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.
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.
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.