WordPress.com for Authors

This is post is part of the ‘Choosing the right blogging platform – For Authors‘ series started four days ago. After reviewing Blogger I decided to take a look at another good, easy to use and ‘free’ (more on this later) platform available for writing online.

The popular Scobleizer blog (in the Technorati top 100 blogs list) is hosted on the WordPress.com platform (quite different from WordPress.org, which you have to download and install yourself). While it looks customized, don’t be fooled – WordPress.com is not quite the lovely maiden it seems.

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Ease of Use

WordPress is one of the most powerful blogging platforms out there, and it is a daunting task for the average internet user to mod and customize it. The good news is this: WordPress.com makes it easy enough for anybody to blog using WordPress, and look good while doing it. The bad news? It rips out a lot of the features that make WordPress so cool.

But back to its ease of use. WordPress.com seems polished and beautiful – posting is clean and easy (not to mention Ajaxy) and everything is distilled to checkboxes and menus. Want to add a link? No need to write a whole list of <li> tags – just go to the blogroll section in the interface and fill in the necessary blanks.

The way WordPress.com goes out of its way to ease things for you almost makes you feel pampered. Big fonts and even bigger buttons are everywhere, wrapped with a beautiful blue colour scheme. Feed subscribers and site visitors are seamlessly integrated with a Flash (or was it Ajax?) display panel. Quite simply, the platform treats you like an idiot. Very nicely, if I may add.

Looks

WordPress.com looks great. All the themes available are well selected – nice lines and readable fonts. Behind the scenes the platform looks just as good, if not better – the navigation bar at the top uncluttered and clearly defined. Any average Joe can really enjoy himself writing, but there’s a major problem.

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You can’t edit or create or upload your own themes.

Wait! Let me elaborate before you start bombing me with comment spam – I’ve been waiting and waiting for them to release that particular feature, but weeks had dragged into months before any change was made. And, Oh! What a change it was! You need to pay to edit yuor themes – and even then only the css style sheets! If you’re sticking to free, WordPress.com has added features that might attract you – such as the fact that all their themes are widgetised now, and there are a wider selection of quality templates which i’m sure will grow over time.

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But, for the rest of the WordPress.com world (read: the users of the free accounts) is by and large based on the same themes, and no matter how good looking each of them are it’ll be hard top stand out on such a platform.

Features

WordPress.com covers the basics quite well. There’s RSS2, trackbacks, categories, comments, simple blogrolling, an integrated traffic and feed counter, and the ability to create blog pages (in contrast to Blogger’s service). There are also new and upcoming features like Tag Surfer, Friend Surfer and My Comments – a result of the WordPress.com platform’s role as a lab for Automattic to test out new features in develop for the WordPress platform. But unlike the downloadable version of WordPress, you can’t touch code (a blessing and a curse), can’t upload new plugins (a curse, indeed) nor upload new themes. It’s like buying a brand new car and finding out spare parts do not exist – what you get is what you have. Period.

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My biggest gripe is still with the plugins – the WordPress.com people insist that if you pester them enough they’ll upload the plugins that you want. But why should you? Your time is precious – better to work on your characters and fine tune your plot.

Categories aren’t needed for a blook, but it does allow you the freedom to write about other things alongside your chapters. Extra pages are a welcomed feature at any rate – you can create ‘about me‘ and ‘about the story‘ pages – something that may be done in Blogger, but not very well. The RSS feed provided are basic, and enough for any blook you may create, but that’s just me being biased since Feedburner offers so many other features that complement your content. I’m not sure you can even burn a WordPress.com feed and set that as the feed for autodetection, since – as mentioned before, sigh – there’s no way to edit your theme code.

Support

Support for WordPress.com is definitely above average – since its so scaled down there are few problems, most of the time. Enquiries are dealth with quickly and politely, and there’s a general sense of helpfulness in the forums. Can’t post? Check if you’re clicking the big button marked publish. Don’t know what’s a blog? Read the codex. Want a specific plugin? Better start bugging us now.

Kidding, kidding.

Reliability

No problems here – the only irk i had early on was that i couldn’t create new categories. A brief trip to the forum told me i wasn’t the only one facing such a problem, and that they were working on a solution. Sure enough – the next day (or was the day after?) i logged in the problem was gone. WordPress.com is solid as a rock, albeit one far less fantastic than its bigger brother.

Conclusion

WordPress.com is … dissapointing, at least to me. While okay for light blooking, this platform suffers serious limitations with no way for you to personalize your blog, or to use Feedburner and other services that could otherwise make your blook easier to read. Use it if you love the WordPress platform, or as a canvas to exercise your writing. Otherwise take a look at Blogger (at least you get some measure of control over the theme you’re using), Blogsome, or just download WordPress and find a server of your own.

Read the next in the series: WordPress.org reviewed!

Possibly Related Posts:

Category: Blog Platforms · Writing Web Fiction
  • http://photomatt.net/ Matt

    I wouldn’t downplay the power of Custom Headers, Widgets, and Custom CSS. Here’s a few examples of what people have done:

    http://secondworld.wordpress.com/
    http://nolesimporta.com/
    http://jamesbetelle.com/

    $15/yr for custom CSS is far cheaper than any host I’ve heard of, plus you don’t have to worry about upgrades.

  • http://novelr.com Eli James

    Thanks for the comment, Matt.

    I took a look at the sites you listed out, and i still preferred Web Worker Daily, which was quite professionally done, what with the limitations of WordPress.com.

    I admit having control over just the style sheets is powerful, as this particular blog is mostly modded via CSS (i’m still learning PHP, so i don’t like to tinker about with the loops until i’m sure of what i’m doing).

    However, this post was written with the average author in mind, who has more experience writing than in coding. If this hypothetical author was serious about putting a book in blog form, i wouldn’t particularly recommend WordPress.com – it’s somewhat stuck between the glory of the WordPress.org downloadable platform (ooh, i love that one) and Blogger’s ease of use to beginners. If i was looking for a complete freebie (with my own domain?) i’d go with Blogger. They, at least, would allow me to burn my feed and to pretty much add what i want to the sidebar. But if i was serious about my book i’d probably set up WordPress on a subdomain (of my main website?) and enjoy the entirety of the WordPress platform.

    But i do agree with you that from a hosting perspective $15 rocks. And perhaps the ‘free’ hosting makes up for the limitations in plugins and so on. A valid point indeed.

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  • http://gynecologs.ru/ Гинеколог

    Update! WordPress 2.6.2

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    I’m on study break from Novelr at the moment, but I’ll see what I can do (update!) when I return.