WordPress .com vs .org Explained

Confused about WordPress, and don’t understand what’s up with its dot-com and dot-org variants? That’s about to end!

What is WordPress?

Basically, WordPress is a piece of software made up (primarily) of many PHP files, which work together, in conjunction with a database, to serve up pages and blog posts. (The way they display is controlled mainly by a Theme, which is made up (primarily) of PHP template files.)

WordPress runs on a web server. You access and use it via the Web. If you install it, you install it on your web site/host – – not on your own computer.

What is WordPress.org?

That software described above is available for free download at WordPress.org (and via various “one-click”-style installers at many/most web hosts). To use that, you need to own a website domain that is already hosted somewhere. (Thus, this version is sometimes called “self-hosted”.)

If you install “dot org WordPress” at your own web site, you can use it for free and do whatever you want with it. But just as you have full power, you also have full responsibility for operating and maintaining that WordPress installation. You might need to do some online learning to really get underway, and while there are lots of WP support resources on the web, no one would be around to hold your hand. (Your host will almost certainly offer little to no help with WordPress, beyond maybe helping you get it installed.) A lot of business owners in this situation will look to a WP professional like myself to help them get squared away, or get their theme tweaked, etc.

WordPress.org is backed by theĀ WordPress Foundation, and its mission basically is to spread WordPress across the globe, and to keep making it better while making sure it remains free and open source forever.

What is WordPress.com?

WordPress.com is a free blogging service as well as a for-pay WordPress host. It uses basically the same software as above, but it’s hosted by the WordPress.com people. (Which makes this the “hosted” version of WordPress, vs. the “self-hosted” dot org version.)

With the free account, you get a blog at something like yourname.wordpress.com. It’s not as pimped-out as it could be if you had it hosted on your own site, but you can definitely get off and running with it.

If you pay for their hosting, you can use your own proper domain name–basically getting you to the state that a “dot org” version user is in, except you have the creators of WordPress as your hand-holding guides and hosts. But you also get less control over your actual WordPress installation. (You can’t add plugins, for one thing…you’re stuck with their handful of widgets.) Those WordPress.com people have to manage a gazillion blogs and sites, so they have some limitations in place on their WordPress installations. And they are a for-profit enterprise, so they will definitely hit your wallet a bit, especially if you want to get more features or control.

WordPress.com is run by Automattic, a for-profit company started by WordPress co-creator Matt Mullenweg.


Which one to use

Which one you should use really depends on your situation and your priorities, as well as your access to tech help and/or your willingness to learn new things and get your hands dirty.

“Self-hosted” WordPress.org is infinitely more powerful than its commercial cousin, due to having full access to all features, plus the ability to use plugins. (And I don’t mean it’s a lot more powerful–I mean it is literally infinitely more powerful.) But it might be scary or confusing to dive into; you could end up daunted just trying to get it installed, and you will probably have lots of questions early on. Push through that, and you could end up with an awesome slick site with hundreds of pages and tons of neat features for essentially free.

“Hosted” WordPress.com is convenient and turnkey, and you get “24/7 support” from the people who know WordPress better than anyone else. Of course, since their WordPress installations are relatively limited, most support probably deals with basic issues involving their limited set of tools and features. But if you’ve seen (and been freaked out by) the full WordPress menu set, you might prefer a more scaled-down version. And your ambitions for your web presence may be such that a WordPress.com might be the perfect simple solution for you.

I’m such a huge fan of what the WordPress folks have brought into the world that I’m more than happy to see people spend money on their dot-com services, even though it’s a limited version of WP, and even though I generally make my bacon from business owners who are forging into the denser forest of dot-org WP. ;-)

If you want some advice on which way you should go, you can always tweet me at @freeWPadvice–I’d be happy to help you figure it out (and as the username suggests, I’ll do it for free). If you’re not on Twitter, hit me up some other way and I’ll talk to you there.