On top of working for Automattic on WordPress.com and our other products, I spend a lot of time volunteering in the open-source WordPress community, sometimes referred to as WordPress.org.
Now, if you aren’t familiar with the differences with WordPress.com and WordPress.org, it goes like this: Once upon a time there was this fellow named Matt Mullenweg. He and Mike Little released the open-source WordPress software in 2003. WordPress initially started out as blogging software but eventually evolved into a rich and the most widely used content management system (CMS) in the world.
So what is WordPress.org?
So, we know WordPress is the software itself. WordPress.org refers to the open source community that supports, develops, and maintains the WordPress software. No single person or entity is in charge and anyone can contribute.
Now, anyone can download this free software, and install it on a web host or local server. You can hack it, break it, bundle it up and redistribute it (within the parameters of the licensing) and essentially do whatever you want with it.
Here’s the tricky part
You still have to find a web host (unless you’re going to run the web server out of your house, which isn’t advisable.) There are lots of hosts out there, with all sorts of different features. WordPress.org has a few recommended hosts here. This is the part where I think people get most confused.
So, you’ve purchased hosting somewhere, installed WordPress, registered a domain, and connected it to the site. Now you’re setting up the site and you have a question. Who do you ask? WordPress.com right? Wrong!
WordPress is open-source software. It’s developed, maintained, and supported by the WordPress.org community. You can ask for help on the WordPress.org forums (and there are lots of helpful volunteers!) or the developer of a specific plugin or theme, but that’s it!
What about my host? They might be able to help. However, most hosts are there to help you with the actual configuration of the web server, and not a whole lot beyond that. There are exceptions to this rule, and hosts like Bluehost have support for the WordPress software, but for the most part, you’re on your own.
This has its benefits. You’re virtually unlimited in what you can do with your site, the sky (and your hosting restrictions) are the limit.
Here’s what most people don’t know, though:
Sure, you can host a site for dirt cheap but it’s probably shared hosting and the bandwidth is likely not great either. How much web storage do you have? If something breaks, what’s the support like? If they’re charging you for SSL, get out. An SSL certificate costs no one anything and it’s a bogus charge, in my opinion.
In terms of bandwidth: you may not think this is important but if you ever have more than one person connecting to your site, it’s a concern. Take a look, for example, of 50 simulated requests to this site:
50 requests served in about 5 seconds. I could run that script all day without any issues.
Let’s compare this to what some other hosts might look like:
How much do you know about software, web development, security? These are legitimate concerns that any reasonable site owner should have. Remember how I said you’re virtually unlimited in what you can do? You’re also responsible for the security of your site and keeping things up to date. It takes work. Because WordPress is open-source software, hackers find vulnerabilities all the time. These are often patched in WordPress core before they have any real effect on people, but folks install plugins made by third party developers and/or fail to update core and get exploited. Happens every day.
If you’re a web developer who absolutely knows what they’re doing, this may not be a concern for you. But for the average user, this is a really big deal.
Remember Matt Mullenweg? Shortly after founding WordPress he started his own company, called Automattic, which makes a product called WordPress.com among many others. Automattic is passionate about making the web a better place. The vast majority of its work is available to the public under the GPL, and they heavily contribute to the WordPress.org community and open-source WordPress software.
So what is WordPress.com?
WordPress.com at its core is a hosting service like some we’ve discussed above, but it’s really much more than that. It’s a fully managed, site building service, it’s a domain registrar, it’s an all-in-one platform for you to publish your message to the world. It’s much, much more.
So right out of the gate: You can start on WordPress.com for free. Granted of course, you’ll be using a subdomain on a free site, and some other restrictions, but you can still start writing content, uploading pictures and customizing a theme and site for free. I’m not really aware of another hosting service that will give you a space to host a site for free, especially not a WordPress installation, and especially not with unlimited bandwidth. So that’s nice.
