WordPress – .com vs. .org – differences

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As many of you may know, there are two versions of WordPress available.

The first is the WordPress.com hosted version. About 200,000 of you use this version to publish content on the internet without having to worry about servers, routers, operating systems, bandwidth, up time and other technical details which 199,999 of you don’t really care about.

The second version is WordPress.org. WordPress.org provides most of the software (programs) that run in the background to power a WordPress based blog. It’s up to you to provide, fund and worry about all those technical details that 199,999 other people don’t care about. Having said that, for under a $100/year you can find someone (a company) to provide and worry about most of those technical details for you. However, you will still need to have a fair amount of geek in you to run your own WordPress.org.  That geek in you is needed for some of the differences listed below.

Here’s what the kids at WordPress say about themselves.

On the surface, one might think because the underlying software is the same, running the same version of WordPress as a .com version and a .org version provides the same functionality. One would be wrong. There are differences. Most of them are minor differences, but are surprising as to why they’re different. As there was not an easily found list of the differences between the two, I decided to create one. This is an ongoing post and will be updated as more differences are found. The post refers to version 2.9. Here goes.

Plugins

Plugins are various extensions to the basic functionality of WordPress software.  When added to WordPress, they provide new features without changing, or breaking, how WordPress basically works.  WordPress is the house, the fireplace is the plugin.  To digress.  In real terms, a fireplace is a pretty damn big plugin.  It’s probably not the best example to use.  But since blogging is as much a virtual world as real, and we’ve all seen the Matrix so we know what virtual means, we won’t sweat the details on building that fireplace.

.com does not allow plugins.     .org allows plugins

Now the above is not totally true.  The .com version has plugins, but only the plugins that Automattic (Automattic is the company that runs WordPress.com for you) thinks you’ll need or is willing to allow you to run.  If .com comes standard with a brick fireplace plugin, you cannot change it to a stone fireplace plugin.  The .org version allows you to add any plugin available, possibly even that stone fireplace.  In the most extreme case, you could create your own plugin.  Creation is not to be taken lightly.

Most of the differences listed below may simply be due to plugins that are automatically installed when you use the .com version.  That’s a hypothesis at this point, not a researched fact.   When you use the .org version, you’ll have to hunt down and install any of the plugins that might be missing below.  You may question, why doesn’t WordPress.org distribute the same plugins with the .org version as is installed when running your blog on .com?  That’s a mystery along with the list of the plugins that the .com version seems to use automatically.

Gravatars

.com has Gravatars.              .org does not have Gravatars.

Your Gravatar can be found in your WordPress profile once you’re logged into your blog.   The .com version supports these as soon as you establish your blog and makes it easy to add your picture.  The Gravatar is missing from the .org user profile.  There seems to be a plugin available as well as instructions how to manually add one, even without the plugin,  to the .org version.  I’ve tried neither at this point. Here’s a current link to the support page.

Proofreading

.com has this feature     .org does not have this feature

In the user profile section the .com version has a whole slew of options for something called proofreading.  The .org version has none of these.

Proofreading is a more powerful tool than just the normal spell checking which comes with both versions.  There are about 10 options for WordPress to check for grammar and content problems, such as clichés and double negatives.  There are further options to automatically proofread the post either on any update or on initial publishing.  In general pretty powerful stuff.  This may or may not be a worthwhile feature for you, especially if you develop your post off-line in a different tool.   The differences between the two seem to be the After The Deadline plugin which can be added to the .org version.  This plugin requires an API key obtained after registration, which is possibly the reason why it is not automatically included in the .org version.  The plugin is free for personal use at this time according to the website.  Here’s a link to the WordPress support page for this feature.

