You have decided on WordPress as your blogging / CMS Platform. Now do you host your blog at WordPress.com (hosted) or use a website provider and consider a self-hosted WordPress Account? A discussion of why this tech-savy developer is considering choosing WordPress hosted services.
For many years now I have hosted my own WordPress powered blog and website. Like most of use that are more technical savvy, have a pre-existing domain, and more bandwidth then we know what to do with, downloading and installing the WordPress Blogging software from WordPress.org seems like the logical choice.
For those that are not familiar with WordPress, the company describes its amazing blogging and website content management system as:
The core software is built by hundreds of community volunteers, and when you’re ready for more there are thousands of plugins and themes available to transform your site into almost anything you can imagine. Over 60 million people have chosen WordPress to power the place on the web they call “home” — we’d love you to join the family.
Everything you see around these words is powered by the WordPress platform on my private web hosting account.
Should I use WordPress.ORG or WordPress.COM
WordPress is a publishing platform that makes it easy for anyone to publish online. WordPress comes in two flavors: the fully hosted WordPress.com, and the self-hosted version available at WordPress.org.
The main differences between the two flavours of the software are:
Focus on your beautiful content, and let the makers of WordPress handle the technical pieces (hosted).
Get your hands dirty, and host your website yourself (Self hosted).
|Premium hosting, security, and backups are available. You can even upgrade to a custom domain, like YourGroovyDomain.com.||You’ll need to find a website host, and perform backups and maintenance yourself.|
|Choose from hundreds of beautiful themes. Make it your own with Custom Design.||Huge Benefit – Install custom themes. Build your own with PHP and CSS.|
|Integrate your site with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other social networks.||Install a plugin, like Jetpack, to enable sharing functionality on your site.|
|Popular features like sharing, stats, comments, and polls are included. There’s no need to install plugins.||Install plugins to extend your site’s functionality.|
|Personal support and the WordPress.com forums are always available.||Visit the WordPress.org support forums for assistance.|
|You must register for an account on WordPress.com and abide by our Terms of Service.||No registration with WordPress.org is required.|
WordPress is a great CMS (Content Management System)
Traditionally I have relied on WordPress as a great CMS for my own sites (www.ithink.ca) and sites for a few customers such as Whispering Pines Bed and Breakfast or Halls and Hawk Lakes Cottagers Association. As a CMS, the WordPress suite allows for easy editing of webpage content with the online GUI interface including adding new pages and content on a regular basis without having to worry about HTML or CSS coding.
WordPress also offers over 35,000 plugins, that allow you to extend WordPress to do almost anything you can imagine from adding an interactive Calendar, Picture Achieves, manage paid registrations, add a random “quote of the day”. and much more.
In addition, there are thousands of WordPress Template Designers such as StudioPress that give you a professional looking Website or Blog design in few hours. Why pay a company to design you a custom website at $10,000 or more when you can buy a template for $100 and tweak it to fit your needs for a fraction of the price. Truthfully, the power of what you can incorporate into a customized WordPress website is only limited by your own technical abilities.
So Why am I considering migrating my site to WordPress.com
So why am I considering migrating my site to hosted WordPress.com? Truthfully it comes down to one word, “Reader”.
Reader is best described as the Community Hub for WordPress.com. Reader displays all the posts across all the blogs you follow in the order they were published, with the most recent content appearing at the top. You’ll see an excerpt of the introduction to each post, the first image in the post, and thumbnails of any other images that the post contains. You can even like and reblog WordPress.com content directly from your Reader using the icons in the bottom right corner of each post.
Discovering New Blogs: To find awesome new WordPress.com blogs, check out the Recommended Blogs section of your Reader. Once you choose the categories that interest you just press the Show me the blogs! button. A list will then display the blogs specifically tailored to your interests that you can add to your Reader.
If you want to see what people are saying about your hometown, favorite sports team, or a concert you attended last night, add any topic to your Reader and create a stream of all posts published with that tag. You can add as many topic streams to your Reader as you like. You’ll notice frequent updates being published under general topics like “Art” and “Books.” You can also add more specific topics like “Picasso” or “J. K. Rowling.”
Basically Reader is the equivalent of the WordPress yellow pages – find what people have written or blogged about on any topic that interests you. What better way to generate an audience, socialize, and connect?
Reader and custom hosted sites do not talk to each other
The problem, self hosted or custom hosted WordPress sites do not talk to Reader. I first realized this was an issue when I was taking the WordPress 101 course earlier this fall. One of the ways the courses suggested we solicit feedback from our classmates is to add tags to our posts and the class using Reader. The trouble was that zero of my post came up in reader, and the feedback I did get was from spamming my URL in the classroom forums.
