Is WordPress.com Bad for WordPress?

Filed as Editorial on June 24, 2009 9:18 pm

The discussion around the Chris Anderson goof episode raises an interesting issue.

Is WordPress.com bad for the WordPress brand?

Think I am being to strong? Check out this from Mark Jaquith

What about the following, which I’ve all heard?• “You can’t edit your CSS on WordPress unless you pay.”
• “You can only use the themes that come with WordPress.”
• “WordPress doesn’t allow Adsense.”
• “Embeds don’t work on WordPress.”

Those statements, which are absolutely true for WordPress.com, are false and damaging for WordPress

I see this confusion occasionally too in my forum and in conversations. Not a lot but enough that I know it is a problem, and I also know that the “WordPress is for non-commercial” meme has spread far and wide …

Now if you support the idea that WordPress.com is causing confusion for the WordPress brand, and I think many people will agree that it is, what to do about it?

Well, it is not like all those thousands of *.WordPress.com sites are going to be happily redirected to new domains. I can only think that rebranding the software would be the (inelegant, or even downright ugly) solution :(

What do you think? Am I blowing this up to be a bigger problem than it is? Is there a better solution? Please share your thoughts in the comments …

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  1. By hilikus posted on June 24, 2009 at 9:32 pm
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    Yeah Chris, i have to agree with you. Whenever i advise somebody to use wordpress i have to make sure they know i mean .org!

    .com is a great free bloggin service to compete with the likes of blogger, but definitely means that .org is not taken seriously as a powerful CMS.

    No obvious solution tho im afraid, like u said rebranding .com is an ugly option

    Reply

  2. By Shefaly posted on June 24, 2009 at 9:35 pm
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    I use both WP.com and hosted WP. The former is good for those who do not want too much technical handling or tinkering; using the latter has confirmed my view on the former. There is no damage to the brand. The commercial/ non-commercial divide does not come into it. As for one paying for specifics things on WP.com, well it is a business not charity. It is like paying for customisation in several other contexts.

    Reply

  3. By Duane Storey posted on June 24, 2009 at 10:15 pm
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    I’ve never been confused by the branding. I don’t particularly like the open source platform being referred to as “.org” — I just look at that as the website where I go to download WordPress. I think it’s clear (at least in my circles) that WordPress.com is simply a hosted WordPress platform, ideal for setting up a quick blog for free.

    Reply

  4. By David Abramowski posted on June 24, 2009 at 10:20 pm
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    I am actually a big fan of wordpress.com. Now take it that I’m not a developer and don’t care for twiddling with servers. When using the wordpress.com site I know the limitations and I accept that. I also know that if I want customization and the elements you mention as lacking, I have the option to host the open source version myself. So personally, I don’t think there is brand erosion.

    Reply

  5. By Vanessa posted on June 24, 2009 at 10:22 pm
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    I have never heard anyone say those things. I suspect it is a small group of non-technical users who aren’t working with anyone to create/publish their sites.

    Sounds like providing more information would help curb the problems – including clear directions etc on the WordPress.com site.

    Reply

  6. By JoseOrestes posted on June 24, 2009 at 10:25 pm
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    WordPress.com is a good choice for content creators who have no where to stay, but not for developers or professional websites. And if you should be good business.

    Reply

  7. By Kathleen McDade posted on June 24, 2009 at 11:14 pm
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    It took me several months to figure out the difference. I could see that there were premium services that you could pay for on wordpress.com, but did not understand that you could install wordpress.org on your own domain for free. Maybe it could be better communicated on wordpress.com? But then they might get fewer people paying for premium services. :-)

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  8. By Brian Carnell posted on June 24, 2009 at 11:55 pm
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    I think Kathleen McDade’s comments are on target. The problem is not .com vs. .org. The problem is that if you hit the .com site there is *nothing* there indicating in any way, shape or form that there is this Open Source version of the software that you can install on your own server if you want.

    The only mention is at the bottom in uber-tiny font size saying “See also: WordPress.org” with not a hint of why I might actually want to do so.

    Automattic has made it very easy for someone going to WordPress.com to use their service without ever realizing there is an Open Source version.

    I don’t necessarily think that’s bad or good, just don’t make that choice and then complain that people aren’t aware they can install it on their own servers.

    Reply

  9. By Sue Bailey posted on June 25, 2009 at 6:48 am
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    I completely agree with you. It took me a while to figure out there was a difference too, and the similarity of the design across the two sites doesn’t help.

    I strongly believe that there should be some differential branding done: even if WP.com became “WordPress hosted” or something, it would be clearer. “.com” and “.org” are not enough distinction.

    But last time I said this in public, I got a whole bunch of abuse from people who said it was “obvious” the two were different. If it were that obvious, I wouldn’t get emails almost daily from people who are confused between the two.

    Reply

  10. By Matt posted on June 25, 2009 at 9:35 am
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    No mention of .org?

    It’s in the footer of every page on the main site!

    http://en.wordpress.com/

    And it’s at the very top of our support page:

    http://support.wordpress.com/

    These drive a significant portion of .org’s traffic.

    Different flavors are better for different things. It can be confusing, but that’s getting better with time.

    Reply

  11. By Tim Stone posted on June 25, 2009 at 10:21 am
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    It’s quite possible that the time is right to rename the open source product that’s presently called WordPress. It has evolved from its blogging roots, and is now a fairly robust CMS. It’s both a product and a brand, which from a marketing perspective is not necessarily optimal, especially when there are other products in the brand. The perception that I run into often is “WordPress? That’s for blogs, right?” This perception is reinforced by WordPress.com, which is primarily a blogging site. Rebranding WordPress would be highly inadvisable, but renaming the open source engine behind it might very well provide an opportunity for new marketing messages and product positioning. How about something like “This site proudly powered by ContentPress, a member of the WordPress family of products.”

