WordPress vs. a Roll-Your-Own Blog Engine

Inspired by Brent’s consideration of an off-the-shelf blog engine, Santiago Valdarrama has written a post outlining the problems he has with off-the-shelf blog engines. What was so interesting to me about this was that a self-hosted WordPress site addresses nearly every one of his concerns.

1) You don’t have to deal with updates to the platform. Updates and new features are nice, unless they break all the custom code you’ve developed over time.

WordPress has well abstracted APIs that make it easy for your custom code to live alongside the WP core code. I can’t remember the last time I needed to make a change to code I’d written for this site because of a WP core update.

2) You can’t control when bugs are fixed or new features released. If there’s something missing, the only thing you can do is file a request and wait.

Fiddlesticks. You can submit a patch, you can hack your local copy, and you can write plugins to add any features you feel are missing.

3) There’s always a learning curve. Every platform is different, specially when you want to fine tune your layout and deviate from the provided templates.

This one strikes me as a bit silly. There is a learning curve when building your own system too – especially if you haven’t written your layout/templating system yet.

4) Sometimes there’re things you can’t do. Period. (I wanted to use a specific format to display the date of my posts but Blogger doesn’t support it. I had to settle with something else.)

Using a hosted service and using an off-the-shelf blog engine are not the same thing. Self-hosting WordPress removes all of the hosted service restrictions.

5) You have to deal with features you don’t need. Comments? Related posts? Search? Templating engine? Image carousel? I don’t need these, but I’d have to pay the price anyway.

Just as you can customize WordPress to add features, you can also customize it to hide features. Don’t use comments? An included setting and couple of lines of CSS will make it so you never know they were there. And WordPress doesn’t include bloated features out of the box; it wisely leaves that to plugins so that you add what you want instead of removing things you don’t.

6) You can always export your content (sometimes you can’t), but even when the option is right there, the exported format is so messed up that you can’t use it again without a huge clean up. (One time I got my posts exported in a text file with no formatting.)

Again – this is only a problem with hosted solutions. With a self-hosted WordPress site you have full access to your MySQL database, as well as the built-in export features of WordPress.

7) What’s true today might change tomorrow. What you like about the platform might go away some day. They won’t ask for your opinion.

WordPress is Open Source. Anyone can create a fork based on their own needs and preferences.

8) It will never be as fast as you want it to be. If it’s hosted, your traffic will be shared. If you host it yourself, you might never be able to fine tune it to perfection.

WordPress powers around 20% of the internet – you don’t grow that big if you can’t handle scale. Dedicated WordPress hosts will solve these problems for you, and installing a few simple plugins (caching, CSS and JS concatenation and optimization, etc.) will do a ton to optimize a site on an server that isn’t tuned for WordPress.

9) I will never be sure what my content is being used for. I know it’s public anyway, but it’s also in somebody else’s database I don’t control.

Another assumption of a hosted platform. NA for a self-hosted WordPress site.

10) You’ll never get to experience the satisfaction of engaging in a conversation about how you developed your own platform from scratch.

As someone who has hacked on WordPress and related code for the last 12 years, I find this statement absurd. There are plenty of “from scratch” opportunities within the WordPress community, even now. And if what you want is engagement then joining a bountiful and vibrant community of developers is a much bigger opportunity than the potential for a conversation with another NIH hacker.

I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with building your own X. Every time you do that it’s a great learning experience. I’m saying I don’t think it is necessary to get pride of ownership.

There might be something out there that offsets all my concerns, I’m not sure (but I don’t believe so.) My blog is my hobby, and I think I’d never give control again. Every single bit you see here was a labor of love, and I’m not ready to stop thinking about it that way.

I think a self-hosted WordPress site is really close. And I feel exactly the same about my site – it’s mine and I am in control of it. Even though I’ve released much of the code for this site as Open Source, no one else has a site that’s exactly like mine. I’ve made the decisions about how to present my content, how to distribute it to Twitter and Facebook, how to integrate with the responses on those platforms, and how I represent myself online. And I do so while building on a robust base platform that allows me to concentrate on building just the features that are unique to my site.