WordPress is the dominant web platform on the planet.  It’s ecosystem is orders of magnitude larger than FileMaker’s. Clearly they are doing something right.  Is there anything that FileMaker and FileMaker Developers can learn from WordPress’s success?


At first blush, this may not seem like a reasonable question. WordPress and FileMaker fit different niches in the software world.  Wordpress is open source and free, FileMaker is not. WordPress is forpublic websites and FileMaker is for client server applications and intranets. But they do share a common critical core feature.  Both allow non-programmers to make useful software. Given that; is there anything that we can learn from it?

Some of WordPress’s success comes from the its price. It’s free and open source.  But that can’t explain it’s success entirely. The founder of WordPress Matt Mullenweg noted in recent blog post, that there is nothing special about the core of WordPress. He said.

The core features of WordPress aren’t rocket surgery. A handful of smart people in a room for a year could create a reasonable approximation of the software, and undoubtably improve some things — I see other startups do this three or four times a year.

He goes on to point out what he thinks is special about WordPress.

It’s over 29,000 plugins created by the community, from the in-demand things like SEO to niche features like using your 404 page to help adopt homeless dogs in Sweden. Every WordPress site looks different, because of the thousands of themes available.

WordPress derives it’s success from the strength of its community! Let me state that again in broader terms. A software platform’s strength comes from the strength of it’s community. Strengthen your community and you will strengthen your platform.

How do you do that? Make it incredibly easy to share and collaborate!  WordPress thrives because it is incredibly easy to find, install, and update, powerful plugins and beautiful themes.  Plugin and Theme management is built into the core.  Its not an after thought. It’s application logic designed to be pluggable.  It’s presentation layer is designed to be theme-able.  It has maybe the best automated update and package management system on the planet.

TheWordPress community, empowered by this framework, does the rest.  The community creates the 29,000 plugins and thousands of themes.  The community explores new ideas, features and functionality. The community reacts to the whims of the ever changing market, faster than WordPress or any organization ever could.

WordPress is maybe one of the best examples of this extendable core, rock solid package management combination, but is far from the only one. Drupal, Joomla,  Ruby on Rails, and node.js are other notable examples.  The history of software is quite clear on this matter.  Extendible systems survive and thrive. Other’s don’t.

This is where FileMaker is severely lacking. With the exception of the limited functionality available with plugins, its very difficult to share code. This was the reason I founded ModularFileMaker.org last year.  I was trying to gather support for a way of building FileMaker apps that was at least somewhat shareable.  I think  it’s doing quite well.  There are dozens of freely available modules up on the site. I am very pleased and grateful for the support that we have gained so far.

As FileMaker developers WordPress teaches us we need to put more efforts into collaboration.  Efforts like modularfilemaker.org, and filemakerstandards.org need to continue. With some innovation and some change in culture we can accomplish a lot.  But long term we need some help from the mother ship. We need FileMaker Inc, to step up and bring us some much needed new functionality to make it easier for the community to share awesome code and beautiful themes.  I’ll give some ideas for what I think some of those things are in a another post.

WordPress teaches us that collaboration is the name of the game. No one person or even a single team can create the kind of success that WordPress has. It requires the efforts of a community, a community that can work together.  Platforms that allow for modular design and sharing do better than ones that don’t. PlatForms, like WordPress, that make modular design and sharing a core feature, can sometimes change the world.

11 responses to “What Can WordPress Teach FileMaker?”

  1. Didier says:

    Well, Todd, the comparison is insufficient at least on the user side WordPress can be quite easily setup and respond to the user’s needs.
    Only if you want to go for more will you look for a professional to set up the plugins or to develop specific tools for you.

    Seems from my experience on both side (WP & FMP) that WP is more in-between Bento and Filemaker.

    Filemaker required much more skills and will be multipurpose, every single user is able (or should be able) to build a different database.

    • Todd Geist says:

      Hi 🙂

      There are many things that are different between WordPress and FM. But I think they share enough in common that a look at why WordPress is so successful and what lessons it has to teach is useful.

      The basic problem that is holding back FileMaker in my opinion is it’s lack of extensibility. Yes people can build amazing things with FM, but they can’t easily share their work with other developers. Everyone has to build everything from scratch.

      WordPress doesn’t have this problem. And that’s why it is so succesful.


  2. Didier says:

    IS Filemaker like AT&T ?

    Look at “Clay Shirky on why love makes open source communities work.” video

  3. Didier says:

    I suspect that we need more people like you and similar to Linda Liukas to push the boundaries of Filemaker and project it to the future

    Discover Linda project : Hello Ruby
    Hello Ruby is a children’s book that teaches programming fundamentals through stories and kid-friendly activities.

  4. John Renfrew says:

    Thought provoking as ever..
    Made me wonder if an exercise to collect some common style names would be an interesting exercise, so that people could build some themes with more scope and richness than the built-in ones…
    Just finishing a FMP 13 file for someone, so includes things like text styles for label, and labelRight, and header, footer, textLarge, textMedium and then button styles like GoTo, delete, link, merge… You get the idea.
    Or an accepted way of documenting our theme ideas…. Idea for extending modularFM?

    If there was a wide(r) list of common names then it would potentially be easier to create richer themes, which is one of the points you are making about WP and adoption.

    john r

    • Todd Geist says:

      Hey john,

      Naming styles is definitely an issue. But about all I am prepared to say at this point is that it is probably a good idea to name things semantically instead of descriptively. So “Big Read Button” is not as good as “Big Delete Button”. I’ll do a blog post on this at some point.

  5. Rick Kalman says:

    Thought provoking article Todd. Let’s talk about this idea.

  6. […] think this really gets to the point that Todd made in the previous post about comparing FileMaker to WordPress, and the idea of FileMaker as a platform. This method of putting XML onto the clipboard works, but […]

  7. […] platforms in the world have ways to extend their core capabilities. Some of these platforms like WordPress are free and “Open Source.” Others, like SalesForce, are closed-source and commercial. […]

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