What’s the difference? Which do you choose?
We humans like to complicate things. It would be too easy if there was just one, wouldn’t it?
How they are the same: Both use the same software and the same Dashboard. The Dashboard is the User Interface (UI) that you use to create and administer your website and blog posts and makes WordPress easy to use. They are both open source = free.
How they different: WP.com is hosted by WordPress and WP.org is hosted by you. Matt Mullenweg compares it to renting an apartment (.com) to owning a house (.org).
What does that mean?: The WordPress software is installed on the WordPress computers at .com and the .org version is installed on the computers at your hosting service. You do not install WP on your own computer.
What does that mean to you?: Because WP.com is hosted by WordPress there are no monthly charges. There are special features you can add on for a small fee, such as using your own domain name instead of xyz.wordpress.com you can use xyz.com. You also have email support.
The trade off is that you cannot use most advanced features or functionality namely the many WP plugins available and the number of themes you can pick from is limited. For instance, up until recently you couldn’t use the code needed to sign up for most email newsletters.
You are also subject to the WP terms and services agreement relative to what you can do with your website and blog posts. If you violate the TOS WP can shut down your account/website.
Using WP.org means that you pay for a monthly hosting services and install the WordPress software on your hosting account. The benefit is that you have full control of your website and blog posts. And you have unlimited design and customization options and can implement all the functionality you need.
While you don’t have email support there is a great user’s forum, pretty good documentation and an international WP community you can use for support.
Which do you choose?: If you are not sure you want to start a blogsite or create a website using WP creating a .com account is not a bad idea for the short term (< 3 mos.). You can get a feel for the Dashboard and how WP works. And when you’re ready, you can export your content to your self-hosted WP site .
If you are going to use WP as a long term solution or you are building a website then the only way to go is to get hosting (usually $ 4 – 10 per month) and use the .org version.