WordPress: .com vs .org

wordpress-logo-notext-rgbIf you’re new to blogging, or even if you aren’t, you may have discovered that there are two different WordPress blogging platforms that use the same look and feel and even use the same logo. However, they are entirely different animals: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. What’s the difference? Which one should you use? Let’s attempt to unravel the mystery.

First, Some History

The first incarnation of WordPress was developed by two programmers, Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little, in 2003 as an offshoot of another blogging system called b2/cafelog. Both were developed as Open Source applications, which means that the source code is available to anyone who wants to tinker with it. As such, WordPress is available under a General Public License making it free to the public to use and change in any way they see fit. It cannot be sold or distributed for monetary gain.

Initially, WordPress was available for download to web servers. It required some technical savvy to install and manage but was incredibly flexible in how it could be manipulated and improved upon. Skilled users could add new features or modify existing ones. Matt heard grumblings from a faction within the user community that loved the software but wasn’t thrilled with all the technical knowledge required to maintain it. He listened to comments along the lines of “I’d be happy to use a platform that did the same thing but where someone else handled the installation, maintenance, backups and updates.” Thus WordPress.org begat WordPress.com.

What’s the Difference?

WordPress.com is a commercial enterprise owned by a company founded by Mr. Mullenweg called Automattic. The .com version has much of the same functionality, look and feel as WordPress.org, including that it is free to registered users. However, WordPress.com is maintained by paid professional developers and not the user community. There is nothing to install and all of the software upgrades, backups and maintenance are administered by the folks at Automattic. They make their money by selling value-added services and advertising.

My favorite analogy pertaining to the differences between the two platforms is that of owning a house versus renting an apartment. When you own a house (WordPress.org), you are responsible for the maintenance and repairs of that home, but you are allowed to do practically anything you want with it, such as add a room, move walls or tear the whole thing down and start from scratch. When you rent an apartment (WordPress.com), someone else is responsible for maintenance and repairs, but you are usually prohibited from doing anything other than decorating it.

Which One Should You Use?

WordPress.com is ideal for people and companies that are new to blogging and want to publish primarily written content, whether it be a personal diary or a series of technical whitepapers. WordPress.com is a particularly good choice for most business-to-business (B2B) applications. You can upload audio and video content to WordPress.com, but there are other platforms such as YouTube and iTunes that are better suited if that’s what you mostly want to publish.

WordPress.org is the better choice for eCommerce sites and sites that require special functionality and/or design. Unless you have serious technical chops, it’s usually advisable to hire someone to make any modifications for you. There are a plethora of developers out there who specialize in WordPress design and programming with expertise in various vertical applications, such as business-to-consumer (B2C), entertainment and non-profit.

A good strategy to use if you’re still not sure which one is right for you is to start with WordPress.com. Then if you discover you need more than it has to offer transfer your content to a WordPress.org implementation. There are plenty of resources available to help you do just this. Of course, if you’re still not sure, feel free to contact me and we’ll brainstorm it together – no charge.

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