I’ve been saying since forever (or at least since 2004) that anything worth doing on the internet is worth doing at your own domain that you control. So it’s nice to see Adrian Short in The Guardian agree with me:
If you use a paid-for web service at someone else’s domain you’re a tenant. A second class citizen. You don’t have much control. You’ll probably have to live with your landlord’s furniture and decoration and a restrictive set of rules. Your content will only exist at these URLs for as long as you keep paying the same people that monthly fee and for as long as your provider stays in business. Experience tells me that this isn’t very long. As a paying customer you’ll have a few rights under your contract, but they probably won’t amount to very much. When you leave you’ll probably be able to get your data back in a useful format, but when you put it back on the web somewhere else you’ll lose all your inbound links, search engine rankings and many of your visitors. This kind of service seems like a good deal until the day you need to move.
When you use a free web service you’re the underclass. At best you’re a guest. At worst you’re a beggar, couchsurfing the web and scavenging for crumbs. It’s a cliché but worth repeating: if you’re not paying for it, you’re aren’t the customer, you’re the product. Your individual account is probably worth very little to the service provider, so they’ll have no qualms whatsoever with tinkering with the service or even making radical changes in their interests rather than yours. If you don’t like it you’re welcome to leave. You may well not be able to take your content and data with you, and even if you can, all your URLs will be broken.
The conclusion here should be obvious: if you really care about your site you need to run it on your own domain. You need to own your URLs. You’ll have total control and no-one can take it away from you.
But he goes on to worry about something I’ve been slow to start noticing, since Facebook and many other social networks are already too hostile to adult content (and to the anonymity most people demand in order to explore and frolic on the adult web in safety from social repercussions) for them to be very important in the sex blogging community:
You can turn your back on the social networks that matter in your field and be free and independent running your own site on your own domain. But increasingly that freedom is just the freedom to be ignored, the freedom to starve. We need to use social networks to get heard and this forces us into digital serfdom. We give more power to Big Web companies with every tweet and page we post to their networks while hoping to get a bit of traffic and attention back for ourselves. The open web of free and independent websites has never looked so weak.
We’re already past the point where social networks can be ignored. If you don’t have a social networking presence, your businesses is at a significant disadvantage compared with those that do. It’s where the attention, the traffic and the conversations are. Even public and government services are finding their social networking activities increasingly important. How long before they’re essential?
The promise of the open web looks increasingly uncertain. The technology will continue to exist and improve. It looks like you’ll be able to run your own web server on your own domain for the foreseeable future. But all the things that matter will be controlled and owned by a very small number of Big Web companies. Your identity will be your accounts at Facebook, Google and Twitter, not the domain name you own. You don’t pay Big Web a single penny so it can take away your identity and all your data at any time.
The things you can say and do that are likely to be seen and used by any significant number of people will be the things that Facebook, Google and Twitter are happy for you to say and do. You can do what you like on your own website but you’ll probably be shouting into the void.
I hope he’s overstating the case. But I worry that he’s right in every particular.