You can upgrade to a paid plan anytime, or start out with one, and the benefits are massive. On top of all of the features listed at https://wordpress.com/plans you get:
- Access to run ads with one click (monetization)
- Unlimited Bandwidth (seriously, it’s blazing fast too)
- Updates and security all managed for you (this is huge)
- Real-time backups
- Free domain for the first year
- 24/7 support
Speaking of support: The support at WordPress.com is no joke. These aren’t folks reading off a script, these are bloggers, developers, designers, marketers… in fact, every single person that works at Automattic does a support rotation at least once a year (including Matt himself!)
Well, we tried.
There’s also a dedicated team of folks 300+ strong who guide, troubleshoot, live and breathe WordPress all day long. These folks, called Happiness Engineers (👋) do just that by providing world class guidance and troubleshooting day in and day out for our 156 Million+ users across our products. We’ll show you how to set up a WordPress site, we’ll walk you through theme setup, we’ll write CSS for you, we’ll provide advice and best practices for SEO, and we’ll do it all in real time – all for as little as $5, or $8 a month on a Personal or Premium plan.
We’re also a well-established entity. We’ve been around for 14 years now and we aren’t going anywhere. If you aren’t satisfied with your purchase we have a 30 day no-questions-asked refund policy at WordPress.com on all WordPress.com Products and 5 days for domains.
We keep things secure. All updates to WordPress core (the open source software) are automatically applied to your WordPress.com site in addition to our proprietary software and most if not all features of the Jetpack plugin (another product we make) see: social media sharing, static file hosting, lazy loading images, video players, advanced SEO, eCommerce tools, premium themes, the list goes on…
So why doesn’t everyone use WordPress.com?
Because it has its pros and cons. I’d honestly say (and I look at thousands of sites a month) that for 90% of folks, it’s exactly what you need. You can’t out-scale us. If you get really big, we even have a VIP platform where we have clients like Time, CNN, Variety, People, New York Post, Capital One, even Facebook. Is your site getting more clicks than Time Magazine? Probably not.
However, that remaining 10% of folks do need the extensibility that is simply much easier on a self-hosted solution. Especially for developers. They may have a client with specific needs. WordPress is powerful, but requires an advanced knowledge of web development to really get in there and work requirements out around a client. If you need to heavily modify or extend the software’s functionality – a self-hosted solution is probably the way to go.
Lastly, there are a lot of myths floating around.
“You don’t own your site at WordPress.com”
This simply isn’t true. I don’t know how this rumor got started but I see it everywhere. Some hosts/platform might hold your site and/or content hostage, but we don’t. At My Sites > Settings > Export we provide the option to Export all (or specific) text content (pages, posts, feedback) from your site and also the option to Download all the media library files (images, videos, audio and documents) from your site.
We also explicitly say this in our Terms of Service:
Our service is designed to give you as much control and ownership over what goes on your website as possible and encourage you to express yourself freely. You own all content you post to your website.https://en.wordpress.com/tos/ Section 7: Service Specific Terms
“You can’t use plugins”
This actually used to be true, and still is for non-Business or eCommerce plans but this is because of the way the site architecture is set up on lower-than-business plans. With a WordPress.com Business plan you can install plugins, upload custom themes, have unlimited storage and bandwidth and literal 24/7 real time support among a plethora of other ridiculous features at $25 a month.
“I need a website, not a blog”
While WordPress itself started out as blogging software, it’s now a very robust CMS and this is true on .com and .org. At WordPress.com, we use “website” and “blog” as interchangeable terms. All of our themes can be used for either a website or a blog. Our default layout is a blog-style format. Take a look at this video tutorial for a walkthrough on how to change your theme’s layout to a website-style format.
At the end of the day:
WordPress.com and WordPress.org both have their pros and cons. WordPress.com is sort like having an apartment. You can’t put in a swimming pool, but if something breaks or you need something you’ll get expert help at no additional cost to you. If you aren’t sure how to paint the walls of your apartment, we’ll buy the paint and show you how. WordPress.org is sort of like owning a house. Sure you can knock down that wall to join two rooms but it’s on you if the house falls, as well.
That’s a pretty base comparison, but hopefully you get the point. Ultimately, it’s your choice. I hope this post was able to clear a few misconceptions surrounding these two platforms for you.
Do you have any other questions? Let me know!