TL;DR: WordPress is decent software with an unparalleled ecosystem which is a fantastic strength; and as popular as it is, it may be underrated in some ways, and is a good solution for surprisingly many use cases.
WordPress is a great ecosystem!
- The core of the software is pretty straightforward: add posts and/or pages, metadata if needed, customize with themes or plugins or extra code if needed
- Yes in some ways it’s complex and bloated, but lots of that has been abstracted away, and it’s relatively simple to set up
- In fact it’s considerably easier to set up vs. e.g. Ghost or various static site generators, which may be technically more elegant and lightweight but are also more developer oriented
- It’s kind of nice how many cheap mediocre web hosts have built in support to install WordPress and get a site up and running without too much technical knowledge
- And the whole ecosystem of plugins and themes is unmatched!
- Free = actually very important!
Discourse makes for an interesting comparison: equally free and open source, but more barriers to get set up on a technical level (though things like Docker and Digital Ocean and Mailgun make it easier than it would be otherwise)
When you do get it set up, Discourse gives a much nicer user experience compared to old school PHP forums, and it also has a very active plugin / developer ecosystem, which, similar to WordPress, makes it feel robust and accessible
WordPress’ focus on Gutenberg (new editor), both improving the writing experience and modernizing the infrastructure overall, I think is ultimately good and valuable, even if it hurts a bit in the short term adjustment period; this helps make it friendlier for the average non-technical user, more like Medium for the writing experience…and the more ways to remove friction, the better!
Also, the plugin and theme ecosystem is a good onramp to paying money later on for improved design and enhanced functionality, which results in a cool “just in time” model, learning and growing as needed.
By “freemium” above, the “free” of course is the default if you install the open source software yourself, but if you want to spend $ to solve problems, there are many ways to do so — paying for managed hosting, paying for premium add-ons (themes / plugins as mentioned above), hiring a developer to extend in even more custom ways…this flexibility is key to its popularity.