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Bill Bennett


Why I moved back from self-hosted to WordPress.com

In December this site moved back to WordPress.com. It was a self-hosted WordPress site for two years.

The site launched on WordPress.com. It stayed with the free hosting service for a year before switching to self-hosting.

It returned to WordPress.com because self-hosting no longer offered any return on the extra work involved.

The lure of self-hosted WordPress.org

Self-hosted WordPress is a great way to learn more about web-publishing technology.

I’m a journalist. Newspapers are the past. WordPress represents a possible future. HTML, PHP and CSS are likely more useful to the rest of my career than sharpening my typewriter skills.

Often, the best way to learn about technology is by doing.

I installed the WordPress.org software, found a local host, grabbed a domain name and built a tailored site.

Getting the site running took time and effort. I had to learn a huge amount. It was challenging and satisfying.

Learning minimalism the hard way

Self-hosted WordPress is more flexible than WordPress.com. Yet in the end, this proved unimportant.

A key lesson I learnt from my time with the hosted software was the virtues of radical simplicity. I took a minimalist approach to site design. My on-line reading experience taught me simple is good, complex is bad.

Building huge, complicated feature-rich sites is tempting. I never fell into this trap, but my site became more complex than necessary.

Apart from being harder to read. Complex pages load slowly and things – we’ll leave them unspecified for the moment – get in the way of the words.

There are also problems displaying complex web sites on smart phones.

Over time my site evolved – or should that be devolved – to a minimal format. I wanted to strip it back to focus on short, snappy stories. Self-hosted WordPress’s famous flexibility no longer mattered.

Minimal is as minimal does

Minimalism is a state of mind. I realised I could apply the same principles to managing the site. I simplified day-to-day site maintenance by leaving it all to experts. Running the site now takes considerably less energy and effort. I’m free to spend more time on writing fresh content. I can focus on the important things.

I haven’t given up on self-hosted WordPress or on learning more about the mechanics of on-line publishing, I look after a few self-hosted sites and will continue to experiment with WordPress.org, PHP and CSS. However, this one is no longer my test rig.



7 thoughts on “Why I moved back from self-hosted to WordPress.com

  1. I’ve gone back and forth on a million templates as well – complex, minimalist, feature rich. Eventually I “devolved” to a simplistic approach – and moved away from WordPress altogether – because I wanted even fewer features to be distracted by! All that to say, I can relate!
    I would definitely recommend that you continue on your path of learning php/html/css – because the benefits are tremendous. I can’t tell you how many friends of mine have had to email me to ask for help on fixing their sign up plug-ins, their templates that got jacked… and on self-hosted WP sites, they get hacked… a lot.

    1. I’m at the stage where I can write CSS or HTML without much effort – maybe looking up syntax occasionally. I can read PHP and debug or edit files, but I doubt I could code something from scratch. I’m not sure I’ll need to.

  2. Hi Bill,
    An interesting journey. It should be noted that in recent times the gap between “dotcom” and “self-hosted” versions has become less important. WordPress.com now has more flexibility around themes and a wider range of plugins than it had even 2 years ago. Also the pricing and ease of using your own domain there has become more simple.

    Security is also an important consideration but in my experience most security breaches come from users being lazy and not using secure passwords and/or having admin as a user name.

    The other growth area has been in “premium” themes which come as all singing / all dancing but the trade-off there is that often need many more PHP queries to build each page and that slows them down.

    I encourage my WordPress friends to use child themes of the optimal designed themes as it keeps them faster to query & build. Hosting companies vary quite a bit in the way that they resource WordPress sites and so caching is always a good idea.

    Arguably you have more content than many of the WordPress sites out there which are using WP as a relatively static CMS. There is always a tradeoff between branding & extra functions vs a more simple text content approach.

    Last but not least there is a certain amount of fashion with the slideshow format currently in favour. Sometimes the slides have not been resized to fit and there are often a few other tweaks and changes that can be made to theme & plugin combos although the average user often won’t have the time to deal to that.

    Net result – I would think moving back to wordpress.com or staying there is going to be realistic option for some users.

    1. As you say WordPress.com has improved hugely over the past two years and it is now possible to pay a few dollars to use your own domain name. A few more buys the right to tinker with the CSS and there are premium themes for those that want them.

      My other sites are still self-hosted. I plan to move one more back to WordPress.com and leave the remainder as hosted sites.

  3. I think the key thing is to make sure you can backup (and restore to a different place) all the content. That is articles, comments, the threading of those comments etc. Never trust the 3rd party to do them for you, no matter how good people say they are etc. Look at people who have woken up to empty gmail boxes etc.

    1. Good point.

      WordPress.com exports content to an XML file. Perhaps that’s not the best format, but it’s usable. I back up locally about once a month. When things settle down, I’ll investigate ways of automating this and finding somewhere in the cloud to store all that content.

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