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The Difference Between WordPress and WordPress.com

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the difference between wordpress and wordpress com

If you were troubled by yesterday’s news that Automattic, the company that owns WordPress.com and Tumblr, is selling your data to AI modeling companies, it’s probably not worth stressing about. As shady as the company profiting off of its users’ content may sound, the vast majority of what we put into the internet right now is already being consumed by hungry AI bots as language training.

However, the news did bring up a common confusion that emerges whenever discussion turns to WordPress matters, and one that’s important if you are concerned whether this data brokerage will affect you: What is the difference between WordPress, the content management system, and WordPress.com, the web hosting site—and is your personal WordPress site included in the data being sold?

What is WordPress?

As noted, WordPress is a content management system (CMS) used on about 40% of all websites. The simplest way to describe a CMS is as the database where all a site’s content is stored, connected to standard web code—whether that’s html, php, javascript, ruby, or django—that tells the data what to look like and how to function when accessed.

To break it down in practice: The content of, say, a blog post—the words, pictures, links and titles—is stored in the database. The web code (often verbalized as “the theme”) tells the site what color the background should be, and whether to align the text and images to the left or the right, and what font to use, and where to put the images and how big to make them, and what the general layout should look like.

The reason people use a CMS like WordPress is simple: Coding webpages by hand sucks, and the results can be wildly inconsistent. Using a CMS means you can make universal changes to the theme, and ensures the data itself is portable, meaning it’s easy to export and use elsewhere. You can always change your theme, and thus change the layout, colors, fonts, and everything else, but the data in the database remains unchanged.  

WordPress launched about 20 years ago, and became a popular choice among competitors like Moveable Type and Drupal for a variety of reasons. While it was for a short time thought of as simply a blogging tool, WordPress and other CMS were quickly found to be useful tools to create fully functional websites for businesses. These days, blogs make up a small portion of CMS content.

WordPress also became popular for the simplest reason: It is (technically) free. 

WordPress itself—meaning the files that make up the underlying framework of the CMS—is available at no cost under an open source license called GPL. In short, you needn’t pay for the WordPress code, nor any derivative products. You can simply download it from WordPress.org and install it on any web host you’d like, or locally on your computer. This is what people often call “self-hosted WordPress”, and at this point, almost every web host has a utility where they’ll install WordPress for you.

While you can’t charge for WordPress itself, a massive industry has grown up around custom WordPress themes and plugins, and developing all kinds of functionality around the software.  

What is WordPress.com?

These days, WordPress is maintained by a steady community of volunteer developers, and the trademark is owned by the WordPress Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit. The website WordPress.org is affiliated with the WordPress Foundation.

Meanwhile, the folks who invented WordPress started their own company, the aforementioned Automattic, and their first product was to sell hosted WordPress sites. In other words, you can self host a WordPress site anywhere, or you can get it direct from the source at WordPress.com

If you’re confused, don’t worry; it’s been confusing everyone for two decades, and is a frequent topic of debate. To make it simple, think of it this way: If you go to WordPress.com to sign into your site, your site content is at risk of being used to train AI models. If your site is hosted anywhere other than WordPress.com (like on GoDaddy, Bluehost, or Siteground), then you have a self-hosted WordPress site.

The differences between self hosted and .com hosted WordPress

While based on the same underlying technology, there’s a difference between the two WordPress experiences, and not just in who you’re paying for hosting your site. WordPress.com is a much more tightly controlled experience, with limited plugins, themes and options. Most importantly, it offers customer support. You can also pay for various upgrades in utility, like your own domain name or backup services. 

Self hosted WordPress has no constraints, which is both a blessing and a curse. You can install any plugin you want, or write your own. You can use any theme you want, or code it yourself. It is, theoretically, yours, from the data to the domain name and host. But if you break it somehow, you’re going to have to figure out how to code your way out of it.

Is your WordPress data really at risk? 

The AI concerns are, as far as we currently know primarily confined to WordPress.com sites—those that are hosted at WordPress.com. You can opt out of your data being included in the program by adjusting to the settings on your WordPress.com site. If you are self hosting, it seems that your data is not being sold to Automattic’s AI partners.

However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t being used to train AI models, simply because it is on the internet. AI bots troll for content the same way search engine spiders troll for content. And as Lifehacker Senior Tech Editor Jake Peterson noted yesterday, many self hosted WordPress sites use a plugin called Jetpack. Jetpack is a collection of services that Automattic can provide to self hosted WordPress including a CDN, backup, spam monitoring, and lots more. Since Jetpacks is a cloud based service that connects your database to Automattic, it could potentially be used in the same way that Automattic is using WordPress.com sites.

Yesterday, Automattic X’d (formally known as tweeted) that WordPress.org was not included in the content for AI modeling, but it did not address the specific question of Jetpack being used as a gateway for that content.

Source: LifeHacker.com