Akismet – Spaminator

.com has this feature     .org does not have this feature

Akismet helps protect your blog from blog comment spam.  Comment spam?  Is this caused by global warming?  No.  Comment spam is how people try to raise their profile in search engines by including their web site url in a comment they’ve placed on one or several of your posts.  Do they do this by staying up really late at night, reading your posts and then adding their enlightened comments.  Not a chance.  They have programs, similar to what the search engines do,  that crawl the web looking for any blog page and automatically add a comment.  The consequences of that are either you have a whole bunch of useless comments to review and delete or, if you allow the comments to post automatically, really junky posts caused by a whole bunch of unwanted comments.  Akismet helps eliminate comments from these kind of nasty people and programs by blocking known comment spam from even attaching to your blog.  The .com version has this set up and running the minute you create your blog.

The .org version has the Akismet plugin installed, but you have to register your blog with Akismet and then enter an activation key to make it work.  Fairly easy to do.  Having run without it for a few months, I can say that comment spam does exist and Akismet has stopped over 95% of it from hitting my .org blog.

Custom Header

.com makes it easy .org is more difficult

Almost no WordPress blog stays with the basic blue and white text header for very long. One possible exception would be the content driven Iranian Redneck. WordPress.com makes it fairly simple to add your own picture in the header of your blog (just like above). When logged in as administrator, click Appearance then Custom Header and follow the instructions. The instructions will simply lead you through uploading the image from your PC and then “cropping” the image to the correct size, which is 740 x 192 pixels. You won’t need to worry about how to measure pixels, or even what they are, WordPress.com will show you the correct size as a little rectangle. You’ll just need to match up the part of the picture you want to show in the rectangle, which is also what’s going to show as your blog header once it’s saved. Here’s the url to the WordPress help documentation.

WordPress.org, the version you run yourself, is missing this simple approach. First you’ll need to crop your picture before uploading. If you’re into PhotoShop or a similar program, this probably isn’t a big deal. If you’re not, you’ll need to find and learn enough about a photo editor to crop your picture. The Gimp is an open source free photo editor that’s very powerful. Here’s the download link for the Windows version of GIMP. Here’s where that 740 x 192 pixels information is needed. That’s the target size of your cropped image. Once cropped, you just need to upload the image to your web site.

Find your WordPress themes/default/images directory on your web site. Usually something like this; pubic_html/wordPress/wp-content/themes/default/images. In the directory find a kubrickheader.jpg file. Back it up using a copy to something like kubrickheader.jpg.bak. Then upload your new header image to this directory and rename it kubrickheader.jpg. Couldn’t be easier? Yes it could’ve be easier as well as it could’ve been easier finding this information.

Here’s a url to Figaro’s blog. This is where I found the information this time. Yes, I actually found all this one time before from a different source, but forgot where everything was. Here’s the specific post which talks about this and more.

This information is specific to the default Kubrick theme that comes with a fresh WordPress.org install. Other themes may be easier to work with or store the images under different file names or directories. As always there may be plugins which help with this process. I found some, but they didn’t sound like they made life much easier.

Monetizing Your Blog

.com is restrictive and sort of fuzzy .org is wide open

Monetizing your blog simply means making money from your blog. While many of you writing blogs, write for personal reasons, it would be an incentive if you could earn a few dollars a year to treat yourself to a dinner or kitchen gadget you’ve always wanted from all the hard work you’ve done to create and maintain your blog’s content. Making money on the web generally involves running; banner ads, ad services and or links to sites where you might make a small commission for referrals and any sales coming from you. WordPress.com is very restrictive in what you can do to monetize your blog. WordPress.org is your baby to do with as you want.

The .com Terms Of Service (TOS) are not totally clear in what you can do to monetize your blog, even though some people think so. It is more an interpretation and enforcement of the TOS that limits your ability to make a few dollars from your blog. Here’s a link to a support page which elaborates on what is not permissible. However, as with any policy it’s the enforcement that matters. So here’s one explanation of what is usually acceptable and what is not: “… if you have a real blog with real content and real readers, we don’t mind the occasional affiliate link to a reputable store (Amazon being the textbook example). The things that we absolutely don’t permit are: banner ads; MLM/network marketing/get rich schemes; fake blogs; and spam of any kind (i.e. unwanted bulk comments/blogs/posts/emails). “real blog” is the key. Staff are willing to cut you some slack you have a real blog. If you’re not sure, contact support and ask – they won’t bite.” Follow this to link to the actual web page. The bottom line on all this is, if WordPress.com (really Automattic) doesn’t like what you’re doing, they’ll shut you down, “Automattic may terminate your access to all or any part of the Website at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice, effective immediately.” The previous sentence is also a good reason why you should back up your site often, or keep other copies of its content off-line.

