Updated 1/5/2011: It’s been two years since I originally wrote this post and it is one of the post popular posts on my blog. A lot has changed since then and as a result it’s time for an update:
"Which platform should I choose?"
I see this question a lot. It pops up on Twitter about once a day. All three choices have come a long way, even in the past year. Here are my own admittedly biased opinions:
WordPress, the software you download:
Commonly referred to as Self-Hosted WordPress.
You can take WordPress farther and do more with it than any other choice. It is far more customizable than either of the other two alternatives. WordPress has evolved into a powerful Content Management System. What does that mean, exactly? It means that non-technical people can maintain their own websites. It means that you are in charge and in control of your website’s content. Need to update a paragraph? No problem: a few keystrokes and it’s done.
There are so many themes and so many plugins available that you can do almost anything with WordPress. One of my favorite plugins adds an event calendar to your site, for example.
The new built-in menubar system in WordPress 3 is a thing of beauty and IMHO was one of the final pieces that allows a website to be maintained by the non-techy. If you need to create a full-blown website then Self-Hosted WordPress is your best choice.
WordPress wants to be installed in a Unix/Linux environment. You can install it on a Windows server but the effort is almost not worth it. Even then, in my experience - unless you are a geek - it is unlikely that the installation will go smoothly.
You need to establish your own mechanism and schedule for backups. Most web-hosting companies provide some sort of automated backup service. If your offers this – even at an extra cost – I recommend you use it. You’ll thank me someday.
You also need to consider that WordPress software is frequently upgraded to address security issues and you'll need to be upgrading your WordPress installation from time to time (more often than you’d like, actually). WordPress now has a ‘click-a-button’ upgrade function built in and it’s been around long enough that works pretty well.
In the past year or so, theme and plugin compatibility has become an issue. While there is an endless supply of WordPress themes and plugins, Many of them don’t play nice with recent versions of WordPress. Freqently we also see plugins that are not compatible with certain themes as well as plugins that conflict with each other. Because we are in this business, we have a list of themes and plugins we have certified for use on our clients’ websites.
And finally, all of that functionality comes at a price: complexity. If all you want is a simple blog then WordPress may be more complexity than you are willing to handle.
The WordPress software can be downloaded for free from https://www.wordpress.org. You’ll need a hosting account somewhere. Most web-hosting providers charge $10-$20/month for a basic account.
The people behind the WordPress software have created a hosted version, meaning that you sign up for an account at WordPress.com and presto, you have a WordPress blog.
The version of WordPress at WordPress.com is a de-featured (if that’s a word) of the same software you would download from WordPress.org.
It is very inexpensive (in most cases free) It just works, no worries about trying to figure out what's wrong when it's down, no worries about backups. No software to install.
One of the most attractive things about a WordPress.com blog is the easy migration path to Self-Hosted WordPress. You can start with a free account at WordPress.com and then when you outgrow it (and you will) you can easily move to your own hosting account and Self-Hosted Wordpress. (Note: if you think you may need to do this be sure to register a domain name and map it to your WordPress.com blog so that you don’t end up with a bunch of broken links when you later migrate.)
Unfortunately, many of the features and functions that are missing are the very ones that make WordPress so attractive.
The number of themes is growing but still limited. Finding a theme that has (a) a Nav Bar, (b) a color scheme and layout close to what you want, and (c) a customizable banner may be impossible. Few of the themes at WordPress.com provide the same menubar functionality that is in Self-Hosted WordPress. In most cases, every page you create will be on the menubar whether you want it there or not. Want that cool WordPress theme you saw somewhere? Sorry, you can’t install third-party themes at WordPress.com
If you wanted to modify the colors (modify the CSS) or map it to your own domain name then they will charge you.
WordPress.com will sometimes (but not always) display their own ads on your blog. I’m sorry, but to me this is a deal-killer.
Probably the most attractive feature of WordPress.com is that it’s free. There is an annual fee for features like domain mapping, customizing your blog’s CSS, eliminating ads, etc.
Very easy to set up even for a non-geek. TypePad’s functionality is a subset of WordPress’ but within that subset TypePad is easier to use.
TypePad’s text-formatting features are still superior to what’s available in WordPress. Suppose you want to make a word stand out by using a different font and font-size than the surrounding text. TypePad makes it far easier than anyone else.
Though there are no third-party themes, TypePad provides hundreds of themes to choose from. You can customize the look of your Typepad blog easily by modifying the CSS and uploading a custom banner.
Excellent (the best IMHO) integration with the most popular blog-related tools (Feedburner, ShareThis, AddThis, etc)
It's a hosted solution so you don't have to worry about downtime, backups, etc.
Though they are a bit hidden, widgets are available to do polls, have an Amazon store, paypal shopping cart, etc. No software to install. There is REAL technical support (They even hang out on twitter - @sixapart ).
Mapping a dmain name to a Typepad blog is easy and is free – other than the cost of the somain name itself.
With the merger of SixApart (TypePad’s parent) and VideoEgg into a new company (SAY Media) the long-term future of TypePad is unclear. My personal opinion is that TypePad will evolve into a platform optimized for people who want to build their own personal brand AND generate revenue from their blog.
Typepad's collection of widgets is not as extensive as the plugins available for Wordpress.
If you want to customize the appearance of your blog (modify the CSS) you have to be at the UNLIMITED level which is $14.95 per month.
If you want to host other applications (your own online store, for example), you'll need to put that stuff on your own non-typepad site and link to it.)
If you need to do really heavy customization then Typepad's underlying template code is harder to understand.
TypePad provides far less ability to create a full-blown sophisticated website than Self-Hosted WordPress. Adding things like event calendars and video carousels is just not possible.
Your ability to someday migrate from TypePad to another platform is limited. TypePad’s export facility can export your text but not your images. I recently performed a TypePad-to-WordPress migration for a client who’s blog contained over 500 photos. Each photo had to be manually moved, a process that consumed many hours.
I recommend that you get an UNLIMITED account at $14.95/month
TypePad: Your best choice if you want a simple blog or website that you can easily customize to match your brand, never worry about backups, upgrades, etc, and you just want to write content.
Self-Hosted WordPress: Your best choice if you need more than a blog or website containing just pages of text and images.
WordPress.com: Your best choice if you want to get started with just a blog, envision it growing into something bigger at a later date, and can live with the limited selection of themes.