I recently 1 moved most of my personal websites to WordPress.com. Considering that I work at Automattic where many of us work on WordPress.com every day, that may seem… obvious. It’s not though, as WordPress.com and other managed hosts serve a particular set of needs for their users. Part of what makes the WordPress ecosystem so great is the variety of options you have depending on your technical knowledge, your budget, and your site’s feature requirements.
Not long after I started with Automattic, just over a year ago now, I received an award notification for being a WordPress.com user for 6 years. I had tried it out for awhile some years earlier, but at the time I found that my desire for specific plugins and themes overrode the benefits I could see. That has since changed decisively. WordPress.com has grown and continued to add features, and I have become much more aware of the depth and benefits of the platform. More on that in a moment.
Adventures in Hosting
My first blog posts were published on Blogger sometime around 2002, I believe. I’m not entirely sure since I managed to lose track of my first “blog” site and content when I switched software. After Blogger, I purchased hosting from a really shady hosting company, I don’t even recall the name, and in the end I was forced to cancel a credit card to leave their recurring charges behind. Lovely.
That’s how I found Dreamhost. I’d had my horrible-no-good-hosting experience, and I did my homework after that. I joined Dreamhost back in 2004 and until recently I still had the same hosting plan, originally called “Crazy Domain Insane”.
Dreamhost has always had a lot of personality, and I know they have a lot of really great people working there, so I was resistant to leaving for a long time. In then end, they just weren’t the right host for me anymore. I won’t go into the troubles that pushed me to move, as they’re mostly my own fault. My expectations were much too high for what I could get out of “shared” hosting, and I’ve long had a resistance to paying for VPS services for my lightly-trafficked personal sites.
When choosing a WordPress host for a small project, it’s easy to get hung-up on the now and lose sight of the big picture. You want to choose that theme, and you heard about this great new plugin, you have to have that too. After the site is launched, you’re content. Then, your site goes down. Do you know why? Do you know who to ask for help? Will they help? How much of your time is it worth spending to fix what went wrong?
For some, the answers are unequivocally “yes” and, “whatever it takes”. And for those folks shared hosting or a VPS, perhaps something more robust, is just fine. I tired of seeing the Jetpack notifications that my shared hosting site was down however, and decided to spare myself the trouble.
I set up a WordPress site for my wife to blog years ago, and it was a great outlet for her. She told a few friends and enjoyed writing for awhile, but it was an ship adrift on the sea of the web. She and I both lack a strong instinct for sharing, so it never got much attention. When life intervened shortly thereafter, it was shelved. I exported her content and filed it away.
Then, earlier this year, she was ready to revisit blogging. This time I had a plan. I started a WordPress.com site for her, imported her years-old content, and she was back online in a matter of hours as if she’d never stopped. Being a part of the network has allowed her to create rather than promote. Readers find her posts through tags, follow her, and the feedback loop keeps her happily posting. It works. It’s the perfect scenario for someone who has no desire to tinker with their website or find out why it’s down now and then fix it — or as is often the case, abandon it.
I’m generally not the sort to use something for appearances’ sake. I spend a lot of time working on WordPress.com sites and testing them, but I kept my Dreamhost account going because I didn’t see WordPress.com as for me, somehow. I need FTP and access to thousands of plugins, don’t I? The act of joining Automattic didn’t change my perspective about this, I had to come to it on my own.
After watching my wife’s very positive (and anonymous) experience though, I decided to conduct an experiment. I took one of my live sites — the one that had a little daily traffic and went down far too often — and moved it. I exported the content, selected a similar theme, and changed the DNS. That took around an hour. I’ve easily spent more time than that going back and forth with other hosts’ support trying to determine why a site was down.
The site doesn’t go down anymore. It is faster. It is backed up without my intervention, and all of the plugins that I had installed to manage this or that feature were already built in. I lost no functionality whatsoever. Turns out, it is for me after all.
I do still need to be able to tinker, test, and work on other projects, so I’ve started a Digital Ocean account for that purpose. This gives me greater flexibility and control at lower cost than the roughly-equivalent service elsewhere. My domains are all managed through Hover now, WordPress.com doesn’t take domain transfers.
I’ve since moved this site, my daughters’ artwork site and my little media blog over as well, and honestly it’s a relief. They aren’t complicated or high-traffic, they should “just work”. And, now they do.