New WordPress 3.3 is just around the corner, and no matter how good new version will be, in the next couple of months less than 15% of all WordPress websites will upgrade to 3.3. And if you look to the past versions of WordPress, you will see that adoption rate looks pretty bad.
Currently all my plugins support WordPress 3.0 or newer (except one that depends on features added in WordPress 3.2). But, with the soon to be released WordPress 3.3, I would need to support 4 different major versions of WordPress. So, I was making plans to drop support for WordPress 3.0 when the WordPress 3.4 goes into development next year. But, I wanted to research this a bit to see how many websites are actually using each of WordPress versions. WordPress.org statistics page has WordPress versions distribution data, and you can see this data on the chart below.
To my surprise, WordPress 3.0 is still very dominant, while 3.1 and 3.2 together are used on about one-quarter of all WordPress powered websites, and all older WordPress version prior to WP 3.0 are used on 22.6% of all WordPress powered websites. WordPress 2.9 is almost 2 years old, and yet 11.1% still uses this version. But, for me, the most alarming thing is that WordPress 3.0 is still the most used version of WordPress.
So, what is the problem? Why global adoption rate of new versions of WordPress is so slow? I did some calculations based on the latest download counter on WordPress.org. As of today, WordPress 3.2 has 13.000.000 downloads. While that number looks impressive, in terms of adoption is really not. This number includes both 3.2 and 3.2.1 versions. Let’s assume that many users downloaded WordPress more than once, for development servers or some other reason (maybe 1.000.000 duplicated downloads, well, I have downloaded each of WP 3.2 versions at least 100 times for development). Also, let’s assume that people who decided to upgrade to WP 3.2, upgraded to 3.2.1. Some were switching to 3.2.1 directly, but that is hard to figure out. So, let’s say that based on number of downloads 6.000.000 websites actually upgraded to 3.2/3.2.1. Still looks impressive? Consider that official WordPress stats say that there are 35.000.000 websites using WordPress (this doesn’t include WordPress.com), this is only 17% of all WordPress powered websites switching to WP 3.2, and this is in line with 16.2% from the global usage chart on top of this article. As I said, 13.000.000 downloads doesn’t look so good at all. All these numbers and calculations are not very precise, but they are in the ballpark to illustrate the state of WordPress upgrades.
These numbers are for all the websites WordPress.org gathers data from. On the other hand, I have made a similar chart based on data gathered by Dev4Press website from users of our Pro plugins and themes. Thankfully, this shows the desired trend of adoption, and WP 3.0 is going down, with WP 3.1 and WP 3.2 on the rise. If this trend was to continue, WP 3.0 will almost fade out for Dev4Press users in the next 6 months, before WP 3.4 is released. Good to see that WordPress 3.3 in Beta stage is already in use.
This big difference in usage shows that Dev4Press users, in this case, are more informed about the current WordPress development than the general WordPress user base. I expect that any other WordPress based business can expect similar data and trends for their users. These are more technically oriented users or users ready to embrace the progression of WordPress development, and they are upgrading websites to take advantage of new features or to make sure that they have latest security improvements and bug fixes.
With WP 3.3 coming soon, we still have 29.000.000 websites that didn’t upgrade to WP 3.2, and almost 7.000.000 that use pre WordPress 3.0! Why is this so bad? Well, there are few reasons:
- As with any other software, it is a fact that old versions have bugs and security risks. This is true for WordPress also, and we have millions of vulnerable websites using WordPress. While it is a great thing to have big part of the Internet powered by WordPress, it is frightening to know that most of these websites are not secure. Bug fixing for new versions are great, but they don’t mean much if most website will not upgrade anyway.
- This makes plugins development very hard, considering that developers need to support several very different WordPress versions, or to decide to drop support for older versions. This can be a good thing, if the users are forced to upgrade. But, many websites are postponing upgrade because of old and outdated plugins, and this is main reason we still see 2.3 or 2.5 on the chart. New WordPress and old plugins is an old problem, and I don’t see solution any time soon.
