Are you a user of Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn? Pinterest? Flickr? YouTube?
Odds are, your identity on the web looks a bit like this:
That’s right — your content, an important part of your identity, is chopped up into little pieces and spread across the web.
That’s only the start, though. Since you agreed to the terms of service of these commercial services, they don’t exactly ‘own’ your content, but you grant them licence to use it pretty much however they want. An example you may have seen is FaceBook’s ‘sponsored stories’. This is a pretty cute name for using part of your identity to market other people’s products. You don’t get paid.
“But Facebook/INSERT SERVICE HERE is so useful”, you say (or think, even if you can’t bring yourself to actually say it). “it allows me to share all my stuff with my friends and the wider world, and lets me keep up to date with what they’re doing. It’s… fun”.
And you’re right. It is useful, and it is fun. Unlike some, I am not advocating a mass withdrawal from any of these services. My point is that the only things all these services really provide is basic web hosting with some sort of social layer. Making a good social layer is difficult, but web hosting has become extremely easy and cheap.
Enter indieweb and Distributed Social Networking!
And now we get to the sales pitch (thanks for bearing with me). Indieweb and DiSo seek to get people hosting their own content on their own domains (e.g. Mine is WaterPigs.co.uk) and then to use all the various other social networks to syndicate the content out to as many people as want to see it.
“Well, that sounds good”, you think, “but don’t the problems of content ownership and licensing still apply?”. The trick is that every clone of content you send out via a commercial service includes a link back to the original. In many cases (e.g. Syndicating a blog post out via Twitter/Facebook) the only thing you’ll post to the commercial service is a notification and a link back to your own identity, e.g. The notification I post out to services for this article will look something like this (for Twitter, longer for Facebook):
Your identity chopped up or cloned — you choose. http://WaterPigs.co.uk/musings/post/id
The commercial services never see, store or have a licence to use my actual content. All they have is a link to my copy, and they can share that around all they want!
Best of all: my identity, instead of being all chopped up, looks like this:
That’s not enough?
There are a myriad of other reasons to have your own domain. Some of my favourites:
- Your own email address! Look really pro by having ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ on business cards, even if you just use it as an alias for your gmail account.
- No censoring! You can post whatever the ?@&# you like to your own website
Makes things easier to find:
“hmm, I shared an interesting link a few days ago. Was it on facebook? [scrolls down for 5 mins], nah, must have been on twitter [scrolls down for half an hour], screw this, I’ll just watch NON-STOP NYAN CAT! for hours instead of doing anything useful/interesting”
- You can make it look however you want! Even if you’re not writing the site yourself, solutions like Wordpress are easy to customise.
How to do it
Well, you can if you like and I would encourage it (apart from COBOL), but there are easier ways to get started. IndieWebCamp (the home on the web of discussion and development of this kind of stuff) has a great getting started guide.
There are myirad of possible ways you can create an indieweb site, from using a standard WordPress install (detailed below) to writing your own software (as I am doing).
I’m going to outline two ways of getting your own site going, the easy way (in this article, below) and the more advanced way (in a separate article, coming soon). Neither of them require that you actually learn how to do any coding, but the advanced way does involve editing some configuration files (not nearly as scary as it sounds, trust me).
The Easy Way
Use Wordpress (the extremely popular blogging platform) to host your content. It can also post it out to social networks for you, so you don’t have to do it manually. The most simple way is to get a Wordpress.com blog, but that’s not really owning your own content. It’s almost as easy to take the next step:
- Get your own domain, and a web hosting package (more often than not they come as one package). You’ll need be able to use ‘PHP’ and you’ll need to have an ‘SQL-like Database’ — if you’re not sure, just ask the tech support team if you can run wordpress on it. Wordpress have a list of recommended hosts.
- Download and Install WordPress. They have a handy 5 minute guide on how to do this on the linked page.
- … Profit! Have a look for plugins like SharePress that will allow you to post your content out to other social networks.
- When you want to take things further, have a read of the indieweb getting started guide to learn about some other awesome things you might want to implement, for example OpenID.
That’s really all there is to it. A WordPress install isn’t the most advanced hub, but it’s a good base to build from and will cover the needs of lots of people.
I’m not writing the more advanced guide here as it deserves an article of its own (that has yet to be written), but you can find out about the technology I’ll be recommending at the Social Igniter website.
Do it. Don’t leave the silos, make them work to your advantage. Make your own silo and own your content, but still have it seen by all the people you love and who love you. Take the Middle way towards a more social web.