Podcast Episode

461 – How WordPress is Free and Priceless Simultaneously


Is there a plugin for that?

With more than 50,000 plugins in the WordPress repository, it’s hard to find the perfect one. Each week, I will highlight an interesting plugin form the repository.

For more great plugins, download my 50 Most Useful Plugins eBook.

Publication Checklist is plugin built specifically for the block editor to make sure tasks are completed before publishing an article.

How WordPress is Free and Priceless Simultaneously

In today’s episode, we talk about the details of how WordPress started, how it’s free to use and how folks make money with this free software.

Thank You!

Thank you to those who use my affiliate links. As you know I make a small commission when someone uses my link and I want to say thank you to the following people. For all my recommended resources, go to my Resources Page

Full Transcript

Business Transcription is provided by GMR Transcription.

Hello and welcome to another episode of Your Website Engineer podcast. My name is Dustin Hartzler, and I’m excited to be here with you today, because as always, we are here talking about WordPress. And we’re going to talk about WordPress and how it is free and why it’s free. And we’ll talk all about that in just a few minutes. I do have a couple announcements that I want to share with you today. So, let’s go ahead and dive right into those.

The first one is kind of piggybacking on last week’s announcement about WordPress 5.3, the beta 2 is now available. It’s under development of course, and if you’re interested in running this or testing out your plugins or your software or your themes or whatnot, you can go ahead and do that. And there’s two different ways. You can download the beta version and just install the beta version, or you can use the WordPress beta tester plugin, and then you – in settings of that plugin, you would choose bleeding-edge nightly as an option. And when you do that, you have the opportunity to automatically get updated with the latest versions as they come out and as they’re pushed out to the servers all across the world.

So, highlight some things that they’re still working on. They’re fixing some bugs in 2020, the new theme from WordPress. They’re working on continuing to enhance the features of the Block Editor, and they’re also working on some accessibility bugs and enhancements to make the interface much better in WordPress 5.3.

If you are interested, like I said, you can go ahead and download it and start using it. I haven’t got around to doing it yet, but I need to start testing out some of my websites so I'm ready in October for actually November when this software is ready to be launched. It looks like November 12th is the date, a couple days after everybody’s home from WordCamp US, and that’s when we’ll get the new version.

All right. Also in the news this week is an article by Justin Tadlock kinda going along with the theme of WordPress 5.3, beta 1, and it is talking about how to prepare your themes for WordPress 5.3.

So, if you’re a theme article, this article on WP Tavern is a really good one to read through. It basically talks about different block style variations, APIs that have been introduced, and it talks about the new block HTML is breaking some changes in making some things look a little bit wonky.

Mainly, it’s some of those classes and some of those things that just don’t look quite right when somebody is using the Block Editor for tables or groups or galleries are things like that. And so, if you are a theme developer or if you think that your theme may be prone to some of these failings or need some adjustments in the theme when 5.3 comes out, then I recommend checking out the article over on WP Tavern, and it is at WPTavern.com of course, but there’s a link in the show notes for episode number 461 showcasing this article.

And then, there’s also a news article this week about Gatsby raising $15 million and plans to invest more heavily into WordPress and CMS Integration. And so, Gatsby Inc. and with the CEO of Kyle Matthews, you announced this $15 million series A funding round just one year after creating the company Gatsby JS, a company that helps to – is a framework for developers to quickly build websites with React, and as the project soared into popularity, Matthews formed a company to fund its ongoing development and further invest in the growing Gatsby ecosphere.

So, this funding will basically take the team of 35 people and invest into open source and just make it work well and kind of introducing it to WordPress and WordPress themes. And so, if you’ve noticed some – I’ve talked about Gatsby before in the past. There’s been a theme that I found online one time that it was like oh, this is so lightning quick because of the infrastructure of Gatsby behind it.

So, it’s exciting to see. I don’t know a whole lot about it, but it is really nice to see the backside of things when we actually get to Gatsby and we’ll get the opportunity to see some of this stuff. I think it’s going to be really cool, and it’s interesting to see what we can learn from a different open source community and what kinds of things that the improvements that we’ll see to our themes coming into the WordPress space. So, that is something else that I wanted to share today.

Moving on into the Is There a Plugin for That section, there’s one today that is called a publication checklist. And I found the article again on WP Tavern, but link to the plugin isn’t on the WordPress repository yet. It’s one that’s in Get Up, but you can download it and install it just like another plugin on the WordPress space.

But basically, the plugin is made by a company called Human Made, and they created this publication checklist plugin built specifically for the Block Editor. It was developed in just basically – they wanted a step-by-step checklist around the publish button, and it makes it so that you have to complete certain tasks before you can actually publish, which is really cool and a really neat feature.

So, in the example here in the screenshot, it has a publication checklist. It says this post cannot be published until all required tasks are completed, and so you could publish on – here’s the three examples they have in the screenshot, but is says publish to Apple News, add image with alt text in caption and adjust social headline length. And so, all of those things need to be done and checked off before they can be utilized or before the publish button can be utilized.

