tumblr for the foreseeable future, their reach will always be limited.
What About Joomla?
You might consider Joomla to be conspicuous by its absence. After all, the same W3Techs survey that we mentioned at the beginning of this article lists it as the second most popular CMS, with 9.2% of the market share. But whilst Joomla was once more talked about than WordPress, like many other platforms, is on the decline:
Why is this? One could speculate endlessly, but the simple answer is that WordPress has over time developed into a more accessible product. Compared to WordPress, Joomla is simply more complex and less intuitive. When it comes to appealing to the mainstream, you can lose the fight before it is even begun if you don’t make accessibility a priority.
Once an open source platform takes precedence over another in the minds of developers and end-users, the snowball effect begins. Over the past few years, the WordPress community has grown into a behemoth; with positive knock-on effects in platform development, theme and plugin releases, and support.
Hardcore Joomla advocates will of course claim that it offers a great deal more than WordPress. WordPress advocates will argue the opposite. But unless there is a sea change in the CMS world, Joomla will continue to decline, and WordPress will continue to grow.
The Elephant in the Room
Finally we must address perhaps the biggest competitor to WordPress – Drupal. But this “battle” does not just take place in the blogosphere – Drupal is a highly respected CMS, used by some very well known sites.
Putting certain web publishing platforms side by side is sometimes akin to comparing apples and oranges. For instance, comparing Drupal to WordPress.com is just farcical (yet someone saw fit to do it). And whilst WordPress was originally developed as a blogging platform, the release of v3.0 moved it firmly into fully-fledged CMS territory. In terms of a platform for developing websites (not just blogs), WordPress and Drupal could be considered the powers that be.
But one would be forgiven for considering it a phoney war. In fact, Matt Mullenweg and Dries Buytaert (the creator of Drupal) seem to be rather pally to say the least. This could be a wonderful example of the open source community spirit, it could be because the two platforms have different aims, or it could all be disingenuousness. My bet is is mainly with option two. Whilst WordPress has evolved into an excellent CMS, it is hardly going to start ignoring its core aim – accessibility for the blogging masses. Mullenweg says it himself:
WordPress’ biggest challenge over the next two years, and where we’re focusing core development, will be around evolving our dashboard to be faster and more accessible, especially on touch devices. Many of our founding assumptions about how, where, and why people publish are shifting, but the flexibility of WordPress as a platform and the tens of thousands of plugins and themes available are hard to match. We might not always be the platform people start with, but we want to be what the best graduate to.
At the same time, Drupal is what it has always been – an out-and-out CMS. Some consider it a more efficient and scalable solution than WordPress, but that does come at the cost of usability.
If you’re running anything from a tiny blog to a large corporate site, WordPress is considered by most to be the ideal solution. But if you have the scale and resources to produce something highly bespoke, Drupal might be a better option.
The CMS for the Masses
Although there are a number of fully-fledged CMS platforms to choose from, when you separate the wheat from the chaff there are few left standing.
For the vast majority of people, WordPress is the way forward. It can be adapted for use in any number of applications. It has by far the biggest community, and with that comes a huge number of extensibility options. It is the most popular – but it is also the best.