2013-08-05

Co.Labs

Why You Should Be Your Own Platform

I agree with Marco Arment’s exhortation to "be your own platform," but the way I'd define that is more technical, legal, and political in nature.



Is WordPress your own platform? What about when you host it on your own hardware? When you used a shared server or a virtual private host? When you use Wordpress.com? Is Tumblr? Is SquareSpace?

I have some thoughts.

I agree with the exhortation to "be your own platform," but the way I'd define that is more technical, legal, and political in nature. People posting extensively on Facebook, Twitter, or Medium are relying on the future goodwill and unknown business models of those sites that their words and images will persist in some form and in a form that the creator wants. That's impossible to know. I've written a few things on Medium (not paid) because I liked the experience of their writing tools, their statistics, and their reach. I think two of the three items I wrote became featured and had several thousand reads. It's a wonderful way to write and a wonderful place to post.

But it's not mine. It's theirs.

I can't control the URL. I can't embed. I have no idea about what their ultimate plans are. They could delete all non-owned/paid content in the future with no notice. They could rework the design and it would be ugly. My words' persistence, both in appearance and permanent location, are dependent on factors beyond my control.

I always argue that people should register a domain name and only work with services (and pay for the level of service needed) so that they can front their own domain in place of any platform domain. That ensures some persistence. I've migrated my personal blog out of a hosted blogging platform into my own across multiple revisions and then into Squarespace. I've managed through scripting and redirects to mostly keep URLs dating back to its earliest days from breaking. (There's a few-month period in 2001 that seems in bad shape that I may have to recover from the Internet Archive, though.)

So Tumblr, Squarespace, Wordpress.com, and the rest seem like reasonable choices to me if you BYOD. Otherwise, you're once again relying that a company will continue to exist in a form of your choosing, rather than its own. This is coupled with the ability to export one's posts. This will sound hilarious, but I migrated to Squarespace (version 6 platform) a few months ago from Movable Type 5. I had to export from Movable Type, import via Wordpress.com, and then export from Wordpress.com to a format that Squarespace 6 could read. It worked surprisingly well. Very surprisingly well. But it shows the danger of platform lock-in.

Squarespace 5 offered a third-party posting API that would allow local storage and composition and then posting. Version 6 did away with that, although I believe from working with Squarespace (which has sponsored my podcast), this wasn't intended as lock-in. Rather, the platform was a huge overhaul, and they're still working on it. Posts can be exported, but because platforms vary, it requires some work to relink and format if you've used any of Squarespace's custom and quite useful features.

It doesn't benefit them to lose customers who don't want to migrate from version 5 to 6, or who won't sign up because content is locked away. (Of course it can be scraped and re-created if need be, but that's a pile of work.)

I own a platform, The Magazine; it is purpose built because Marco didn't find one that suited. He didn't want to make it a platform-for-lease to others because it would have made him beholden to others' needs, rather than his own. I feel the same way. I enjoy producing the publication, but it's exceedingly difficult to create a generic method of serving all the forms, audiences, and app stores with a similar experience. Many are trying. I hope some succeed!

Corrections: This article originally stated the Medium and Squarespace (version 6) lack export. That's not the case. Both let you export your corpus: Medium as formatted HTML that matches their layout and Squarespace both as a WordPress-compatible export and on a per-post basis to grab JSON objects. The point with Medium (now made in the correction) is that they own the URL: the permanent persistent location that gets linked to. With Squarespace, the concern about lock in has more to do with its options that the system converts into standard HTML which have to be re-created elsewhere. Sorry for the errors. [GF]

Convinced you need to be your own platform? Check out our in-depth guide to blog tools here.

[Image: Flickr user Kelly Sikkema]




Add New Comment

10 Comments

  • Dave Aiello

    Hi Glenn:

    Can I ask you to clarify what you mean when you say, "But it shows the danger of platform lock-in"?

    Are you saying that Movable Type, which has a well known export mechanism that has existed for over a decade, was locking your content in because it doesn't provide out-of-the-box support for the WXR format from WordPress?

  • amsoell

    I guess I don't see the problem with Medium. I read the terms of service — the author retains ownership of whatever the write, so you're always free to re-post elsewhere. Additionally, every account includes an "export" feature that will allow you to download all of your articles, with included images, whenever you want. What am I missing?

  • Glenn Fleishman

    You own your words, but not the forum. This gives the scarce commodity of attention to Medium, and if it changes any element of what they offer, including deleting all posts, all the pointers on other sites to your work become invalid.

  • amsoell

    This is certainly true, but how is this different from any other platform? You could say the same of Twitter, Squarespace, Facebook, etc.

  • Glenn Fleishman

    Go back up and read where I write about using your own domain and my own migrations across three or four platforms and hosting situations with a single blog.

  • WiseStep

    I think a platform is very important. If you have a message worth sharing, you've got to get it out there somehow. I'm learning a little at a time how to build mine!!

  • Sam Radford

    Just to say, you can export from Medium to. If you click the settings icon next to your name there's an option to export all your content as a .Zip file.

  • Space Kazz

    Good points, I agree. Though the average Joe Blogs (pun intended?) will go to Wordpress and the like because of ease of use and, of course, no cost - ideal for a not too tech savvy small businesses or private hobby type venture. I used to build websites (very amature, and donkey's years ago) but the technology, requirements and need for search engine optimisation just put me off; it all got so complex.  I switched to using Wordpress and building Googlesites. Lazy! But accessible and free. That said, you are of course at the mercy of what becomes of these companies or how they choose to run these services in the future. I do believe that no business/venture wanting a more serious, permanent, web presence should rely solely on these platforms.

  • acasalena

    Hey Glenn,
    Thanks for going with Squarespace -- we're certainly huge proponents of giving you full control over your content and we think it's critical you own your own stuff. Two comments on data portability with Squarespace 6:

    1) You can export your blog to Wordpress from Squarespace 6 from the Import/Export menu.
    2) You can append ?format=json to ANY public Squarespace site's URL to access the data behind that page in a structured fashion. No API key or export required.

    I think we're the only platform out there offering #2, and we're quite proud of the flexibility it provides.

    Hope this helps!

    Anthony Casalena
    Squarespace

  • Glenn Fleishman

    Really! My knowledge is clearly out of date, and I'm sorry I didn't double check. That's good news. The JSON option is pretty interesting, too, as that of course let's a third party write a tool to handle export into their own format if they wanted to offer that.

    Now, if you'd add an API for posting (so I could use MarsEdit) that would be great! Thanks, Anthony!