And I think this is a great way to kind of future proof and make sure that you don’t forget things. So an example, I could use on YourWebsiteEngineer.com would be like make sure that I have set the SEO tags, make sure I've categorized it as a podcast, make sure that I have a featured image, and make sure that the URL is the correct URL as I found a couple weeks ago pasting the wrong URL in there.

And so, those a couple things that I could make sure that all of those are done correctly, and then the publish button would be enabled, and I could publish the podcast. And so, that is a plugin. Like I said, you can find the link in the show notes to get hub specifically, and it is a plugin that you can install for the WordPress Block Editor, and just use the green downloader clone button, that will download it right to your hard drive, and you can upload it like any other plugin.

All right, today, let’s go ahead and talk about WordPress. And I know that this is the 460th version of the Your Website Engineer podcast, and I don’t know if I’ve ever really talked about why WordPress is free or how it’s free or anything along those lines. And so today, I want to just talk about that just a little bit just so you get an understanding and an idea of why WordPress is free and how much does it cost and things like that.

The big question is, is WordPress really free? And the answer is yes. It’s hard to believe, but WordPress is a free and open-source software that you can use, modify, or redistribute as you wish. I think that’s a really unusual thing about WordPress is you can modify it and redistribute it. Like that doesn’t make any sense at all as a company. If you were building something, say – it’s hard to think of an example, but say you were building furniture, and you were building furniture and somebody could take it, they could completely modified, and then resell it.

That doesn’t really sit well as a business owner. Like oh well, instead of somebody coming to me for my business, they’re getting it off – they’re paying more from this third-party reseller or something like that, or if you've created a – think about it. If you’ve created a website and your website, somebody could take that website, the complete website, and just copy it and then modify it and then use it as their own, and then they would have to pay you for the development of the website.

In theory, the whole theory behind the thing, it just doesn’t make sense. It does not make sense that you could use the free software and then change it and then have other people redistribute it for other people. It doesn’t – I don’t know. That still blows my mind, but as we are rapidly approaching 40 percent of the Internet of the top 10 million websites being on WordPress, I mean it’s a solution that’s really worked well, and things – you know, we wouldn’t all be listening to this podcast, I wouldn’t have this podcast if it wasn’t for WordPress. I wouldn’t have a job that Automatic if there wasn’t WordPress, and it’s just crazy the number of people that I know that make thousands of dollars building websites for people and have full-time careers and jobs and everything all centered around this free software.

It does cost a little bit of money to use though, mainly because the software’s free, but the web hosting space is not free, and so you have to pay a web host to serve your WordPress files to the rest of the world so the rest of the world can actually see your website.

It’s basically you’re renting a computer somewhere in the world to make sure that when people go to your web address that they can see your domain and they can see your website.

So, WordPress hosting starts as little as – I'm sure you can find it for 2, 3, $4 per month, but it can go up to thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars a month depending on your site’s needs. It all depends on how many visitors you’re getting and how many people are coming to your site or if you’re having a lot of people check out, and you have a store, all of those different things, all depend on how much “money” you have to spend to use WordPress.

So, you’re not really using – you’re not really spending money on WordPress itself. You are spending money in getting extra functionality and extra features sometimes, but also the resources behind allowing hundreds of thousands of people to visit the website all at one time.

Now, WordPress is free, because there’s a little line right there in the top of the license.txt, and it says this program is free software. You can redistribute it or modify it under the terms of the general public use license as published by the Free Software Foundation, either version 2 of the license or at your option, any later version.

So, to go back to really kinda understand this, you have to go back to look at the origin of the free software movement. It’s a social movement with a goal to guarantee that certain freedoms to software makers and users alike. It’s inspired by the traditions and philosophies of the 1970s hacker and academia culture, which encourage sharing knowledge and do-it-yourself mentality.

The FSM, which stands for Free Software Movement, was founded in 1983 by Richard Stallman by launching the GNU project at MIT. Free Software Movement was and still is a mass collaboration free software movement the likes of humanity has never seen before.

There is a turning point that started in 1985 when Stallman established the Free Software Foundation, and this supported the Free Software Movement. And years later, he wrote the general – or it’s the GNU, general public license for use for programs under the GNU project.

GPL license allows people to study, run, share, and modify the software and code as they wish. But why can code the free? And what does that mean? Well, code isn’t like any tangible goods that are out there. For example, if I have an apple and I gave you the apple, now you have an apple, and I don’t have an apple.

But if I have software and I give you software, now we both have software. And so, in a way, code is an intangible thing like knowledge or ideas. You don’t lose your knowledge or ideas if you share them with others. It just makes it more widespread. So, free software is meant to do the same.

The GPL has undergone two major revisions since inception in 1989, but the core philosophy has remained the same, and it has these four fundamental freedoms that are considered essential to any free software, and they’re Freedom 0 through Freedom 3, which I think is kind of funny that they started their Freedoms in binary texts or binary numbers, which only started zero and oh start at one.

