It was roughly six years ago that I registered this domain and relocated my blog to a self-hosted WordPress installation from Blogger. Here’s why I made the big switch.
One of the biggest questions I see in the blogosphere these days is whether one should blog on WordPress or Blogger. (There are other platforms out there, obviously, but those two seem to get the most mentions.)
This blog began back in 2004 on AOL’s blogging platform, AOL Journals.
Two problems made me leave AOL: first, upon receiving a complaint about a potentially-inappropriate post on a friend’s blog, its editors deleted that user’s entire graphics bank. This particular user was an amateur comic strip artist, so nearly every post featured a single frame or a multi-frame comic strip. Wiping out all of the graphics over a complaint about one made us all realize that there was a serious problem when your content is subject to someone else’s editorial policy. AOL’s apparent unwillingness to reinstate the deleted graphics — they claimed they couldn’t — made that point even more clear.
The second problem involved banner advertising that AOL added to everyone’s journals without allowing any users to opt-out, to reject certain sponsors of whom they disapproved or share in any revenue generated by the ads themselves. At the time, my feeling was this: if advertising were to be used on my content, I should at least receive a cut of that revenue; sharing the wealth — and I use that term loosely — wouldn’t have been a problem at the time.
So I switched to Blogger.
I found it easy to use, though, if you can imagine, it was a learning curve from AOL, which didn’t give you that many options to begin with.
My experience on Blogger wasn’t all that bad. Things mostly worked as they were supposed to. As they were designed to. Blogger had “widgets,” which are roughly the equivalent of WordPress’s “plugins,” little extra pieces of code you could add to your blog for additional functionality. But on Blogger, you were limited, as I recall, on which ones were available.
What also bothered me most about Blogger was that there were a limited number of themes — I believe they called them “skins” — available. This meant that there were a finite number of layout options available. It was possible to go into the code on Blogger and make changes to an existing theme, and I did so on multiple occasions as I tried to find a layout I could live with. Adding to my angst was the fact that I took what turned out to be lousy advice about breaking up a single multi-topic blog into multiple, smaller blogs; that meant I had more free blogs to work with that each needed its own unique look, but still the same number of limited options to choose from.
I just felt that I was limited by what Blogger could and couldn’t do for me. There’s not any specific event that made me start thinking about switching to WordPress that I can recall. I’d heard about WordPress and was intrigued with the idea of having total control. The notion of AOL’s editor overlords was still top of mind, and it bothered me knowing that just like on AOL, I was blogging in someone else’s sandbox: if someone were to complain about something I wrote, there was that possibility that Blogger’s editors might step in and take an unwarranted, irrevocable action first and ask questions later.
But more importantly, AOL announced that it was ending its Journals platform, and that on a specified date, everyone’s journals would simply disappear. They encouraged people to immediately begin making a switch to Blogger if they were interested in keeping their journals. I couldn’t help asking what seemed to be an obvious question: what if Blogger were acquired by a company that decided one day it was no longer interested in being a blog-hosting platform? Here we’d have to go again.
I’d heard some negatives about WordPress: mostly, that it was a monster that was so complicated, you’d need a degree in code to make any sense of it. I’m not sure where that notion came from, but I suspect it may well have been Blogger’s advertising people. After talking to a few WordPress users, I began to suspect the hype wasn’t as honest as I might have believed.
So I took the plunge to WordPress.
I’ll admit that it was intimidating, even a little scary, to register a domain then install WordPress.org’s free software there. I’m a Mac guy: I don’t like doing all of the “behind the scenes” things I’d convinced myself would be necessary.
I quickly learned a valuable lesson about WordPress: it is only as complicated as you choose to make it.
It is entirely possible to start a self-hosted WordPress blog on your own server and never touch the code. There are so many themes available and so many plugins that you can do virtually everything you’d want to be able to do — one way or another — without ever touching HTML or CSS. And if you decided you just had to make a change requiring “touching the code,” there are people out there who know just enough to be able to help you with that.
And for better or worse, there seems to be a higher level of credibility extended to bloggers who have their own domain rather than having the “blogspot” (or any similar) name in their blog’s URL. It’s an invalid extension of credibility, of course, but it’s hard to deny that it’s there.
After roughly six years on WordPress, I can say that I don’t regret the switch at all. I wish it were free to self-host. And I’ll admit pondering the advertising option once in a while. But I have this little requirement that ads not be intrusive, and it’s difficult to find a manner of advertising that doesn’t qualify as “intrusive” these days.
If you’re considering a switch, I encourage you to keep an open mind as you research the options. But above all else, ask questions. If you’re contemplating the switch but have questions, leave me a comment!