For the longest time the key difference between sites hosted on WordPress.com and WP sites hosted elsewhere (aka self-hosted sites) was that only the latter could install custom themes and plugins. Now Wordpress.com has changed the features of its business tier hosting plan, giving some of its customers the ability to install almost any theme or plugin.
There has been no public announcement from Automattic, but yesterday I noticed that the hosting plan descriptions on WordPress.com had been updated with the detail that customers on the $25 a month business hosting plan could now “Install third-party themes and plugins.”
The change was initially mentioned in a support thread on WordPress.com in May, but the description was only changed in late June (according to the Wayback Machine).
Details on the limitations of the new theme and plugin support are still scarce, but I have received confirmation through Twitter, however. And I can also point you to a new help/FAQ page on WordPress.com.
If you read that page, you will find there is a catch; not all plugins are compatible with WordPress.com at this time.
Some plugins might not be ready for WordPress.com yet, as this is something the plugin author needs to implement. If a specific plugin does not work for you, let us know. We will get in touch with the author or help you finding a suitable alternative.
Considering the magnitude of change this story represents, it has gotten surprisingly little attention. (The only other coverage is from WPTavern in May, and I only found their story after about 20 minutes of Googling.)
WordPress.com has moved into direct competition with the many hosting companies that offer WordPress support.
Before, WordPress.com had locked down their service to such a degree that it frequently could not do what many users needed. It only had so many theme options, and you could not extend a site’s software abilities. But now that business plan customers can install plugins and themes the possibilities – while not unlimited – are vast.
Twenty-five dollars a month is higher than the budget plans offered by competitors, but it is also in line with their mid-grade offerings – plans that usually come with strict usage limits.
WordPress.com has no limits listed in the description for its business plan, which means this plan is a serious alternative.
It’s going to come down to service, reliability, and tech support, of course, but if I have a client who is looking for a new host and is willing to pay $25 a month, I will seriously consider pointing them to WordPress.com.
image by whiteafrican