Decisions, Decisions, Decisions – or where to host my site.
It was about a year ago that I moved my site from a wordpress domain, simonhawketts.wordpress.com to my own domain simonhawketts.com but at the time I made that move I kept the site hosting at wordpress.com. The payment for the hosting is due for renewal in a few weeks time and I’ve been deciding if I should keep the site within workpress or if I should move to a self hosted arrangement.
The driver for this is not really cost – it will cost about the same to host the site on a virtual server environment (I’m looking at DigitalOcean), but more to do with the control and flexibility of running my own wordpress install instead of living within the controlled environment wordpress.com offers.
So in order to see how my site would feel in a self hosted environment, I set up a virtual wordpress server on DigitalOcean and imported all the data from my site to see how it performs and to gauge the increase in configurability and control. This is actually quite a simple and cheap operation, because it only costs $5 (about £3.40) to run a server for a month whilst I try it out.
The biggest positive I see from moving to self hosting is the ability to add some quite useful plugins. For example the editor within wordpress is quite nice, but it’s a very cut down version compared to the full MCE editor. With the full editor it’s possible to add tables, which are nice when you have tabular data to display, carry out find & replace on text and lots of other nice features including a lot of configurability which is missing in the .com environment. Another plus, again provided by a plugin, is the ability to create post templates. A lot of my posts are vintage camera posts and there is a lot of similarity in the formatting and placement of picture galleries. With a template this is much easier to achieve but again it’s an option not available on my current site.
Of course there are also downsides. For a start, since I run a photo site I’m interested in the number of views any individual pictures may get in a gallery, since this is an indication of which pictures are considered best. I found on my trial self-hosted site, that this information isn’t available in the standard wordpress stats module. This isn’t the end of the world, but I would rather track that information, so I started looking at alternatives for better tracking and found a system called piwik which is an open source equivalent to google analytics (I looked at google analytics but found it to be just too complex for my needs). Although piwik also doesn’t track individual picture views, I found I could write my own wordpress plugin which added that functionality in a couple of hours.
Another downside is that any site followers who have signed up via the wordpress ‘follow’ button possibly won’t transfer if I go down the self hosted route. If that happens I’ll probably just ask anyone who is interested to re-subscribe via email although that also means I would need to run an email server as well.
Probably the biggest downside to self hosting is the amount of time which will be spent on system admin when running your own server rather than relying on a hosted service. The big advantage of wordpress.com is the fact that system & wordpress updates are installed automatically without the site going off-line while they are applied, backups are taken and the site is basically guaranteed to be available all the time.
So – it’s a case of deciding which way to go. I have a month or so to make the decision so I don’t feel pressured at the moment but I’d be interested in the opinion of anyone who was faced with the same options – feel free to comment below.