So, Freedom 0 is run the software for any purpose. Freedom 1 is to study how software works through open and access to source code and change it as you want. Freedom 2 is, redistribute copies of the software to anyone without any restrictions, and Freedom 3 is to modify and redistribute the modified software to anyone. And so, that is some of the background and the history behind WordPress as a free software.

Now WordPress was built on that same free software mentality. It was created in 2003 by Mike little and Matt Mullenweg. It started by forking a popular but abandoned blogging platform called B2 or Café log. And you may find this hard to believe, but the most blogging – the most popular blogging platform today was conceived in a blog post by Matt, and it’s cofounder, Mike, is one of the first to comment in support of it.

And Matt wrote on the Café log. He said fortunately, B2/Café log is GPL, which means I could use the existing code base and create a fork integrating all the cool stuff that Michael would be working on right now if only he was around. The work would never be lost as if I fell off the face of the planet a year from now.

Whatever code I made would be free to the world, and if anyone wanted to pick it up, they could. I've decided that this is the course of action that I like to go in, and all I need is a name. What should we do? Well, it’d be nice to have some flexibility of movable type, the parsing of text pattern, the likability of B2 and the ease of set up a blogger. Someday, right? And Matt replied on that comment on the post and said Matt, if you’re serious about forking B2, I would be interested in contributing. I’m sure there’re one or two others in the community that would be too. Perhaps a post to the B2 forum suggesting a fork would be a good starting point.

And so, they could just fork the code and they could start hacking on it and changing it to be what it is today. In 2010, the WordPress founders established the WordPress Foundation as a charitable organization to further the mission of open source GPL software. It’s a way to distance themselves from avoiding complex of interest since they have a commercial service in parallel with Automatic running WordPress.com.

Now, WordPress today is updated and continuously maintained by the WordPress Foundation and has thousands of contributors from all walks of life.

So, something that back in 2003 there was some software, Matt thought it was very good, but the developer of the Café log just kind of dropped off the face of the earth, and so what happened was they forked it and they made a copy of it and then they started adding the features and the things that they thought they needed as part of their platform.

And then eventually, it became WordPress. Eventually the hundreds and thousands of people started to use it, and then while dozens were contributing and they continue to just get bigger and bigger and bigger, and now here we are, more than a third of the web is using WordPress.

What about the themes in the plugins? Are those free and GPL compliant as well? And so, most of the plugins – it’s much harder to enforce, but this is something that most of them have the same GPL license, even those that are paid plugins, premium plugins that you have to purchase to get access to, a lot of those still have the same GPL version 2 license.

So, how do people make money with WordPress if it’s completely free? You don’t make money just by selling the code, because the code is free. It’s the ideas and the things that you can do around the free code that have given so many people their full-time careers and their full-time money and benefits and whatnot.

So, you can serve as consultants or clients and just help people build websites. You can provide support. So, you could be on a team like I am and I help support commerce. You can build a custom application on top of WordPress for clients to be able to rave, and people can pay for those professional services.

You can create an app that pulls in the data from your website and then turns it into an app like you could do that. You could create plugins are themes that are premium that people can pay for and they can use. You can run software as a service or you can do like OptinMonster, which is a software service that will connect your WordPress site with a server so that you can collect email addresses and whatnot.

The ideas go on and on and on. There're tons of different ways that you can make money with this free software. WordPress marches on as the most popular platform to build websites, and if you want to build a simple website, a personal blog, a complex website selling thousands of products, you can use WordPress for all of those things with ease.

There’re more than 50,000 free plugins on the WordPress repository that are all GPL compliant. You can fork any of those. You can make any changes. You can modify them. You can make them exactly what you want. You can do all of that with WordPress.

And so, I thought I’d spend just a little bit of time here this week just talking about WordPress and how free it is. It just boggles my mind. Like I said at the beginning that it is free software, but I know probably hundreds of people who make full-time living working with WordPress. And the software is free, and it’s just a crazy mentality.

But I think since it is free, it’s a free software, that’s going to – that’s what makes it so much better or it makes it that much greater, because nobody – not one single person owns any of the software. It is something that – there're multiple people that have written little bits of code here in little bits of code here just to make it what it is.

And so, it is a culmination of hundreds of thousands of people putting in their time, their blood, their sweat, and their tears to make this thing – the Block Editor, the WYSIWYG stuff that we've come to know and love, the menus, the – everything that we love about WordPress like that was all built by people just like you and me that just have a real passion for WordPress.

And so, that’s what I want to share with you this week. I'm off this week to the Island of St. John’s. My wife and I are going on a couple-day trip. I'm living our kids at my parents' house for a few days, and I’ll come back next week, recharged and energized and ready to share more WordPress information.

Until then, take care, and we’ll talk again soon. Bye-Bye.