The WordPresses

Although I don’t often post about work, I’d actually like to change that. My work is really important to me, and the work that Happiness does as a whole is really integral to the product – but I know a lot of my friends and family aren’t that sure what it is I do all day.

This post isn’t about what I do all day, but it’ll start to give an idea of the work, I hope.

So, as a little background, I am a Happiness Engineer – the most basic explanation of the role of a Happiness Engineer (HE) is that we try our best to engineer or create happiness for our users when they come to us with a problem or feedback. If you’re thinking “wow, that sounds like customer support!” your are both correct and not quite on target. We are the support for WordPress.com. Customer Support in many fields, including tech, has a really bad rap for being impersonal, not empowered to actually resolve user issues, and poorly managed (you can think of cases where you’ve tried to get a refund or update your address or something and it all went to hell, I’m sure). Our job description is to be empowered, to be informed, to advocate for our users, and to move them from unhappy to happy to the very best of our ability. It’s the sort of support we would ideally want to see everywhere.

My actual job is leading a team of 18 HEs – I work with each of them to help them maximize their potential as an Automattician. I do this primarily through weekly or bi-weekly one-on-ones, team chats, and (right now) interaction reviews. For each member of my team, I’m reading their last 3 months of user inteactions (not every single ticket or chat, but in the range or 200-300), and provide feedback on about 25 specific interactions along with my thoughts on their user-facing work as a whole. I’m just over halfway done with the team (I’ve done 10 reviews so far over the past 8 weeks, and have 8 to go!), and one big thing I’ve noticed is the WordPress.com and WordPress.org confusion.

I remember, long ago, before I joined Automattic, not understanding the difference between the two. In fact, in my MattChat, I said that I think the biggest issue we face is this confusion, and one solution would be to change the names so they’re not so similar (…which actually doesn’t make a ton of sense as a solution). So this confusion isn’t new!

And if you’re one of my friends or family, there’s a great chance you are reading “WordPress and WordPress confusion” and maybe even thinking “.com, .org, I have a .net – what’s the big difference? If you want a .org site, you use WordPress.org, right?” (no, wrong – that domain extension has nothing to do with what kind of domain extension you can have on your site).

In reading through many, many, many ways my team addresses this issue with users, one of my favorite explanations comes from Daniel, who describes the two thus: WordPress.com is a service, and WordPress.org is software.

Heres’ sort of the nitty gritty of what that means – WordPress.org (commonly just referred to as “WordPress”) is the open source project. If you click on the link, you’ll see an option to download WordPress. This means you get all the files and can do literally anything you like with them. You can set up a local site on your computer (not on the web, but just to try out code on it, for example), you can purchase your own hosting with a company of your choice, and set up your WordPress site there  (on the web) – your only restriction is either your skills (you can hire a developer or designer as your budget allows), your hosts Terms Of Service (if you plan on doing something deeply sketchy), and your imagination (it’s just code – if you can dream it, you can do it!). You are using software (WordPress). You are in charge of all the back-end technical stuff, like maintaining your hosting, protecting your site from hackers, security, back-ups, code updates, everything. If you need help with your site, you have a couple options – if you hired a dev or a designer, you should ask them first. If you are doing it all yourself, you can check the support forums. If there’s a problem with your hosting, you’d contact your host.

WordPress.com, however, is a service – it’s a way to set up a site (either a blog or a static website) without doing any of the above. You sign up, and for as little as zero dollars and 5 minutes of your time, you can be publishing content on the web. It’s a service and not software because you don’t download anything. You don’t set up a host. We (at WordPress.com) are your host – we manage all the back-end for you; security, back-ups, code updates, all of it. If you need help with your site, you contact us – you don’t have to go to several different places – you can get help for your entire site from one source (this is a huge advantage alone, in my opinion :D). WordPress.com uses the WordPress software, and have it ready to go for users on our servers.

A point of confusion even among people who seem to understand the WordPress.com / WordPress.org divide, is when one has features that the other doesn’t. A big thing is themes and plugins. WordPress.com has a lot of themes (nearly 400), but you cannot upload a “WordPress theme” that you bought on a separate site. You can purchase a premium theme on WordPress.com, however. We have a range of free and paid themes. All the themes on WordPress.com have been vetted by our theme team to work with our special configurations to make the site work and look great for everyone (including in the Reader). Plugins are also not available currently on WordPress.com. We have a ton of built-in functionality – SEO is a big on that people ask for, for example, where WordPress.com has built in all the best practices so you don’t have to do anything, except post good, relevant content.

Some of our users assume that if they upgrade from our free plan to a paid plan, they can then enable plugins or upload a theme. This isn’t the case with our Premium or Business plans, but if a user really wants to do something that just isn’t possible on WordPress.com or really wants to get that granular control available on a self-hosted WordPress installation, we actually can sell them something to help (but it’s really not a plan upgrade – it’s a lateral move with a service component). We offer something called Guided Transfer – a one-time fee to move your entire site to a WordPress.org installation, with two weeks of WordPress.com support. You might wonder what good WordPress.com support is for a WordPress.org site – plenty! First, the GT team has set up many, many, many sites, and can get everything configured just right for you. Second, the team sets you up with Jetpack, so you have access to lots of WordPress.com features, and so that you can get the absolute most out of your WordPress site – whatever host you’re using.

Another huge difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is something I very lightly touched on a little bit ago when I called WordPress.org the open source project. That means that anyone can contribute to it, as well as anyone can use it in any manner they see fit. Sometimes people think that we (Automattic) actually own that project, but that isn’t the case. It’s very much a community project, although Automatticians work on every release cycle. But so do many more people who are not affiliated at all with Automattic – the strength and value of WordPress the software comes directly from this community. WordPress.com, however, is strictly an Automattic project, so to speak. That is owned and operated by Automattic. WordPress.com uses the open source software, so our users get the benefit of the bigger community, in a smaller, managed environment.

If you want to get involved with the open source project, check out this page. Working on WordPress.org would be your volunteer time, unless your employer chooses to pay you to participate – WordPress the project isn’t an employer. If you want to know more about available jobs at WordPress.com, check this out. If you want to get involved but you don’t know where to start, just dive in! If you want to do something with low investment, set yourself up with a free WordPress.com site, then go visit our forums, and see if you can help people out just through experimenting on your site and using the support documentation. Or, you can set yourself up with a self-hosted WordPress site (you’ll need to pay for hosting), and pitch into the support forums there, or check the “get involved” opportunities to see if something matches your skillset. If you’re really interested but are having trouble getting traction, just remember – no one working on WordPress today was born knowing how to do any of this! Everyone went through the figure-it-out process, and for the most part, people will be really generous with their time. There are meetups all around the world of WordPress enthusiasts who meet regular to swap stories, information, and just help each other out. Find one near you here.

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