The question of whether to go with WordPress.org or WordPress.com is a common one, and has been covered before. I’ll try my best not to repeat what’s already out there on the topic. However, I will go over some neat-o features that you may not know about WordPress.com (if you’re very used to using WordPress.org, or even another blogging site, like Tumblr, for instance). To conclude, I’ll also explain what makes the WordPress.org software so special.
But first, in case you want a run down of the basic differences, check out these articles:
- WordPress.org vs WordPress.com: A Definitive Guide For 2014 (this one even has a nifty chart!)
- WordPress.com and WordPress.org (WordPress Support) (from the makers themselves)
And also, watch this awesome keynote by Scott Berkun from back when he was working with Automattic. He explains the fascinating inner workings of how WordPress.com is made and used. It’s great for a ‘behind the curtain’ look at the company, and its direction. And yes, he explains what the historical difference is between the open source version of WordPress, and the WordPress.com version.
WordPress.com: the side of blogging you never knew about
WordPress.com is undoubtedly going to be a content-focused domain where bloggers (i.e., content creators) hang out. It’s not meant for web developers or businesses that want a lot of control over their sites.
If you’re on the fence about committing to regular posting, it’s a great tool to see how things will go with your blog before you invest in a pro website. I know, I know, who has time for blogging, right? But we all love the idea of it. So starting with something free and easy to set up is a great way to go. If you’re a content creator, use it to test out your true motivation and ‘umph’ for blogging.
It’s also a great tool to use if you know you are just going to blog, and don’t have plans to monetize your life online. Travel bloggers, journal-writers, people who love GIFs and very opinionated folks (you know who you are), will love WordPress.com.
In a way, I would say this service is more of a ‘social’ one, and competes well with a service like Tumblr or Blogger. Here is why:
You can “follow” other blogs. You can find your friends on other social networks to follow within the WordPress.com eco system.
You are also seemingly supposed to find other blogs to follow. It’s a content sharing world inside WordPress.com. Do you like travelling? They make it easy to find bloggers who write about travel:
It is perfectly acceptable, and encouraged, to “like” and “reblog” other people’s blog posts. See how when I’m logged in, I can find my friend Katherine’s blog, and the page encourages me to do these actions on her site:
You can pick free or paid pre-made themes to style your site. Some of these themes even look remarkably close to what Tumblr-style blogs look like (you know, sharing a link, a quote, and so on). Notice the one I picked, and how it has an image icon next to my ‘image’ post:
WordPress.com blogs are automatically equipped with Post Formats. This basically makes WordPress blogs very much like Tumblr blogs (where you chose the ‘type’ of content you’re going to post; a video, an image, plain text, etc. and it gets formatted a special way based on what you select). These are very conducive to quicker, shorter posts, which encourage more frequent sharing of content. For example, just like on Tumblr, it’s ok to post an animated GIF, a meme, a popular quote, a video or a set of images, all on their own, without text.
If however, you were blogging more seriously for business reasons, you would want your posts to be much more ‘meaty’ so that search engines could pick up on them easier.
WordPress.com also encourages you to connect your other social media accounts. This allows you to set up automatic sharing and syndication for your content. In other words, your WordPress.com blog can be your ‘hub’ for posting things from around the web, and those posts can automatically go out to your other social networks.
WordPress.com can get pricey if you upgrade
When you start off with WordPress.com, it’s totally free. However, if you want to unleash some more advanced features, you’ll need to pull out your wallet. And the more you want, the more pocket change you’ll need. That’s the big downside of using it. If you feel like you’re ‘locked in’ to the system (which you shouldn’t be), you won’t like the added charges compared to what you could get with other similar services out there (such as a DIY site with Squarespace, which we wrote about here), or even just making your own self-hosted site using WordPress.org.
Nonetheless, WordPress.com is a business, and they provide good services for their business transactions. You also always know what you’re getting. And, if your aim is to not have to take care of technical something-somethings so you can focus on content, then this could be a good fit for you. I also should mention that WordPress.com connects with several other services rather seamlessly (see below), which is a feature not found on other similar services. On top of all that, the blogging prowess of WordPress itself can be argued as matched by none.
With advanced upgrades, to know if what you’re getting is worth its value, you will need to decide what’s important to you. If, for example, e-commerce is your big ‘thang’ then you can probably do this better with other more suitable, or cheaper, services. Other than embedding PayPal buttons, for example, you can do e-commerce with Squarespace for $8 a month (comes out to about $96 a year). You could sell on Tumblr with a Shopify widget (not free, and not cheap, but has a 14 day trial). Though, really, if you want to do e-commerce ‘right’ with WordPress, and get the best ‘bang for buck,’ I would be looking at a self-hosted option with something like WooCommerce or iThemes Exchange.
Here are other types of things that would require an upgrade with WordPress.com:
Advanced customizations to an existing theme. Notice how on my chosen theme, my blog name goes outside the circle thingy, and to fix it, I would need to either shorten my name (not an option for branding reasons) or adjust the font size with CSS. I can’t seem to be able to do that with the basic customization settings, and would need an upgrade to have that kind of control. So that stinks.
