A very common point of confusion among people new to WordPress is the distinction between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. WordPress is a content management system, or software that enables people to publish websites and blogs using a their browser. The software is made by a company called Automattic. This software product comes in two flavors or packages; .com and .org.

Automattic offers free blogs and websites at WordPress.com using WordPress software. They provide free hosting, they manage upgrades and maintenance and backups, but they offer limited themes and options unless you purchase upgrades.

Many people want more options or control than what WordPress.com offers. They pay a monthly fee to a web host, and install the free WordPress software on the web host’s server. With greater control comes greater responsibilities.

Website owner responsibilities with WordPress.org:

  • Buy the web hosting
  • Set up WordPress
  • Handle backups
  • Handle upgrades
  • Stop spam
  • Upload new themes
  • Upload plugins

The WordPress website has a page that outlines the differences, pros and cons in great detail. A summary of the pros and cons is listed below. Visit the WordPress support page for a full rundown of WordPress.com and WordPress.org.

WordPress.com Benefits

  • It’s free and much easier to setup
  • Everything is taken care of: setup, upgrades, spam, backups, security, etc
  • Your blog is on hundreds of servers, so it’s highly unlikely it will go down due to traffic
  • Your posts are backed up automatically
  • You get extra traffic from blogs of the day and tags
  • You can find like-minded bloggers using tag and friend surfer
  • Your login is secure (SSL) so no one can get into your account if you use wifi

WordPress.com Cons

  • Provides 100+ themes (and adding more every day) which you can modify and edit the CSS, but you cannot run a custom theme*
  • You can’t hack the PHP code behind your blog*
  • You can’t upload plugins

* The VIP program on WordPress.com for high-traffic and high-profile sites allows you to run custom themes, custom PHP code, ad code, and WordPress plugins.

WordPress.org Benefits

  • Ability to upload themes
  • Ability to upload plugins
  • Great community
  • Complete control to change code if you’re technically minded

WordPress.org Cons

  • You need a good web host, which generally costs $7-12 a month, or thousands of dollars per month for a high traffic site
  • Requires more technical knowledge to set up and run
  • You’re responsible for stopping spam
  • You have to handle backups
  • You must upgrade the software manually when a new version comes out
  • If you get a huge spike in traffic (like Digg or Slashdot) your site will probably go down unless you have a robust hosting setup

Which flavor is right for you depends on your situation. If you’re new to WordPress and website publishing, I recommend getting to know it by signing up for a free WordPress.com account and blog first. You don’t need a domain name for this and you can check it out and get to know WordPress with zero risk or cost.

If you already have a website and your own domain name and you’re willing to take on some extra responsibility, I recommend going with WordPress.org for your final site. But, I still think it’s a good idea to start with a .com site of some sort just to get familiar with how WordPress works.