In browsing some .com sites, you’ll probably find a little activity that might be considered monetizing the site. Most activity is limited and related to the blog contents. Overall, people generally seem to comply with the spirit of the policy. So you might still get an annual dinner out of this.

On the other hand, if you think you have a blog that can make you tons of money, invest your time, energy, and cash in running your own web site and blog using WordPress.org. No restrictions other than the normal legal restrictions that keep us from running through red lights and the laws of physics.

Speed And Freedom

.com is sort of slow to edit .org is better

Speed counts. Normally we’d think of this as how fast your blog posts are served up to your readers. That hasn’t been a problem so far with either the .com or .org version. What you’ll notice more is how slow it is to edit your posts directly on .com using the built-in editor.

The editor that comes with either version of WordPress is not a bad little editor. In fact it’s changed my mind about cloud computing and the future of PCs. Doing this kind of work over the web isn’t much different from doing it directly on a PC.

Especially with a secure connection turned on, saving post drafts is excruciatingly slow. We’ll see if that last word passes spell checking (missed it by one letter – not bad). The truly amazing thing about sitting here writing these things is that words, like excruciatingly, unused in years and years suddenly pop out on the electronic paper. Sort of like lotto balls popping out of the drum. And like lotto balls, sometimes we’re not sure if it’s a nine or a six upside down (I know, there’s usually a little line under the number). Thus, hooray for the spell checker. The spell checker is sort of like electronic toilet paper. Finish that sentence any way you wish and insert your own electronic image in your mind.

But back to slow. As noted, saving the post on .com is slow. Most of the problem may be something you have no control over. WordPress.com checks your post content and edits out html pieces not allowed. Automattic, the owners of WordPress.com, want to protect the whole system from hackers and improper code which may adversely affect performance or security. I’ve seen this when testing the insertion of an Amazon wish list wizard into the .com site. The java script code was stripped out of the post, leaving the post surprisingly still functional, but looking a little strange. The .com version will even remove more basic html code from your post. So even though you can add it with your keyboard, some of that html code is going to be gone when you look at it next. I don’t have a list of all the rules. Suffice it to say, it really doesn’t matter much for many of us. If you stick to the functions in the online editor, you’ll most likely be within the rules and won’t have to wonder why your web site looks a little funky. Actually, as far as funkiness goes, you’re probably your own worst enemy. Especially those dark background blogs.

Having gone well beyond the topic of speed, we might as well continue. For a price, Automattic will give you the ability to do more with code. Mostly in the area of css (cascading style sheet) code. And for additional fees, WordPress will allow you more freedom up to almost complete control. Surprisingly, it’s really difficult to find a price list for all these extra features. On the other hand, for a free blog, most of us still got a good deal.

Speed on the .org version depends on your web hosting company, how many visitors hit your site and in general how much money you want to spend. Saving your posts on your own hosted blog is faster (assuming your hosting company hasn’t put you on a 10 year old PC with 1,000 other people – sort of unlikely). None of this behind the scenes editing stuff the .com version does. You’re free to include what you want, limited by what the back-end hosting system can support. Of course with the freedom comes the responsibility to know what you’re doing. If you’re an html wizard, you won’t have too many problems. If you’re not a wizard, but will basically stick with the functions available in this editor, your web site should behave the way you want.

How about serving up blog pages to the public? After all that’s what we care about, giving our readers a pleasurable experience and sometimes something to complain about – the content. In my case I find both versions fast in serving up posts. This is with low volumes most of you can expect to see. If you run a high volume site, the .com version should in theory run faster, because, in theory it is able to throw much more computing power at running your blog. On your own hosted site (.org), high volume usually means more money needed to rent more computing power from your hosting company.

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