Ten Years of Down the Road

Choosing a place to share your content online and why I stick with WordPress.com

If you want to write (or share photos) on the Internet, do it on WordPress.com. If you want to grow your existing audience, do it on WordPress.com.

Forget Medium. Forget Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn (all of which allow blog-style posts). And forget Blogger.

WordPress.com is a fine platform on which to publish. It offers a good editor in which you write your posts. It manages images well. It provides a rich community through which you can promote your work and find readers. The good people at WordPress do all the system administration for you – you need configure no servers, schedule no backups, run no maintenance.

And you can use it for free forever. Now, I’ve purchased a couple upgrades that give me my custom blog.jimgrey.net address and let me customize my site’s design. You can buy these upgrades for your site for about $100 a year. But they’re not truly necessary for a successful blog.

I’ve been on WordPress.com since this blog’s birth, ten years and counting, and have no plans to leave. WordPress.com has grown and changed with this blog, adding useful features all along the way. (Blogger, on the other hand, feels like it is stuck in 2007.) For example, as people increasingly viewed the Internet on their phones, WordPress introduced blog themes (templates) that looked good even on those small form factors. I switched to one. It took more time to choose one I liked than it did to make the change and tweak the settings.

And then the WordPress.com community brought me a lot of readers. I’ve been featured four times on WordPress.com’s former Freshly Pressed feature, and once in their Discover feature. And others have found my blog by searching the WordPress.com Reader.

Because nothing’s perfect, there are some challenges. For example, when you need support, your only option is to leave a post in a support forum. The community is reasonably helpful, and if you tag your post “modlook” a WordPress support engineer will respond. I have an open case with them right now. They’ve addressed several problems I’ve reported, but have declined to fix a few others. I get it: in my work in software development I’ve declined to fix some user-reported bugs myself, for solid reasons. But it’s not terribly satisfying to receive that answer.

There are reasons to use other platforms. Medium has an elegant editor and the cachet of being where all the cool kids are. But my experience there is that the platform rewards the already well-known leaving regular Joes like me to languish. And I’m not convinced Medium’s business model is viable long term.

And when you publish directly on Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other social network, those networks are more likely to favor your posts in others’ feeds than when those posts come from other sources. Posts from outside sources are at a distinct disadvantage. But when you write directly on these social networks, it’s not entirely clear how much you control your content. And WordPress.com can automatically share your posts to these networks so you can still reach plenty of readers.

You can choose to host WordPress on your own Web server. Doing so lets you customize endlessly and lets you sign up for ad networks so you can get the most possible advertising revenue. I get enough traffic that I was accepted into the Automattic Ads program. It’s not been very lucrative so far — I could make more through self-hosting and signing up for Google’s AdSense program. But that would come at the cost of doing my own back-end maintenance, and I’m not interested. My buddy Pat, who has caught a tiger by the tail with his The Small Trailer Enthusiast site, self-hosts WordPress. He sells ads directly and participates in AdSense, neither of which you can do on WordPress.com. But his site is lucrative enough to make the maintenance hassles worth it.

Given all of this, when I wanted to start a new blog about software development, I went straight to WordPress.com.

2017-02-14_0725

And when the nonprofit I help run, the Historic Michigan Road Association, needed a new Web site, I turned again to WordPress.com. Yes, Web site. WordPress.com has provided tools for a modern, responsive, professional-looking online calling card for our organization.

historicmichiganroad

Here’s the final reason I stick with WordPress.com. Should I ever want to switch platforms for any reason, I can export this entire site to a set of files, and reimport them into pretty much any other content-management platform. My content is truly mine.

I donate testing to WordPress.com and the WordPress.org open-source project, and through that work have had reason to test site export. I’m thrilled to report that it successfully exports even a blog with this much history — more than 1,600 posts over ten years. But I don’t expect to need to use that feature for real anytime soon, as long as WordPress.com keeps on keeping pace with the Internet at large as it has.

Anytime you choose to publish your work online you make tradeoffs. I think that for most people, and certainly for me, WordPress.com offers the most benefits and the fewest challenges.

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26 thoughts on “Choosing a place to share your content online and why I stick with WordPress.com

  1. Heide says:

    Well said, Jim. I’ve experimented with lots of other platforms too, and agree that WordPress offers the best feature combo and the most democratic platform. Plus, it’s scalable for everyone from complete novices to super-experienced web developers. That’s pretty cool.

    Like

    • Yes, great point: WordPress scales with you.

      I flirted briefly with switching to SquareSpace a few years ago. I should have mentioned that above. Way too much configuration just to get a blog going.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember back when I first saw WordPress back when it was new and just one guy’s project. I am not sure that I foresaw what a big deal it would become, however I noticed from the start that it had the best user interface of any of the blogging stuff that was around at the time. I guess that and how easily hack-able it is went a long way. I think it is a good choice for someone focusing mostly on writing. I guess I am not as down on Blogger as much as you are. I find it much simpler to change the appearance of blogger than messing with WordPress templates. Also with blogger it is easy to tie in with things like Google Docs and galleries. There also is the Google++ stuff. Of course you never can have the control on blogger that you can with a self-hosted WordPress site. If I was really into the blogging I think that is the way I would go.

