Bluehost (Hosting) vs. WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com

I received a question today via email from someone I met at WordCamp Detroit 2011. First, go to these things. The next WordCamp  Detroit is October 6, 2012. They are great educational events. And if you know a few things and are pleasant to people, they will remember (and recommend!) you.

Second, the question reminded me just how much ignorance and confusion still exists about WordPress.

Here’s the question:

I was wondering what the difference is between BlueHost and WordPress.org when it comes to hosting my site (or blog). When I spoke with Blue Hosts’s tech support last night, they told me that there was no difference between Blue Host and WordPress.org—and that I would be getting the exact same thing, but there’s quite a price difference between Blue Host ($142) and wordpress.org ($13 a year with my domain already purchased elsewhere). Is there any truth to this?

Well, yes, there is some truth to this, but the question is also like comparing apples and paring knives (yes, lunch is overdue as I write this): You need both to serve a delicious snack, but they are very different things.

First, let’s make a distinction between WordPress and hosting.

  • WordPress is free (the meaning of free could fill another blog post) publishing software. It runs on a web server and manages and publishes website and blog information.
  • Hosting is a service where a computer with special software is connected to the internet to share web pages, manage email accounts, store files, etc.

WordPress, which is  free software, runs on a server, which costs money.

Server hardware, configuration, internet connections, etc. get very technical very quickly, and is best left to professionals. Enter companies like Bluehost, HostGator, and hundreds of others. They sell something call shared hosting, where they lease space (hard drive storage, RAM, and processor time) on their computers to various people in such a way that one computer may have dozens (or hundreds) of websites. Many of these companies make it very simple for anyone to install the free WordPress (.org) software on a shared hosting account.
That’s part of the equation. The inquiry hinted at another piece of the puzzle, but didn’t spell it out. Where does the $13/year come in?
We need another distinction, this time between WordPress dot com and WordPress dot org.
WordPress.com is a free (no cost, with upsells available, which is where the $13/year figure comes in) hosting service that runs a highly-tweaked version of the same free (no cost) WordPress software available for download from the dot-org site.
Confusing, isn’t it?
The free service available WordPress.com is very valuable. It’s fast, reliable, secure, and well maintained. In exchange for this, they impose some restrictions on what you can do: No advertising, limited ability to customize themes, and no ability to add extra plugins.
Hosting your first site on WordPress.com is a great place to begin. It’s like your first apartment after college. Eventually you will outgrow it, and you will want a house. When that happens, ask me about my hosting and webmaster service.
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