WordPress is software for blogging and website management that promotes both professional and amateur web publications and sometimes interactive applications. One of the things that can be confusing for the uninitiated is that WordPress comes in several flavors. Also, even though it is “free” and open, exactly what you get for free varies.
Here’s how the WordPress for Toastmasters service fits in.
WordPress.org is where you can download the software for free and install it on your own web server. This is open source software, containing contributions from a community of volunteers as well as professional developers from the main sponsor and creator of the system, Automattic.
What’s free: you get the software for free, but you pay for the hosting. You have the freedom to customize the site however you want, using free or premium plugins and website design themes or inventing your own.
WordPress.com is a free blog hosting service run by Automattic and powered by the same software made available through WordPress.org. Automattic does offer some paid upgrades, but the basic service is absolutely free and includes many popular themes and plugins.
You are restricted to those company-approved themes and plugins, however. My event scheduling and Toastmasters-specific plugins are not on the list.
What’s free: you get the basic blog hosting service for free, but you don’t get to tinker with the software or upload your own plugins or site design themes.
WordPress for Toastmasters offers free club websites on something like the WordPress.com model, providing a selection of themes and plugins, including plugins that add Toastmasters-specific functionality. Some themes offer design customization choices that, for example, allow you to change the background color and the Toastmasters logo banner at the top of the page.
WordPress for Toastmasters uses a WordPress configuration option known as WordPress Multisite, which is what allows each club to have its own site within the site, with its own list of authorized users (club members and officers) and its own separate content, design, and configuration options.
What’s free: the club website hosting, including Toastmasters-specific functionality. If you want access to themes or plugins beyond those I’ve selected, you will have to convince me to add them and make them available to everyone. Free sites include advertising (in the sidebar of the page).
Alternative: a custom Toastmasters website, hosted by Carr Communications Inc., starts at $200 per year, provides additional freedom to customize beyond the limits of the shared WordPress for Toastmasters environment. This is not a bait-and-switch option — I’m not holding back features from the free version so you’ll be compelled to upgrade — but may be more appropriate for clubs that have the money in their budget and want one or more of the following: an web independent domain, the access required for additional customizations by a club webmaster, or a site with no advertising.
(More detail: Free Toastmasters Club Websites vs. Custom Websites)