    Like

    • Wow, you’ve been at this for a long time then! I was vaguely aware of WordPress as it was in its infancy but never actually saw it until it had already caught on.

      Yes, Blogger’s integration with the Google stuff does make it compelling if you’re already a deep Google user. But all I use heavily is Gmail, and so that integration wasn’t very valuable to me.

      Like

  3. Jim, I’m also a WordPress fan, and have used it for a number of blogs for years.

    For a very simple and easy to use blog, Tumblr has been a good option for me for a couple of projects too, but I wouldn’t use it for my main blog.

    The overall look of Blogger is indeed a bit baffling considering it’s owned by Google and what a leader they are in many aspects and applications online.

    Like

      • Yes, I used to follow quite a few Tumblr blogs and it felt like there was an intensely tight knit community that shared and reblogged each others images. But if you’re not in that loop, it seemed a bit too clique-y and intimidating to new readers.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Cheers from the Flow Patrol team at wordpress.com. We follow softwaresaltmines and appreciate the kind words and the testing.

    My content is truly mine.

    Content ownership and portability are founding principles of WP. You own your content. You can export it and take it elsewhere. You can access it programmatically via syndication feeds (available in several formats for every query in WP) and via the REST API.

    Medium has an elegant editor

    We’re having a go at elegance with the Gutenberg editor project.

    https://make.wordpress.org/core/2017/02/28/the-new-editor-and-browser-support/

    https://github.com/WordPress/gutenberg

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree. WordPress is the best place to be. It is everything you have said but for me, the most important thing is that it feels safe. I have never had any nasty or confrontational comments. People are so friendly and supportive here on WP, unlike on other platforms.

    On another issue and in response to your post on doors, (I’ve been thinking about them since seeing that post) I was wondering about how you store and retrieve your images, Jim.? All those doors made me wonder if you labelled them in some way that meant you could just type in a subject title and have all the doors, or roads or cars etc come up. Or do you search laboriously through iPhoto to find each example? Is it something you could write a post about? I am clueless at filing images!

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    • @photoboothjournal – One of the major reasons I use Flickr as a kind of portfolio/archive for my best photographs is to be able to file them logically, both with albums and tags.

      When I’m writing a blog post about a specific lens or camera or subject matter, I just use the search tool on Flickr – it always matches your own photos first, then photos of others you follow, then Flickr as a whole.

      I can also then use the image saved on Flickr (usually the large 1024px version) which means I’m not uploading images into my own WordPress and using up my limited file allowance. On Flickr I have unlimited storage.

      My own files on my MAc are pretty well organised chronologically, but not in tags and albums like Flickr which is so much easier to search. I also back up my own files with a separate hard drive, but also have the archive on Flickr as a second back up.

      Hope that helps.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, thank you, yes it does! I didn’t know Flickr was so useful. Just two questions, how does having the photos on Flickr save you space on WP? Wouldn’t you still need to upload them to your blog? Maybe I have misunderstood what you mean. . .

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        • In Flickr, find the photo you want to use, then use the download option to view all sizes.

          The default size that shows first is Large 1024px so I use that, just right click and copy image address.

          Then in WordPress where you want to use the image, instead of uploading from your computer choose the use URL option and paste in the URL you copied above. It should end with “.jpg”, as it’s where the image itself is stored on Flickr, not the main image page with all the details, comments etc.

          WP then uses the image saved already on Flickr, and cleverly still displays in it in your post.

          This is what I do anyway, Jim and others might advise a different way. I have a free WP blog and believe it’s only free up to a limited amount of storage.

          Once the image is in my post in WP, I don’t have it link to anything when you click it, though some people do that and have it open back in its main page in Flickr when you click on it.

          The only downside I guess with this way of doing it is you’re dependent of Flickr and WordPress. If there was an issue with Flickr 95% of the images on my WP blog would disappear. But I assume they are pretty robust and plan to be here a long time yet.

          Did you have another question?

          Liked by 1 person

        • I use Flickr’s Share Photo feature. On a photograph on Flickr, that’s the icon that looke like a curved right-pointing arrow. After I click it, I choose the Embed tab. Then I select the size I want and copy the code that results. In my blog post, I switch to HTML view and paste it there. The image is still hosted at Flickr, so it doesn’t use any of your WordPress storage.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I guess we are relying a lot not just on Flickr being here for good but also WP. I have loaded my blog into a book format (did you put me onto that Jim?) but I haven’t taken t any further, so far. I really want a hard copy as I don’t trust digital only versions of anything!

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    • What Dan said. Plus, on Flickr they have subject-recognition software. On Camera Roll, click Magic View. Then in the left column click Architecture, and then Door. Boom: door photos. Even when I haven’t tagged any of them as such.

      Liked by 1 person

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