Truthfully, seeing hits to your blog or website is addictive, through an interesting title on your twitter feed or Facebook back and watch your visitors spike, now how can you extend that beyond your circle of friends? Reader seems like the perfect solution! Do not get me wrong, many of my visitors come the old-fashioned way through Google and Yahoo – ever want to know what it is like to be have a Colonoscopy, it is one of my most popular pages. However, is it selfish to want to stir a little more controversy here and there?
Enable WordPress.com Toolbar
With JetPack installed on your self hosted WordPress Blog, you have the ability to enable the standard WordPress.com toolbar that replaces the default admin bar and offers quick access to Reader, all your JetPack enabled sites (both self hosted and WordPress.com hosted), your WordPress.com profile, and notifications.
This can be enabled under JetPack – Writing – Enable the WordPress.com toolbar.
See a more detailed article on the ToolBar here.
Although I did noticed one recent read from Reader, it does’t appear the populate Reader with self hosted posts when I do a search based on my tags. However, maybe this is the first step?
What am I giving up if I move to WordPress.com?
What am I giving up if I migrate my self hosted WordPress Blog of website to WordPress.com? Well, for me the biggest losses are as follows:
- Loss of my custom WordPress Theme – Without touching on the economics of migrating my site, as I will talk about that later, for starters my theme is not available to the WordPress.com platform. I will have to start from scratch, a new design. Ugg – although I am offered the option of 318 themes made up of free and premium (with a cost), we get use to our look and feel. And to be honest, I only changed mine just before I started the Blogging 101 course a few months ago. Truthfully, this is a hard change to swallow.
- Costs – For some that have a website hosting package dedicated to their blog, this may not be an issue as WordPress.COM advanced hosting package (their basic blogging package is free) which includes our custom domain. You are simply moving from paying company A to company B. However, for me, I share my hosting package with a few other websites that I own so the move to WordPress.COM will cost me an additional $100 a year for WordPress’ VIP account.
- Loss of Control – As a self hosted WordPress Blogger I have access to every intimate detail of my site, from the SQL Database, the php and css code. The ability to easily add any type of content, including a link to my Amazon Store. To can not be positive how much control will I loose, do I have the ability to load any Plugin from the WordPress archives or on a selection, will I lose my Flickr connection?
- Plugins or no plugins – As I noted earlier, self hosted WordPress sites have their pick of close to 34,000 plugins to choose from. To be fair, those that are regularly updated and downloaded by WordPress users are a fraction of those. However, the number is still staggering. My current site uses 15 plugins, of them a handful are among the top (Akismet, JetPack), however, others such as my Flicker Photostream, to repopulate my Flickr Photo’s or gallery on my WordPress site are not as popular and more than likely not included. Again, what will I have to give up? WordPress.com advertises they offer their customers over 200 plugins, and WordPress VIP subscribers are offered an additional 120 plugins, however their support for Flickr integration is VERY limited. However if there is a plugin that I feel is a must-have and would benefit users on WordPress.com, I can make a suggestion through the ideas forum! However, that feels more like a lottery then a reality.
Will I move my site to WordPress.com After all?
So where do I start? I suppose I will continue to search the template site so see what catches my eye. I wish there was a trial of Premium templates as it is hard to tell how well your content will fit the mold, however one challenge at a time. For now, I have migrated some of my post, categories, and pages over to WordPress.com under the domain dissectionofme.wordpress.com (makingyouthink was taken, back in 2011 and not a single word posted to it, just a little frustrating) – to be able to play around with a theme or two. As I begin to explore each on of my four points above I will be sure to check back in and write another article or add to this stream.
Step 1: Find a New Theme
As I noted, WordPress.com does offer a few hundred themes to placate even the pickiest of designers. One area of comfort, if a Premium theme doesn’t work out WordPress does offer a full refund up to 30 days from your purchase. To cancel your purchase and obtain a refund, please use the Cancel button on the My Upgrades page. You can always switch to any other Premium theme or one of free themes. The unfortunate part, is that the theme that has caught my eye is available free (as part of a lifetime subscription) to my self hosted account (back to #2). Now much are a few readers worth to me?
As a followup: I end up going WordPress.com a try and went as far as to purchase a new theme, pay one one year of hosting, and custom URL.
Despite the convenience of a managed hosting environment the lack of control over what I could add to my Blog, from widgets to HTML edits, I ended up migrating my site back to the self hosted environment.
Don’t get me wrong – WordPress.com is a great service, especially for BLOGGERS that do not want to get their hands dirty with managing databases or potential technical issues. However, for me, the additional hosting costs (above my other sites), and loss of control were two strong strikes against the service.
Within six months of my one year subscription I had migrated my site back to my self-hosted domain.