Full disclosure first: I love WordPress.com and I want to acknowledge that I might be a bit biased for two reasons. Firstly, I blog at WordPress.com and secondly, I work for Automattic, the company behind it.
I work in support at Automattic and so I get to see first hand the sorts of things users are doing with WordPress.com, why some want to get a self-hosted WordPress.org site instead, and the sorts of problems users experience with these sites. Since I started in April this year, I have answered 4,360 queries from users. Many of these queries have been about the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org which seems to be an enormous source of confusion.
It is confusing! I agree. I can remember finding it confusing when I first started blogging at WordPress.com. But I will try to explain the difference here and also explain why I think WordPress.com is often the best choice.
WordPress is software that drives 22% of all websites. Its founding developer – Matt Mullenweg – made sure very early on that this software would be open source and available for anyone to download and use for free. You can download it at WordPress.org.
But not everyone wants to download and install software or fiddle around with code, most of us just want to publish. This is where WordPress.com comes in. Matt Mullenweg created Automattic, a company to drive WordPress.com, the platform for users who want to publish without the hassle of downloading software and finding and paying for hosting.
The confusion arises because the version of WordPress at WordPress.com is very slightly different to the version at WordPress.org. If you download the WordPress.org version, you can see and edit all the code. You can also add exciting things called plugins and upload themes. You can’t do any of these things at WordPress.com.
For very good reasons. There are tens of thousands of plugins. Anyone can make a plugin. There’s no formal testing of plugins and so plugins can cause serious problems. In the short time I’ve been with Automattic, I have seen users who have installed a plugin on their self-hosted site and can no longer access the site as a result. The plugin broke it. This is not to say that I’m against plugins. There are some good and useful ones out there. But this is the reason we don’t allow them at WordPress.com. Millions of people blog at WordPress.com. We can’t compromise their sites by by opening the plugin floodgates. It would also be a mammoth task providing support for tens of thousands of plugins. I shudder to think about it …
We don’t allow users to upload themes or add code at WordPress.com for much the same reason.
You can create a site or a blog or both at WordPress.com completely free. There are no hosting fees and everything is taken care of including backups, security, and updates. The servers are fast and reliable. I have never experienced any down-time with my own blog. Not once. WordPress.com hosting is top class and I’m speaking from the perspective of a user now.
There is an amazing community at WordPress.com. Through the Reader, you can find people with similar interests and others can find your site there as well. Only WordPress.com sites appear in the Reader. Ok, this isn’t strictly true, some self-hosted sites appear there as well but only for users who were following them before they became self-hosted sites.
Another reason users sometimes want a self-hosted site is because of our Terms of Service. It’s true that we have some fairly strict rules. For instance, pornography and sites with intrusive advertising are banned. But I have come to appreciate these rules over time. I like that I can go to the WordPress.com Reader and search for something that interests me without being bombarded with spam sites and/or explicit images. If I want to check out pics of Big Peter and his, well, big peter, I would prefer to do it when searching specifically for such things rather than having them shoved in my face unsolicited.
I do have a self-hosted site as well but I only use this for testing. Yes, it was fun to explore the themes and plugins, look at the code, and tinker with every aspect of the site. However, the performance and the community doesn’t compare to what I have with this site on WordPress.com.
Please note that these are my own views and they don’t necessarily reflect the views of my employer.