In dependence

Original source

Jason Kottke wrote an end-of-the-year piece for the Nieman Journalism Lab called The blog is dead, long live the blog:

Sometime in the past few years, the blog died. In 2014, people will finally notice.

But the second part of the article’s title is as important as the first:

Over the past 16 years, the blog format has evolved, had social grafted onto it, and mutated into Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest and those new species have now taken over.

Jason’s piece prompted some soul-searching. John Scalzi wrote The Death of the Blog, Again, Again. Colin Devroe wrote The blog isn’t dead. It is just sleeping.:

The advantages to using Facebook should be brought out onto the web. There should be no real disadvantage to using one platform or another. In fact, there should be an advantage to using your own platform rather than those of a startup that could go out of business at any moment.

That’s a common thread in amongst a number of the responses: the specific medium of the blog may certainly be waning, but the idea of independent publishing still burns brightly. Ben Werdmuller sums that feeling up, saying the blog might be dying, but the web’s about to fight back:

If you buy the idea that articles aren’t dying – and anecdotally, I know I read as much as I ever did online – then a blog is simply the delivery mechanism. It’s fine for that to die. Even welcome. In some ways, that death is due to the ease of use of the newer, siloed sites, and makes the way for new, different kinds of content consumption; innovation in delivery.

Kartik Prabhu writes about The Blogging Dead:

In any case, let’s not ‘blog’, let’s just write—on our own personal place on the Web.

In fact, Jason’s article was preceded by a lovely post from Jeffrey called simply This is a website:

Me, I regret the day I started calling what I do here “blogging.”

I know how he feels. I still call what I write here my “journal” rather than my “blog”. Call it what you like, publishing on your own website can be a very powerful move, now more than ever:

Blogging may have been a fad, a semi-comic emblem of a time, like CB Radio and disco dancing, but independent writing and publishing is not. Sharing ideas and passions on the only free medium the world has known is not a fad or joke.

One of the most overused buzzwords of today’s startup scene is the word “disruption”. Young tech upstarts like to proclaim how they’re going to “disrupt” some incumbent industry of the old world and sweep it away in a bright new networked way. But on today’s web of monolithic roach-motel silos like Facebook and Twitter, I can’t imagine a more disruptive act than choosing to publish on your own website.

It’s not a new idea. Far from it. Jeffrey launched a project called Independent’s Day in 2001:

No one is in control of this space. No one can tell you how to design it, how much to design it, when to “dial it down.” No one will hold your hand and structure it for you. No one will create the content for you.

Those words are twelve years old, but they sound pretty damn disruptive to me today.

Frank is planting his flag in his own sand with his minifesto Homesteading 2014

I’m returning to a personal site, which flips everything on its head. Rather than teasing things apart into silos, I can fuse together different kinds of content.

So, I’m doubling down on my personal site in 2014.

He is not alone. Many of us are feeling an increasing unease, even disgust, with the sanitised, shrink-wrapped, handholding platforms that make it oh-so-easy to get your thoughts out there …on their terms …for their profit.

Of course independent publishing won’t be easy. Facebook, Pinterest, Medium, Twitter, and Tumblr are all quicker, easier, more seductive. But I take great inspiration from the work being done at Indie Web Camp. Little, simple formats and protocols—like webmentions—can have a powerful effect in aggregate. Small pieces, loosely joined.

Mind you, it’s worth remembering that not everybody wants to be independent. Tyler Fisher wrote about this on Medium—“because it is easier and hopefully more people will see it”— in a piece called I’m 22 years old and what is this. :

Fighting to get the open web back sounds great. But I don’t know what that means.

If we don’t care about how the web works, how can we understand why it is important to own our data? Why would we try if what we can do now is so easy?

Therein lies the rub. Publishing on your own website is still just too damn geeky. The siren-call of the silos is backed up with genuinely powerful, easy to use, well-designed tools. I don’t know if independent publishing can ever compete with that.

In all likelihood, the independent web will never be able to match the power and reach of the silos. But that won’t stop me (and others) from owning our own words. If nothing else, we can at least demonstrate that the independent path is an option—even if that option requires more effort.

Like Tyler Fisher, Josh Miller describes his experience with a web of silos—the only web he has ever known:

Some folks are adamant that you should own your own words when you publish online. For example, to explain why he doesn’t use services like Quora, Branch, and Google-Plus, Dave Winer says: “I’m not going to put my writing in spaces that I have no control over. I’m tired of playing the hamster.”

As someone who went through puberty with social media, it is hard to relate to this sentiment. I have only ever “leased,” from the likes of LiveJournal (middle school), Myspace (middle school), Facebook (high school), and Twitter (college).

There’s a wonderful response from Gina Trapani:

For me, publishing on a platform I have some ownership and control over is a matter of future-proofing my work. If I’m going to spend time making something I really care about on the web—even if it’s a tweet, brevity doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful—I don’t want to do it somewhere that will make it inaccessible after a certain amount of time, or somewhere that might go away, get acquired, or change unrecognizably.

This! This is why owning your own words matters.

I have a horrible feeling that many of the people publishing with the easy-to-use tools of today’s social networks don’t realise how fragile their repository is, not least because everyone keeps repeating the lie that “the internet never forgets.”

Stephanie Georgopulos wrote a beautiful piece called Blogging Ourselves to Live—published on Medium, alas—describing the power of that lie:

We were told — warned, even — that what we put on the internet would be forever; that we should think very carefully about what we commit to the digital page. And a lot of us did. We put thought into it, we put heart into, we wrote our truths. We let our real lives bleed onto the page, onto the internet, onto the blog. We were told, “Once you put this here, it will remain forever.” And we acted accordingly.

Sadly, when you uncover the deceit of that lie, it is usually through bitter experience:

Occasionally I become consumed by the idea that I can somehow find — somehow restore — all the droppings I’ve left on the internet over the last two decades. I want back the IMed conversations that caused tears to roll from my eyes, I want back the alt girl e-zines I subscribed to, wrote poetry for. I fill out AOL’s Reset Password form and send new passwords to email addresses I don’t own anymore; I use the Way Back Machine to search for the diary I kept in 1999. I am hunting for tracks of my former self so I can take a glimpse or kill it or I don’t know what. The end result is always the same, of course; these things are gone, they have been wiped away, they do not exist.

I’m going to continue to publish here on my own website, journal, blog, or whatever you want to call it. It’s still possible that I might lose everything but I’d rather take the responsibility for that, rather than placing my trust in ”the cloud” someone else’s server. I’m owning my own words.

The problem is …I publish more than words. I publish pictures too, even the occasional video. I have the originals on my hard drive, but I’m very, very uncomfortable with the online home for my photos being in the hands of Yahoo, the same company that felt no compunction about destroying the cultural wealth of GeoCities.

Flickr has been a magnificent shining example of the web done right, but it is in an inevitable downward spiral. There are some good people still left there, but they are in the minority and I fear that they cannot fight off the douchtastic consultants of growth-hacking that have been called in to save the patient by killing it.

I’ve noticed that I’m taking fewer and fewer photos these days. I think that subconsciously, I’ve started the feel that publishing my photos to a third-party site—even one as historically excellent as Flickr—is a fragile, hollow experience.

In 2014, I hope to figure out a straightforward way to publish my own photos to my own website …while still allowing third-party sites to have a copy. It won’t be easy—binary formats are trickier to work with than text—but I want that feeling of independence.

I hope that you too will be publishing on your own website in 2014.


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