Over the past several years WordPress’s market share has enjoyed explosive growth across virtually every industry. Today, it powers nearly a quarter of new sites, and is the CMS of choice for more than two thirds of the top-million sites on the web making it the world’s most popular publishing platform by a long shot. Yet one group of seemingly ideal users has been slow to take the former blogging platform seriously: .Govs.
Drupal powers twice as many federal .Govs as every other CMS combined. That’s more than six Drupal sites for every one WordPress .Gov alone, not to mention the Joomlas, MovableTypes, and SharePoints of the world. The build-it-yourself software powers the White House, the House of Representatives, half a dozen agencies, and countless data-driven microsites like Recovery.gov and the IT Spending Dashboard, and its public sector use is equally if not more impressive abroad.
A Problem of Perception
Typical Enterprise Misconceptions
- WordPress is a blogging platform
- WordPress doesn’t scale well
- Most plugins are written by hobbyists, not professionals
- WordPress is less secure
- WordPress can’t handle complex data types or user roles
- There’s no enterprise support
- There aren’t many WordPress developers
- No “serious” people use WordPress
- The WordPress codebase is immature
WordPress’s disproportionately low government adoption is arguably the result of a handful of factors. For one, custom post types, the feature that formally graduated WordPress from a mere blogging platform into a full-fledged content management system, has only been around since June of last year. Yet, even among new sites,1 the ratio remains somewhat stagnant, if not shrinking, leaving one to believe that the technology has lapped its own already stellar perception.
When you stack the two side by side (or against any other CMS for that matter), WordPress is objectively the prudent choice. On paper, you’d be hard-pressed to make the case for anything else. But, it’s not a technical problem. It’s a human one. It seems that WordPress’s greatest asset – ease of use that has resulted in widespread adoption by a largely non-technical user base – is threatening to become its greatest liability.
Among those empowered to make purchasing decisions, there seems to be a sense that WordPress is what you use on the weekends to post pictures of your lunch while Drupal is what you use for “serious” business, and with good reason. For better or for worse, Drupal has positioned itself as not just a CMS, but rather the enterprise solution — an inseparable fifth layer of the increasingly ubiquitous enterprise LAMPD stack.
267</td> <td markdown="1">1,506 (5x)</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Active Sites</td> <td markdown="1">533,136</td> <td markdown="1">65,052,049 (125x)</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Plugins / Modules</td> <td markdown="1">8,536</td> <td markdown="1">16,076 (2x)</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Themes</td> <td markdown="1">893</td> <td markdown="1">1,426 (1.5x)</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Community2</td> <td markdown="1">1.5 Million</td> <td markdown="1">20 Million (13x)</td> </tr> </tbody> </table>
Beyond Cowboy Coders
Not surprisingly, the two communities are a reflection of their underlying software’s position in the broader market. CodePoet.com, for example, a directory of WordPress consultants curated by Automattic, lists a mere thirteen firms in North America that seek jobs over $250,000 (often a small price tag for government or corporate sites), while its Drupal counterpart lists roughly 80 firms that specifically target government, enterprise, and NGO clients daily.
I am not suggesting that freelance developers should bring an end to what makes WordPress WordPress and change out of their shorts and sandals this instant or that they become intimately familiar with the nuances of federal procurement law, nor am I suggesting that small shops seek to bite off more than they can realistically chew anytime soon. I am suggestion, however, that there are small, tangible steps that the community can take to make headway into the government and enterprise space and gradually entrench WordPress as a viable alternative to otherwise subpar software harming innocent public servants.
Update (3/7): As many have pointed out, a lot of the misinformation may also be traced back to somewhat of a decision lag. Custom post types, custom taxonomies, and WordPress multisite — three key features that although minor from a technical standpoint, really served as the fundamental shift to transition the platform from blog+ to full-fledged CMS — came about only three major versions ago (WordPress 3.0). While eighteen months may be an eternity for the vast majority of the technology sector (the iPad 1 had just barely launched eighteen months ago for comparison), in the Government space, procurement regulations dictate that such lag times are all but the norm. As a result, in an already risk-averse contracting environment, we may actually be seeing numbers that more accurately reflect say, WordPress 2.9’s reception in the Government sector — a snapshot of when an agency chose a CMS at the onset of a multi-year procurement — rather than those that accurately reflect its technical capabilities today. ↩
Jen Lampton, “Why WordPress is Better than Drupal, Developers Take Note” (July, 2010) ↩
Update (3/8): The features page is part of a community edited Wiki (the WordPress Codex) and since originally posted, I’ve gone through and reworked much of the blog-specific language. View the original. ↩