Is WordPress a development platform or a product?

I’m not sure if I’m thinking about the WordPress Open Source project and its “competition” the right way…

Two years ago, Alex wrote some thoughts about how we discuss WordPress as both a product and a platform with potential clients:

Some people view WordPress as a CMS platform to build on. They want us to help them create a website, service, etc. and they see WordPress as a platform that their idea can be built on […] On the other side of the spectrum are people who come to us viewing WordPress (and the thousands of plugins that themes that are available for it) as a product. These folks typically are looking to create a website with a certain feature set and may already have in mind a collection of existing plugins that they think may be useful for creating these features.

As you’re likely aware, the lines are blurry between WordPress being a “product” and a “platform” because WordPress means a lot of things to a lot of people now (even more so than two years ago when Alex wrote that article): is a different experience than downloading the Open Source package. WordPress that your roommate uses to blog about traveling abroad is probably set up very differently from WordPress that large publishers have customized for their daily use. Some sites use WordPress with no customizations and are very popular whereas some WordPress sites use many plugins and features and are quantifiably unpopular. Some companies run WordPress on their own web hosting servers whereas some folks may log in to WordPress installed on someone else’s servers. Some folks want to enable features and expect everything to work “off the shelf” while others anticipate needing resources to get their exact configuration in place. Some folks build businesses and platforms and products on top of WordPress, while others expect it to work as it says on the label. Sophisticated APIs can be created with WordPress, while beautiful photography portfolios can, too.

This means WordPress is up against a lot of competitors: paid services like Squarespace, free services like Blogger, other Open Source content management systems like Drupal, web development frameworks like Ruby on Rails, social networks like Facebook, etc.

I think this all leads to my point: making decisions for a “platform” can be much harder and much more different than a “product”. Does the WordPress Open Source project have “split personality” disorder based on its blogging (product) origins? Has it grown to warrant the kind of management and architecture decision making like a Ruby on Rails (platform)? Is it possible to exist both as a content management development framework and a publishing product?

That question is probably too hard to answer today.. maybe instead the point I was getting at previously is this: I think it’s worth defining “the competition” at the Open Source project level (are they products, services, or other platforms?) so that future design goals and decisions can be measured against it.

Without this kind of concrete direction, I feel that the project could experience severe cognitive dissonance and the product-platform chasm will only grow wider.