The Curious Conundrum of the new WordPress.com Business Plan

Automattic updated its WordPress.com Business plan offering today to support custom plugins and themes, further obfuscating the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org for the casual user and cannibalizing both the upper- and lower-end of the managed WordPress hosting space in a single bound. Though the WordPress managed hosting space is already quite saturated, with names like Dreamhost and Bluehost at the bottom end, Pressable and WPEngine in the middle, Page.ly and Pantheon as you continue, and WordPress.com VIP at the top end, the WordPress.com Business Plan’s pricing structure serves to undermine many of these offerings. At less than $25 per month, it’s quite affordable, too.

Some Background: The WordPress.com Wall

WordPress.com has long been the easiest way to create a new WordPress site, particularly for non-technical users. A site with a `.wordpress.com` web address has always been free, and an offering very much in line with the needs of the typical personal blogger or small business (no ads, custom domain, modest customization via CSS) has always been available for less than $9 per month.

Dot Com vs. Dot Org

Clearly articulating the difference between WordPress.org (the WordPress software product) and WordPress.com (a service that provides hosted WordPress, or WordPress in a software-as-a-service model) has always been difficult, particularly to those who aren’t familiar with the concept of open-source software. For many years, the most effective explanation has originated in the differences in functionality. WordPress.org provided the software, WordPress.com enabled you to use the software as it was out of the box, and other hosting providers enabled you to use the WordPress software’s expansive ecosystem of plugins and themes.

Cannibalizing The Head and the Feet

With the exception of high-end enterprise clients, for whom uptime guarantees and security restrictions dominate platform decisions, selecting a managed WordPress host has long been a calculus of determine the least expensive host that can accommodate the number of page views one expects their website to receive. For editorially-focused sites, this can be a risky endeavor — one popular post on a channel like Facebook or reddit, while otherwise a sign of success, can force one to perform a costly hosting plan update at a moment’s notice.

Fairness in the Marketplace

Long-standing criticism within the WordPress community stems from WordPress.com’s use of the WordPress trademark. Automattic is quite aggressive in its defense of the WordPress trademark, which is actually owned by an “independent” nonprofit, The WordPress Foundation, and perpetually licensed, royalty free, for use on WordPress.com. In truth, both the WordPress Foundation and Automattic (creator of WordPress.com) are controlled by Matt Mullenweg, a co-founder of WordPress and the project’s “benevolent dictator”. Some have argued that this relationship enables Automattic (and thus Matt) to unfairly profit off of the popularity of the WordPress software and name.

A Good Thing for WordPress?

Within the WordPress community, there’s long been a notion that “more users on WordPress” is universally good. Until now, that’s been difficult to argue: an expansive ecosystem has developed over the last decade, and many now make their living off of WordPress.

Curious technologist and digital strategist. Reformed engineer, reluctant sales guy. VP, New Client Strategy @10up. I fly planes, too.