Registering a custom domain name. This is also a bit of a rip off I think. WordPress.com wants to charge $18.00 a year for a domain name. Domain names on namecheap go for $11.85 a year (in Canadian dollars). Namecheap also offers free WhoIsGuard with a domain registration, which WordPress.com wants to charge an extra $8.00 a year for. Not cool WordPress. That being said, you could just register your domain name with a third party and use the WordPress.com mapping abilities to get it working on your blog.
Cool things you can do with WordPress.com out of the box
You can use a new interface for creating posts. It looks a lot easier and is much more streamlined than before. That being said, you could also switch back to the ‘regular’ WordPress post editor if you wanted to.
You can ask for feedback. This also shows that WordPress.com is focused on the content creator in all of us. Good writers know the value of constructive feedback from editors. With WordPress.com, you can easily send a draft of your copy to someone for review. It’s all built right into the post-editing interface, so they make it very easy for you. No plugins necessary.
You can display your social media content from many services. Sometimes this is not as easy as just entering a Twitter username in a plugin’s widget, like with WordPress.org options. Often you need to do some set up with the other social media accounts first, or do some troubleshooting (for example, when I tried to authorize the Instagram widget on my blog, it just refreshed the page and didn’t do anything, with no explanation given).
Also notice all the widget options that come built-in to WordPress.com. You display your Eventbrite Calendar, Flickr photos, Goodreads books, tlk.io Webchats, Del.icio.us links, Box File uploads, BandPage content, About.me profiles and more. This is on top of the things like tag clouds, galleries, blog stats, links, music players, countdown milestones, RSS links, recent comments, and other things we usually see on social blogs of this nature.
You can post by voice with a phone call. This is probably the most interesting thing about using the WordPress.com service. You can dial a number and create an audio file up to 1 hour that will automatically get posted to your blog. It’s a bit finicky to use (the registration number you have to enter is not that short, so it would be hard to do this on the go if you haven’t memorized it). Also, if there are more than ten seconds of silence on the phone call, it will automatically end right there (that stinks if you need to pause for a thought). However this is great for casual podcasts, radio-style interviews or reports, or music recordings. Though, bear in mind the audio quality won’t be that great.
You can use extra content features in the editor. These include things like polls, contact forms and location settings, which don’t come automatically built into the WordPress.org software.
What if you want your WordPress.org site to be just like your WordPress.com site?
There’s a plugin for that. The creators of WordPress over at Automattic created JetPack for this very reason. There were a lot of cool features in WordPress.com used to create more engagement with readers, that weren’t being utilized very much, or easily, on self-hosted WordPress sites. Now you can install a single plugin and get almost the whole experience of WordPres.com. However, you will notice some things are missing, and might require more third-party plugins to get your site to do exactly what WordPress.com does.
What if you want to switch from WordPress.com to WordPress.org?
That’s easy! Just use the Export and Import tools available on both types of services when you set up your self-hosted site. If you don’t know how to set up a self-hosted WordPress site, then this might be a tricky task for you to figure out. I would get help from a developer, or do more research on this topic. For example, read our article on installing WordPress, right here on our blog. You might also want to check out our article on choosing a WordPress host, since a third-party host will be necessary with WordPress.org’s open source software.
What makes WordPress.org so special?
For this, I think you should have a watch of the “Why WordPress?” keynote speech from WordCamp Seattle in 2013.
It brings up some important points. Like for example, the market share of WordPress among other content management systems (CMS). Also, keep in mind that WordPress is now running around 17 – 20 % of the Internet (the stats vary from source to source). We wrote an article on our blog about the way WordPress is creating more jobs.
WordPress.org is an open source, self-regulating community project. The base CMS is free, and so are many of the thousands of plugins available at wordpress.org/plugins/ (currently over 33K plugins to choose from). In short, the possibilities are endless, and there are very few limits you might face with WordPress when trying to accomplish what you’d like to do with a website.
However, the WordPress.org software does come with a learning curve (though I believe it’s not a high one, as some may argue). You will need some technical knowledge to set up a site using it. It’s not impossible to learn though, and in many cases, it acts as an accessible learning tool to those who want to get into the web development arena (whether or not they want to do it professionally).
The other thing to note is that the plugin availabilities with WordPress.org are so vast (there are premium plugins out there as well, not just the free ones at the link mentioned above). That can be immobilizing. Too many options can result in some bad decisions, or just plain confusion when setting up a website.
Especially for those not well trained in the skill of web development, sometimes the free availability of plugins can do more damage to a website project than help it. Some might also argue that this is a problem with open source and WordPress itself. I disagree. I think this is an education issue that needs tackling.
But in short, WordPress is awesome, and its awesomeness is growing. Check out our blog to see of what WordPress can do – really, there is no shortage of ideas.
Also, let us know how you use WordPress.org and WordPress.com differently, and when you would recommend either. Also, do you think the WordPress.org software should be identical to the WordPress.com experience as soon as it is installed? Should some features be standardized in all installations, in WordPress core? We’d love to hear your thoughts, and also explain your reasons why!