There and Back Again: TypePad to WordPress
Longtime readers know that I’ve moved this blog around a few times for one reason or another. Blogger was my first blogging platform, then I moved to WordPress because I wanted more freedom. WordPress became too frustrating for me, so I moved to TypePad. I’ve made another move—this time from TypePad back to WordPress. Why did I go back to WordPress?
First, I’m going to review what I like about TypePad. I certainly don’t think that TypePad is a bad blogging platform. I think it’s great for people who don’t want to deal with hosting their own blog and all the maintenance that entails. I like TypePad for that ease-of-use.
Secondly, since TypePad is a paid platform, you have a dedicated customer support staff working for you. The same cannot be said for WordPress.com, Tumblr, or Posterous, which are all free hosted platforms. I’ve contacted TypePad customer support a few times during the two years my blog was hosted there, and they’ve always been great and willing to help out, even if I couldn’t get my way every time. TypePad’s staff have always been top-notch in the customer support area, at least for me.
TypePad’s selection of blog themes is somewhat more limited than WordPress in terms of sheer numbers. However in a way, the themes are more customisable. Within each theme you choose, there are generally a few colour options, and many different options to lay out the blog (single column, two columns, three columns, photo blog, etc.). In WordPress, unless you go with an expensive premium theme or know how to code, you generally have to go out and find a specific blog template that will meet your needs. It can be time-consuming to find just the right one, and WordPress.org doesn’t list every single theme in existence. Within that single WordPress blog template, you’re generally stuck with a single layout. TypePad allows people who are not technically-inclined to create custom themes really easily, and arrange the layout in an number of different ways.
In WordPress, creating a theme from scratch requires CSS knowledge, and even through the theme framework system, the knowledge barrier presented to users who don’t know anything about CSS is not insignificant. I looked at the Hybrid and the Thematic theme frameworks, because having a starting point on which to create a custom theme was appealing. That wasn’t happening. The learning curve for someone with absolutely no development knowledge is really steep. End-users can choose out-of-the-box “child themes” (or skins) based on the skeletons of those theme frameworks, but you’re limited to what the developers create, and it can be difficult to find the right look. My blog is currently running on Speaky, a child theme of the current default WordPress theme.
That TypePad is a hosted solution is also an advantage, however the market is filled with choices, so this isn’t necessarily an advantage on its own. Combined with its other features, though, it’s a plus.
What prompted me to move back to a self-hosted WordPress blog, given that I was satisfied with the TypePad platform, its ease of use, and TypePad’s customer support? I wanted more freedom and more control over my blog’s destiny.
TypePad was created by SixApart, the company that created Movable Type (their self-hosted blogging platform, similar to WordPress), Vox (an ad-supported social blogging platform with privacy features), TypePad (their hosted blogging platform), and the company that used to own LiveJournal. As a TypePad customer, a longtime LiveJournal user, and as someone who’s interested in the social web, I have naturally been keeping an eye on Six Apart’s business moves.
Six Apart has a history of acquiring other companies because they want to harness expertise and/or technology. It makes sense from a business perspective. Six Apart acquired LiveJournal and their developers, which probably helped in developing Vox, a blogging platform with many of the same privacy and community features that LiveJournal has. Six Apart didn’t really understand the LiveJournal community, so the relationship between Six Apart and LiveJournal users was extremely rocky. During Six Apart’s ownership of LiveJournal, a new account category was created to help serve advertising. After Six Apart got all it could out of LiveJournal, they sold it. Six Apart also acquired Pownce, a social network and microblogging platform similar to Twitter. I actually had a Pownce account (because I wanted to compare it to Twitter). All of Pownce’s engineers and technology team became a part of Six Apart and Pownce was shut down. And now recently, to better focus on the TypePad platform, Six Apart closed Vox down, forcing users to migrate their content elsewhere. I had a Vox blog (which, to be fair, I didn’t use).
Recently, Six Apart was acquired by VideoEgg, and they formed a new company, SAY Media. In the last couple of years, TypePad has expanded the advertising side of the business, and from what I can tell, it’s been really successful at this. The acquisition certainly speaks to that success. I didn’t personally feel this expanded focus on advertising came at the expense of bloggers who don’t montetise their content. I do feel that the new company’s focus may diminish the importance of independent, small-time bloggers who don’t necessarily want to become media personalities. SAY Media’s goal is to help “passionate, influential creators grow media properties” and no matter how many times TypePad and former Six Apart staff repeat that their aim is to “help bloggers succeed,” it’s impossible to ignore this new focus on influential bloggers and brands that want to expand their reach. Because TypePad is an integral part of the SAY Media, I don’t think this means that the blogging platform will go down the toilet. Like I said on the Everything TypePad blog, because the TypePad platform is the distribution method by which the advertising part of the company will grow and become stronger, they will of course try to do right by it. The acquisition makes perfect sense for Six Apart’s business strategy and for VideoEgg’s business strategy.
Although TypePad was easy to use, virtually worry-free, with robust customer support, I’m not keen for my blog to be dependent upon the fortunes of a single company any longer. SAY Media is committed to the success of SAY Media, and right now that includes TypePad. With TypePad, both my blog and hosting is at the mercy of SAY Media’s business strategies. I don’t think the TypePad platform is going away. Wherever it goes, though, it’ll be without me.
I originally switched from WordPress to TypePad because the back end maintenance was often too complicated for a non-technical person (in terms of web development, anyway) like me. I spent more time than I wanted wrestling with my blogging platform. This blog was on WordPress self-hosting for two years. Between major updates to the platform, the self-installer on my server, Fantastico, did not update WordPress. Some of the more security-oriented updates forced me to manually update, which was a little bit stressful and sometimes time-consuming. When I was able to upgrade the platform, I also had to make sure that my plugins didn’t break in the process. That was WordPress 2.5.
WordPress 3.0 easier to manage, so far, than 2.5 ever was. WordPress 3.0 let me update to WordPress 3.0.1 in the dashboard with a click of the button, whereas before I would have had to install a small update like this manually, as Fantastico seems to only update WordPress with major releases. The back end of WordPress seems to be more user-friendly, and there are a lot of new options for organising content. I’m not sure what the menu system does, but it looks interesting. The cool thing about WordPress.org is that it is open source, and the huge number of WordPress community web developers makes the platform infinitely extensible.
For example, last night I installed WPtouch, a plugin that optimises my blog for viewing on mobile platforms like Android phones and iPhones. Whilst TypePad has a mobile site on which you can view TypePad blogs, it isn’t optimised for all mobile browsers like Opera Mini. I just checked my blog on Opera Mini, and it automatically displayed the mobile-enhanced version. On TypePad, it would have displayed the non-mobile version of my site. With TypePad, I could send customer support feedback about optimising TypePad sites for a wider variety of mobile platforms, but because their staff is managing an entire blogging platform and hosting infrastructure, they don’t have the staffing to build out functionality like this for every single feature on their site. A WordPress developer devoted only to one plugin like this will obviously have more time and resources (even doing it on their spare time), than a big company that needs to focus on a ton of stuff.
WordPress.org is open source. It’s developed by thousands of people, all with a stake in the success of the platform. Because the WordPress.org platform isn’t owned by a single company or entity, there’s less risk that business decisions made by an individual or company will affect it. In terms of hosting, if I don’t like what my web hosting service is doing, I can just pack up and move to a new host. Obviously, because I’m taking care of my own blog installation by myself, I will be subject to the annoyances that prompted me to move to TypePad in the first place. On the other hand, I feel better about being in control of my blog platform.