Personal Website Manifesto

I’ve had a per­sonal web­site for years. Back in col­lege I snagged bri­ankoser.com, put up some short pro­gram­ming ar­ti­cles, and ex­per­i­mented with HTML and CSS.

In 2015 I picked up koser.us as a place to put Melis­sa’s recipes and our Christ­mas Let­ters. I’ve slowly added more and will even­tu­ally move all of my on­line out­put here.

Peo­ple as­sume it’s be­cause I’m a soft­ware de­vel­oper. If you make web sites for a liv­ing, you have to have your own web­site, right? Well, no. Most soft­ware de­vel­op­ers, even web de­vel­op­ers, don’t have their own site. In 2016, most peo­ple just use Face­book (along with Twit­ter, Medium, and some oth­ers).

I have a Face­book ac­count my­self. Why is­n’t that good enough?

Here are all the rea­sons I have my own web­site.

To own my content

Hey Facebook, you can use my lawnmower whenever you want.

Post­ing on Face­book al­lows Face­book to use your words for free. Some peo­ple have handed Face­book mul­ti­ple nov­els-worth of work. You still own the con­tent, but Face­book can use it for what­ever they want.

“Who cares if Face­book uses the sta­tus up­dates about my cat?” you say. I grant that this is more of a philo­soph­i­cal ar­gu­ment. But just be­cause it’s philo­soph­i­cal does­n’t mean it’s not im­por­tant. This point leads into:

Facebook isn’t free (as in “free beer”)

Let me get you some free chips and salsa. I will also increase the cost of your entree by 10%.

One of the first prin­ci­ples of eco­nom­ics is: there’s no such thing as a free lunch. When you use a web­site, some­one is pay­ing for it. koser.us is paid for by me, to pro­vide my­self a plat­form. Face­book’s busi­ness model is:

  1. You give per­sonal in­for­ma­tion to Face­book. Face­book gives you a place to find your friends and share your ac­tiv­i­ties.
  2. Face­book gives your per­sonal in­for­ma­tion to ad­ver­tis­ers. Ad­ver­tis­ers give Face­book lots of money to run the web­site.
  3. Ad­ver­tis­ers tar­get you with per­son­al­ized ads based on your in­for­ma­tion.

If you’re OK with this sys­tem, fine. I think there are peo­ple that would­n’t be OK with that trade, but don’t re­al­ize they’re mak­ing it.

Facebook isn’t free (as in “free speech”)

You can­not say what­ever you want on Face­book or Twit­ter. As pri­vate com­pa­nies, they have every right to delete your ac­count if you say some­thing they don’t like.

This is a good thing. With­out any mod­er­a­tion, ob­nox­ious users would drive oth­ers off the plat­form.

How­ever, if you ever dis­agree with Face­book or Twit­ter’s stan­dards on what speech is ac­cept­able, you’re out of luck. This is one rea­son that so­cial me­dia sites are:

Facebook is an unstable platform

So­cial me­dia sites can delete your ac­count at any time, with­out ex­pla­na­tion. This has hap­pened mul­ti­ple times on Youtube and Twit­ter: a user pro­motes and builds their brand, gains fol­low­ers, their ac­count gets deleted. Some­times they vi­o­late the Terms of Ser­vice; some­times it’s just a mis­take. Ei­ther way, peo­ple have lost their fol­low­ers, their con­tent, and even their source of in­come.

For an easily-searchable archive

Can you find that casse­role recipe you posted on Face­book a few years ago?

To own my presentation

Web­sites like Face­book and Medium put a lot of thought into pre­sen­ta­tion. They come up with solid de­faults that work for what most peo­ple want to do. But what if you want to do some­thing unique? I could­n’t do my an­nual board game re­ports on Face­book. This New York Times ar­ti­cle could­n’t be done on Face­book. With your own web­site you can pre­sent your con­tent how­ever you want.

To avoid lock-in

You buy a ser­vice from Com­pany A. Com­pany B starts pro­vid­ing the ser­vice bet­ter, but you the cost of switch­ing is so high you stay with Com­pany A. This is called ven­dor lock-in.

If to­mor­row some­one builds a bet­ter Face­book, would you be able to switch? If Twit­ter changes their Terms of Ser­vice to dis­al­low your speech, will you leave? If you do you’ll prob­a­bly be leav­ing all your con­tent be­hind.

For a wider reach

There are over 1 billion peo­ple on Face­book. That’s a crazy num­ber. But it also means there are six times that many not on Face­book. Do you want to re­strict who has ac­cess to your con­tent?

“But my au­di­ence is on Face­book, I can’t ask them to move.” A so­lu­tion is to put your con­tent on your page and link to it from Face­book. This al­lows you:

To create one canonical source

Where can peo­ple find your con­tent on­line? Face­book? Twit­ter? Medium? All of the above plus oth­ers? Us­ing a per­sonal web­site is the best way to con­sol­i­date your con­tent. To con­sol­i­date you will need to:

POSSE

POSSE is “Pub­lish (on your) Own Site, Syn­di­cate Else­where”. With POSSE, you post your cat pic­ture to your site, then your site au­to­mat­i­cally cre­ates a Face­book post link­ing to your cat pic­ture. This way your au­di­ence on so­cial me­dia will still see your con­tent.

Consolidate comments

What makes so­cial me­dia “so­cial”? Com­ments. And if some­one com­ments about your con­tent on Face­book, you want that on your site as well. Right now the best way to do that seems to be Bridgy. I haven’t used it yet but I plan to start in 2017.


You’ve convinced me. But I’m not technical. Can I have my own site?

I haven’t used it, but the best non-tech­ni­cal so­lu­tion right now seems to be Known. Of course, “build it your­self” will al­ways be the most cus­tomiz­able op­tion, so that’s in the works for koser.us in 2017.

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