When you put time and creativity into sharing your thoughts online with an audience, do you care about fully owning where that experience takes place?
Increasingly, writers are turning to third party platforms to host their works instead of maintaining their own blogs. They're finding readers at places like Medium, Svbtle, Twitter, and Facebook. I'm one of them, but lately I've been wavering over where I want to put my thoughts down on digital paper.
The platforms mentioned above have built remarkable communities, but they are also double-edged swords. On one hand they can bring a massive audience to an unknown writer, and they're also much easier to maintain from a technical perspective. On the flip side, whoever is packaging your material for you can flip a switch at any time and change the context of your creative output and how your readers access it.
A few factors to consider when choosing to house your creative endeavors on a platform you don't own:
- You can only implement technology that the platform lets you. While it may be constantly evolving, from a technical perspective you don’t have full control over how you share media or which technical integrations you use.
- How you make money (and how much) is largely determined by rules you have no part in making. While those rules treat everyone (all contributors) equally, not everyone is an equal in terms of the talent or audience size they bring to the table.
- If a platform disappears tomorrow, or does something that you don’t like, you and your fans aren’t easy to migrate away. It’s not your platform, you’re just using it. This happened to me on Posterous. More on that below.
Now obviously many platforms provides a great service to content creators by offering free hosting for content, that’s huge, but they do it a cost. Typically that cost is using your audience to advertise to. Maybe it's today, maybe it's in the future.
Social networks and blog collectives serve a very important purpose, but they should not be seen as a canvas an artist feels required to paint on. Centralizing content in one place makes it easy for audiences to discover you, but it also turns you into just another shop in a mall, competing for attention along with with the smell from Cinnabon and the guy selling bedazzled phone cases.
So why have I been drawn to specific platforms?:
I was one of the first few hundred users of Medium through a bit of luck. I loved the traffic spikes that came with getting a story posted to the homepage. I also believe the CMS (content management system) is the most beautiful minimalist writing prompt I've ever used.
I've had a chance to interact with lots of people from the bottom to the top of the organization and they sought my advice and implemented some of it. I love what they're doing and if I'm going to cheer on any third party platform it's them. That said, although I briefly considered making Medium my primary venue for writing, I quickly switched gears because I just don't have enough control over how the site presents my work.
Much like Medium, Svbtle built a userbase by curating excellent writing from a notable group of people who generally have large social networks. I really enjoyed the content, but was quickly turned off by a lack of communication between the team running the site and the community they were trying to build.
There was a strange inhuman quality to Svbtle, and I don't feel like that's changed much since I first encountered it. Ultimately, if there's a race to see which new blogging platform "wins," I'm not planning on betting on the Svbtle horse. From my perspective it's just a simple platform that offers little more than a clean design for people who don't want to manage their own website.
I had always hosted my own sites, but one day Posterous showed up and offered simple posting (via email) and a powerful community. In many ways it was a precursor to Medium and Svbtle. It was so unique that it actually spurred a friend and I to start a project called "the3six5," a public diary that let a different person write an entry every single day for an entire year.
That project ran for 1000 days in a row and we accumulated 365,000 words from people all over the world. And then Posterous was shut down. While the data was saved, the Internet shrine we had built was essentially bulldozed. The trust we had put in a third party platform burned me pretty bad here.
As of writing this post, it's my six year anniversary on Twitter. I've tweeted 65,000 times averaging about 30 tweets per day. Besides the painfully depressing realization that I could have done so much more with my life than this, it's clear that Twitter has successfully convinced me to trust a third party platform with my words.
Perhaps the brevity that comes with 140 characters makes tweets seem less significant or upsetting to lose, but as of now, I've spent more time writing on Twitter than any digital venue I've ever touched. I will continue to trust Twitter with my work, but only because I can download it at any time.
In the last few years writers have definitely started migrating away from their own domains, but will simpler content management systems and an increased competency in web development swing things the other way?
Where do you prefer to write? Where do platforms like Tumblr and Squarespace fit?