A Guide to WordPress as a Web Application Platform

Wait, what?  WordPress as a SaaS (Software as a service) platform?  “But WordPress is just for blogging” they say.  It turns out, WordPress can do so much more.  Plus, Matt Mullenweg recently announced the focus of WordPress 3.7 will be modifications that make WordPress even better as a software platform.

WordPress already comes with many of the key functions needed for a SaaS web application.  It has a robust user management system, a secure administrative back end, and a scalable framework that can grow with your service.

The new WordPress will include some features that make it even better for SaaS.  This includes improved security and a full Application Programming Interface (API).  The latter will allow web apps to directly manipulate WordPress.  This will open up a whole world of WordPress-based SaaS.  I’m very excited to see what comes of this.

From what we know about the upcoming WordPress 3.7 and the existing features of WordPress 3.6, we can examine the opportunities for web apps built on WordPress.  The following is a guide and resource list for building web apps using WordPress as a platform.

Some light reading

  • A three part series from the folks that built HelloBar on a WordPress platform.  Start with Part 1.  The second part is particularly helpful for building a fast and scalable application.
  • The main Tut on using WordPress as a web application framework.

And a little watching

Some examples of WordPress as SaaS

  • A prime example as I mentioned above is HelloBar.  This is a great one to look at since you can read a companion series on how they built it with WordPress.
  • HappyTables is a service for restaurants.  They make websites at a free and paid membership tier.  It’s likely they are using the multi-site feature of WordPress (formerly WPMU) but I’m not sure.
  • ClickBank Powered is another example of websites as a service (WaaS).  Did I just make up a new phrase? #claimedit
  • It turns out, Automattic has seen this trend coming.  They’ve created some applications for folks who use WordPress.com.  They include a Portfolio and Restaurant website service.

happy tables


So what exactly is the difference between WordPress as a blog, WordPress as a software platform, and just plain software?

WordPress as a blog is what we all picture when we think of WordPress.  Well, maybe not all of us.  But WordPress got it’s start as an easy and free tool for people to disseminate information.

WordPress as a software platform can best be described as a WordPress is the foundation.  The service being provided is built as added functionality.  As the above examples and readings describe, this usually combines existing plugins, custom themes and some custom coding.  The high end services include all three of these in order to create a seamless experience.  In the words of Digital Telepathy (the HelloBar people), in part due to security and in part due to user experience “we didn’t want users to even realize it was WordPress they were using, nor did we want to expose any administration interfaces that would take them out of the application’s simple and streamlined experience”.

Just plain software is almost a thing of the past.  With the exception of big bulky and robust software like Microsoft Office, most software applications are making the transition into the cloud.  Software CD sales are way way down and software as a service (cloud based SaaS) is way way up.  Generally, software has been installed on a local machine.  As I write this, it sound really antiquated, but I realized it was just 5 years ago this was the absolute gold standard and the norm.

The summary: get ready WordPress World.  You are about to see a whole slew of new applications built on the WordPress framework.  I’m excited to see what creativity the developer community brings forth.

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