There are two WordPresses. This confuses lots of people, to the point that Matt Mullenweg has implied he’ll never name something like this again. It’s almost as confusing as pages vs posts, which is a whole different post.
WordPress.org – The location of the software you can download and install your own WordPress blog on your own server.
WordPress.com – The often free blogging software anyone can sign up for and have hosted by WordPress.com. It’s like Blogger or LiveJournal, only better because it’s WordPress.
So which one is better? .com or .org?
I usually tell people that I can’t answer that question, or to google it, or I ask them what they want to do. It’s not an easy question to answer, but I’m going to try here.
First, I want to point out that there is no shame in not wanting to host your own blog. Seriously. It’s work, and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot. You have to stay up on your software versions, plugins, themes, etc etc and … Yeah. Work.
So here it is, in all it’s glory: If all you want is a blog, and you don’t mind a few basic themes? Use WordPress.com. There. Done. If you’re willing to pay, you can even customize your CSS or download other themes, and have your own domain name.
A friend asked me recently if she should use wordpress.com or self host. My email is verbatim:
Don’t worry about where you want to be in 10 years, worry about where you want to be in a year, but only in the broad strokes. It’s like learning to paint or draw. You start with the big, simple, concepts, and learn how to do the rest as you go. If you think ‘I want something like Ning’ or ‘And I want forums’ or a wiki or whatever, well, then don’t use .com. But if all you want is a blog? Just use WordPress.com and you’re done.
Except, see, it’s really not that simple.
When people on WordPress.org forums ask this question, I usually tell them to read Don Campbell’s post “WordPress.org vs WordPress.com – Which One Should I Use?” It’s pretty straightforward and helpful. Lately, people have followed up that advice with ‘Okay, great. Why is one better than the other?’ Even people who read the official WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org article by WordPress ask that.
I firmly believe that better is subjective, and it really depends what kind of blogger you want to be. However there are some obvious benefits to self-hosting.
WordPress.com limits your free themes. If you want some fancy CSS or your own domain name or more storage, you have to pay for it. At a certain point, you will end up paying the same as you would for a hosting plan, and you’re getting ‘less’, in that you still can’t install your own plugins or third-party apps! No Wiki, no gallery. Nada. On the other hand, you pretty much never have to worry about your upgrade going bananas, or hanging .maintenance files that make you think your site is down, or incompatible PHP/SQL versions. You get the most pain-free upgrade possible.
That said, if your blog grows and becomes popular, you will outgrown the free hosting. You’ll need to pay more for hosting. You may even have to pony up for VIP hosting if you make it big like Cute Overload. Free only takes you so far, and you get what you pay for. Pay nothing, and there’s a limit to what you’re going to get.
But wait, you don’t pay a thing for WordPress.org! Does that mean you get nothing? No, it means that there is a limit to what you get. Free support, sure, but from people who fill in on our free time. Yes, our. I waste a lot of time helping people with obvious question, pointing out typos, and earning karma credit by trying to be a good person. There are a lot of people with a sense of entitlement, that this software should do everything without needing to know what’s going on. Listen, you weren’t born knowing how to use Microsoft Word. Some people go a lifetime without touching macros, while other people can’t fathom their life without key commands that resize and reformat sections.
There is no one true way to nerdvana, folks. There’s no one perfect operating system, no one perfect blog software, no perfect phone. It’s all what you want, what you can use, and where your comfort zone is.
So why would I pick WordPress.org over WordPress.com? Flexibility, growth and options. I want the ability to grow and do everything that might come down the road. Of this, WordPress, my blog, is a small part. I want SubVersion, videos, galleries, you name it.
Why would I pick WordPress.com over WordPress.org? I wouldn’t. But I do suggest it to people now and then, when I look at their needs and say ‘You know, this is a great place to start.’ If they outgrow the .com, they can export their posts and comments over to a self-hosted install with a bit of effort. And the work required to do that is pretty typical of the savvy you’re going to need to support yourself going forward.
Which is better? No one can answer that for you, but hopefuly some of the advice here will get you started in answering it for yourself.