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It started in June 2001 as a simple, open-source blogging engine known as b2/cafelog. A spark of an idea, b2/cafelog gave you the code to build your own blog, or build something better since its code was open-source. You could take the code and turn it into anything you wanted—and that's exactly what Matt Mullenweg did in 2003. He forked it—or made a copy with his own tweaks—and turned it into what we today know as WordPress.
WordPress is everywhere. It's the content management system that powers over 30%, including everything from personal blogs on WordPress.com to parts of the core infrastructure at the New York Times, Reuters, and other large organizations.
Staying true to its origins, WordPress is still 100% free to use. You can download the open-source version and run it on your own server, or tweak it to do anything you'd like. Or, you can use the hosted version at WordPress.com to start a free blog in a couple clicks or pay for advanced features. Either way, you'll get the same great power to make a blog or site that looks like you want.
WordPress is built around blogging. It's great for running any type of websites—but when you first open the WordPress admin page where you add content to your site, you'll notice its blogging roots. In WordPress.com, you'll get a simple screen to write posts without distractions; in self-hosted WordPress or in WordPress.com's traditional editor, you'll get a place to write posts in rich text or HTML with options to add tags, categories, images, and more. It's designed to be an easy way to publish content frequently.
You can use those same features to publish stand-alone pages and keep your website's landing page up-to-date. With plugins, you can take WordPress even further, using its editor as a way to build forms, eCommerce stores, and more. That's its second best benefit. Besides making it easy to publish content, it's so customizable, you can use WordPress to build almost anything you want. Odds are, you visit sites each day that you'd never guess were powered by WordPress, and yet they are, powering stores and directories and news sites and more.
One of the more important things about your site is how it looks, and WordPress makes it easy to customize that as well. You can install free and paid themes that'll make your site look just like you want, and can tweak those themes to make your copy of the theme unique. Or, you can hand-code your theme to give you the most freedom over your site. Themes can even include extra features, as how the O2 theme turns WordPress into a social network-like blog for internal communications.
With a tool as versatile as WordPress, it's impossible to point to one feature and say this is the reason to use it. Instead, the reason to use it is its versatility. You can use WordPress to make anything you want—even an entirely new blogging system if you want to fork WordPress all over again—or can stick with the basics for an easy way to publish content online.
Originally published April 7, 2015; updated June 6, 2018 with new WordPress.com pricing, screenshots, and features