WordPress is a free and open source Content Management System (CMS). It started in 2003 during the explosion of blogging on the web, providing a simple, yet powerful interface to manage and create a website without extensive technical knowledge or coding abilities. The software was originally focused on creating blogs, but has developed into a fully functional CMS that can produce many genres of web sites. Under the hood, WordPress is basically a PHP web application that interacts with a MySQL database that stores all the information about your web site. Luckily, you don’t need to know anything about that! The appeal of WordPress is that it is simple to install, maintain, and use.
The ease of use combined with the power of the system has proved extremely popular: more than 25% of the top 10 million web sites today are run on WordPress (it might actually be higher, since almost 60% of sites where the CMS is positively known use it! See trends). It is much more than blogging software. Users include single individuals and huge companies; from tiny blogs, to single page apps, to giant organizational websites.
Take a look at some examples in the WordPress Showcase, https://wordpress.org/showcase/
Here as some sites I have worked with that we will talk about:
University of British Columbia, http://www.ubc.ca/ [a huge university site]
The MILL (UIdaho Library), http://mill.lib.uidaho.edu/ [an information site, with lots of resources and a blog]
VPOD, http://poetry.lib.uidaho.edu/ [a daily poetry site, one post featured per day, poets as categories]
Digital Aladore, https://digitalaladore.wordpress.com/ [a project report, chronological order]
For big organizations or if you are comfortable working with your own web server, WordPress software is distributed from wordpress.org or is available as a one-click install from many web hosts. You can learn more in the full documentation called the WordPress Codex.
However, for those of us who don’t want to deal with any of that and want the simplest way to get started, WordPress.com is the official hosted version of WordPress. They do all the tech work of setting up and maintaining your web server and WordPress software. With a free account you get one free website, 3 GB storage, and a URL like example.wordpress.com. There are many paid add ons and upgrade plans (thats how they make money!), but the free account is sufficient for most basic uses. Since WordPress is so popular, there are a lot of learning resources out there. Just keep in mind the difference between the software (wordpress.org) and the hosted version (wordpress.com), and that newer versions have slightly different features and look than old ones. If you have questions about WordPress.com, check the Learn and support pages.
To get started using WordPress.com, follow the mini-lessons on this blog, starting with creating an account!
There are a lot of other blogging or website creation options out there. WordPress is popular because of its flexibility, powerful CMS features, and great themes. Some platforms have remained more focused on blogging, for example, Blogger or Tumblr. These platforms tend to have more in common with social media than website building focused platforms, such as Wix or Google Sites, or pure CMS such as Drupal. WordPress is balanced somewhere in between. If you are comfortable with code, Jekyll on GitHub Pages is a popular free option with similar functionality to WordPress, but less hosting requirements.