- Money. Yes, for old websites dependent on old and no longer developed plugins, moving to a new WordPress is not cheap. In some cases, new plugins with similar functionality can be used. In most cases even if there is a new and different plugin, it will be incompatible with old plugin. So, website owner need to pay, in some case a lot of money to get old plugins fixed and upgraded, or rewritten.
- WordPress development is not really driven by the needs of wider community. Many website owners I talked with, that use old WordPress, don’t feel the need to upgrade, since they have all they need with WordPress they are using. We may like it or not, but frequent interface changes in WordPress are not something users like to see, because very often they need to learn things they may not need at all. It is easier when users upgraded to each new WordPress, because changes are comparatively smaller, making a jump from 2.3 or 2.5 to 3.3 now, is a huge change, almost like using completely different system.
- For a community so big as WordPress is, there isn’t a single website that can be considered as information center for all things WordPress and it is not a big surprise that website owners are not well-informed on current status of WordPress, plugins and themes development. And when I get a question from a user: ‘where can I find information on all things WordPress’, I honestly can’t recommend any website. I believe that lack of quality information is one of the major problems with adoption of new versions.
How to solve all these problems? How to improve the number of websites willing to upgrade and how to have a more secure websites running on WordPress. I know about all the obvious methods like better education of users on upgrade benefits, or improved security, but so far, that is not done properly at all. Individual efforts by people with work based on WordPress, have an effect on a very small number of users. Global community of WordPress website owners is not really affected at all by that. There are a couple of things I can leave as a suggestion:
- WordPress.org based information portal would be best source of information. Right now, WordPress.org website is not useful to majority of users. Codex is largely used by developers or users that want to do things themselves, Forum is again a bit too technical, Plugins Repository is mostly a mess, News and blog are very limited in scope. I know that improving that website is not easy, but in the past 2-3 years hardly anything was changed there, apart from few updates to repository and small updates to Codex.
- Slower development cycles. Right now, goal is to have two major WordPress releases each year. That is too fast, too many versions are in use already, and each year 2 more are added to the mix. One new WordPress version each year would be better, to allow users to get familiar with new versions, to have fewer changes and problems to worry about. Current core developers and contributors would have much more time to develop, much less chances to have bugs (most bugs are caused by haste) and maybe to focus their development time to WordPress.org.
- Better literature. I know of many good WordPress books, but they are mostly written by developers for developers. I am still to see a good book about using WordPress. Even when such books are published, they are already outdated due to fast development cycle of WordPress. Only book that I know to be updated from time to time (still, development book for the most part) is Digging into WordPress by Chris Coyier & Jeff Starr.
- Objective and open news websites. I am sad to say, but that there are no such websites now. There are some smaller websites that try to be informative, but they don’t have enough reach. The big, ‘the best’ WordPress websites are far from that. I know that editorial policy is internal matter for each website, but basic fairness in dealing with WordPress related services and products is not much to ask. I have personally experienced double standards from some WordPress websites and I know many fellow developers that had same bad experience. Whatever influences exclusion of information (money in most cases, or conflicting interests), is very bad for the community and it creates a negative reputation for WordPress.
- Better co-operation of developers. We have a lot of plugins, even very popular plugins that don’t play well with other plugins. In many cases, there is no will to resolve the issue. And that causes problem to end users that try to make their website work after upgrade and are getting broken because of the plugins. Many developers, even developers of commercial products, simply don’t care what they plugin or theme will do to the website and other plugins.
This was a lengthy article, but I think that current state of WordPress and slow adoption is a very serious matter that is not only about the fact that users don’t upgrade on a regular basis, but that WordPress developers and core of the community is not doing the right things to inform and educate about WordPress and related products. And I tried to include all things I considered relevant for the current state.
I would like to hear from you what do you think about current state of WordPress, about updates and how often do you upgrade your websites. What are most common problems you have when it comes to upgrade?