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  12. By Chris Garrett posted on June 25, 2009 at 4:53 pm
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    @Matt – “See also wordpress.org” in the footer does not provide any information other than a domain name, not exactly enlightening to the many people who are confused :) WHY should they also see? What will they see there? Basic usability, right? That is even before we get into how many people look at footers. I trust you when you say those click throughs are a significant portion of .org traffic .. but I am at a loss as to why.

    @Tim – Yup, rebranding the .org seems the only solution so far, but I am sure Matt and the folks have access to better brains than mine, even if they did see it as a problem :)

    Reply

  13. By Tim Stone posted on June 25, 2009 at 5:55 pm
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    @Matt — Like some of the other commenters here, I too was confused about the .com and .org for quite some time after I started using WordPress for my sites. Part of my confusion was that, as a .org “user”, when I wanted to use the (excellent) Akismet and WordPress Stats plugins, I was required to get a .com account. To me, that significantly blurred the distinction between the two. For a long time, I thought WordPress.com was the WordPress user community, where incidentally, someone could also host their own WordPress installation, and WordPress.org was primarily for development activities. That WordPress-based blogs could also be hosted at WordPress.com seemed a bit out of place, and it took me even longer to realize that WordPress.com wasn’t a hosting service for WordPress installations. Perhaps I’m atypical ;)

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  14. By Darnell Clayton posted on June 26, 2009 at 2:34 am
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    I’ve personally never been a fan of WP.com (sorry, most of its competitors offer its premium features for free–chief of them Blogger) but a different name (perhaps WordPress MU after WP.org and WP MU merge) would be helpful.

    And yes, I think WP.org is great! (but not WP.com)

    Reply

  15. By Brian Carnell posted on June 26, 2009 at 9:02 pm
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    @Chris “I trust you when you say those click throughs are a significant portion of .org traffic .. but I am at a loss as to why.”

    I think this probably a case where the glass is half empty. Rather than looking at the # of people who click on the “See also WordPress.org” link the problem is the “missing people” who never venture down to the footer (I never look at footers unless I’m looking for very specific information about a site which rarely happens). I’d hazard a guess that a lot of those people already are looking for the OS software, land on the .com page, and then go down to the footer and probably correctly assume the .org link will take them there.

    And maybe that’s fine. Do you really want to waste much space there telling someone who just wants to created a hosted blog that they can install the software on their server as well?

    BTW, that being said I had the opposite problem — I knew about the open source but never realized there was a hosted commercial option until finally installing Akismet.

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  16. By Furie posted on June 28, 2009 at 6:49 pm
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    If the lacking features are something that’s confusing people and driving them away from one part of the service, then those features should be added, for both free and premium users. Rebranding the entire WordPress.com service just seems like an elitist measure that only benefits those people using WordPress.org and who look down upon free service users.

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  17. By Paul in Miami posted on September 9, 2009 at 9:13 pm
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    Chris, this is most definitely a problem. If the distinction between wp.com and wp is clear to you, you have been “schooled.” But it is an arbitrary classification that bears no relationship to intuition, and completely lacks “transparency.” In my case, for example (and I hold myself out as no kind of technical expert, but am probably more savvy than most. Which I have had to become, regretfully, as a result of Windows slip-shod, arrogant, and madly whimsical imposition of “whatever” in its OS; you know how that goes…) , I have three active blogs on Google Blogger, and one on wordpress.
    I have been as frustrated and “over it” as I can recall being after seeing this great theme in a photo format (Zack 990, I think its called), and despite the help of my friend Google despite numerous efforts was not able to import it into my wordpress.com. I am used to this “problem solving by attrtion” as I try to untangle one Gordian knot after the next, but am feeling the heat in this economy and struggling to give my family a good life. My patience is an overdrawn asset.

    I have given up completely on the plan of changing all of my blogs over to wordpress. Just in case you are interested: no matter how clear it might be to you good people at WordPress, whose job it is to “live and breathe” this stuff, your “client base” have other jobs completely. Do NOT forget this.

    I commend the positive, kind tone of the wordpress materials, but offer in a constructive spirit this plea: for the love of God, make the entire setup as clear as you possibly can. If you Google it (as I did, not out of intellectual curiosity but because I was running into a brick wall), the confusion between the com and the org is endemic.

    And if you think that through, it quickly becomes evident that there is a tremendous personal cost to people seeking your services.

    As a semi-tech kind of guy who pays attention, but has been beaten by the present system and is somewhat embarrassed about that, I feel like maybe I can redeem some of my loss (and that’s the way it feels when you pit yourself against a system, and try, and try again, and finally say “Screw it”) by bringing to you this plea.

    And I take the time to do so because the staff at wordpress seem like fine people, and are doing their best to provide a real service:

    Do not take our criticisms as attack. Let go completely of your need to defend. Beware of “groupthink,” especially in matters technical. And just listen.

    This one small voice, from one who was born with no innate knowledge (or even feel) for widgets, themes, ftp, etc., counsels you to deal with this problem. Matt, if its right there on the front page, make it clearer. You must realize that the “.com” part of any address has become so ubiquitous as to become nearly invisible.
    And I, for one, don’t tend to see .org sites as relevant to me or my life, outside of the charitable context.

    The single unforgivable violation, regarding any service provided on the Internet (or I guess, come to think of it, anywhere!), is wasting people’s time, and neither taking responsibility for it nor making efforts to remedy the situation.

    I do want to say, in all sincerity, Thank you, wordpress. And in like spirit, I implore you to do better.

    All the best–

    Paul
    Miami, FL

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