Let me start by stating that I love wordpress. I love it as an open source project, as a blogging platform, as a business model (.com, that is) and as a community, in general.

I started working with WordPress in September 2006. By the February of 2007, I already wanted to migrate to my own hosted installation. I run one ever since but, yet, for this blog, I chose to return back to .com.

The hosted wordpress gives a lot of flexibility. The most important  capability you have in a hosted wordpress, one not found in wordpress.com blogs,  is that you can run javascript and flash for plugins, ads, widgets, or your own hacks.
The support for plugins is critical. There are  so many of them out there, I am sure someone   can make your wildest blog dreams come true.

The downside is that you have to take care of updating and upgrading, figure out how to deal with high traffic, malevolent attacks and lots of other things that keep a sys admin awake at night.
Ok, maybe I am exaggerating a bit, but, certainly, one has more work to do with a hosted wordpress.

When I decided to start this blog, I wanted to avoid this extra hassle. I have my greek blog to experiment with, it works fine, I am happy with it, but that’s about it. Doubling the hours I spend for sys admin tasks, won’t make me a better blogger.

So I turned back to wordpress.com and started looking for things that can ease the restrictions that the default offering entails. Here is what I found:

a. Themes
With wordpress.com you get a limited number of themes, most of them not to my taste, but with an extra 15$ per year you can buy the CSS upgrade. Having access to the css file, allows you to play a lot with a theme’s look and feel.

It is not a trivial task, but lots of people with a little guidance may utilize the option.  Most  will find it easy enough to change fonts and colors while, with a little bit of extra effort, some borders, paddings and margins can be tackled too.

A CSS guru,  playing with positioning, dimensions, background image properties etc,  can make the theme look entirely different from  the original. To learn CSS, you can start here.

b. Media
WordPress.com gives 3Gb of storage space per blog and, given the falling prices of storage,I predict  this is going to go up. Yet, this amount of storage suffices for one to live his whole life and never  ‘consuming’ it, provided he follows a clever media storing tactic : upload images and photos to the likes of flickr, picasa or imageshack. Upload videos and sound file to any video hosting site.
While wordpress.com supports only Youtube, Google Video and DailyMotion for the time being, there is one more extremely useful  option (still beta): vodpod.
comes in two flavors: as a firefox plugin (it didn’t work with FF3 though, till the time of writing) or as a simple bookmarklet.
With the vodpod  you can insert any video in the wordpress editor.  So, if you have lots of videos of your own, first choose a video hosting site, upload the videos there, and then with vodpod embed them in your posts. Check my post with the video of Matt and you will see that it is actually coming from blip.tv.

Saving media in external sites is a good practice anyway. Avoids single point of failure. If I choose to export the blog and transfer it elsewhere, the media links will work immediately without having to move a single file.

c. Feed
Now, this is a tricky one. Most bloggers would like to have a feedburner chicklet to display their feed subscribers. Provided they have a feed ‘burned’ in feedburner, this is perfectly feasible with wordpress.com: you can copy the chicklet code in one of the text widgets provided and it will work nicely.
The problem is that, in this way, you do not actually redirect your feed to feedburner. Two feeds exist seperately: the default one, and the one constructed by feedburner, which meanr that there are two different feed urls also.
To have a unified feed would require an plugin such as  that one is not allowed to install. Remember? No plugins can be installed by users in wordpress.com blogs.

This means that your standard wordpress feed address is still there for people to use and will ‘lurk’  underneath the feed icon in the address area or a toolbar.
Those subscribed to the standard wordpress feed will not show in the feedburner chicklet.
There are no technical means to remedy this (not to my knowledge, at least) but one can apply some psychological techniques: use a feed icon of your own (same process as the chicklet above) and place it as close to the top of the page as possible. Grab the attention of the visitor. You can perfom a heatmap test to check whether your feed icon is visible enough. Use feng-gui to produce a heatmap. Here is an example of mine.

That’s about it.  Tell me whether you found it useful.

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