Own your content

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For the past years, we’ve witnessed a rise of new type of social media platforms. Platforms that compete for the ownership of your content. And the attention of your consumers.

From owning to renting

Before I’ll talk about why, and how you should own your content—let me briefly cover the transition we’ve made from owning stuff, to renting stuff. Feel free to skip to #Why you should own your content if you are not interested in a bit of history.

As consumers, we used to own the things we paid for. If I bought a DVD with The Matrix movie—it’s mine forever. I can re-watch it as many times as I want. I can create copies from it, convert it to different formats, and watch it on different computers 1. The only way someone can take it from me—is by stealing, which is punishable by law.

I remember the days when we used to buy new music albums of our favorite bands. These days are over, because everything is now for rent. I was very surprised when I learned that even the Kindle books I buy—are rented to me. Yes, I knew that Kindle books are protected by DRM, and it’s hard (not impossible) to read them on a non kindle device. It’s not perfect, but I’m okay with such arrangement.

However, when I checked the terms and conditions of Kindle books, I found out that the content is not sold, but rather licensed to us. I tweeted about it back in December.

And in case you are not aware: your Netflix shows, Spotify playlists, etc—are all rented to you. There are cases when content that was available in your geographic region, or even content you bought—was removed from the platform.

But I don’t want to ramble too much about content ownership from a consumer perspective. It is important, don’t get me wrong. But I’m here to talk about content ownership as a producer, which also participated in the “rental revolution”.

Why you should own your content

Content was, and still is, one of the biggest assets you can create. This blog is visited by hundreds of people daily—because it has the knowledge that I possess, presented in textual format. Content is the reason we have the Internet in the form we have it today. And it’s incredible.

I’ve learned so much from other people’s blogs and posts. And I’m doing my best to spread my knowledge further, to more people. And while I want to do it on my terms, there are companies that want to monopolize this market. They create tools for easy content creation, and distribution—but in return they gather most of the rewards.

These companies will lock content behind a pay-wall. They will create their services is such way to make sure their users—the content consumers—will stay on their platform.

$$$

Gee, Dmitry!! You are so anti-capitalism! No I’m not. I believe that people who produce content—should be able to get paid for their content, if they choose to do so. I don’t mind pay-walls. I just don’t want to pay to big corporations that will cut their chunk of the profit. Supporting creators directly would be my preferred way.

We already have a model where big corp gets the payment. The music industry is a good example. Small creators rarely see any real profits from their work, because labels take most of the money. Do we really want to create yet another model like this?

The real cost of outsourcing your content

Paying for the content, however, is not the biggest problem with these platforms. The real cost comes in a simple fact—you no longer own your content. It’s left to the mercy of the platform.

I saw a LinkedIn post from Gergely Orosz recently. In this post, Gergely said that his Google Document was blocked due to “violations of the ToS”. Gergely is a paying customer. And even though he pays Google, Google didn’t bother to contact or notify Gergely that his document might violate their ToS. Here is the LinkedIn post.

The internet is filled with examples of people who were blocked from their accounts, or whose work was removed from the platform. YouTube, Medium, Spotify, Google—you can find examples of all of them.

And what happens when a platform goes down? Do you remember Revue? It was a newsletter platform, which was owned by Twitter. Shortly after Elon purchased Twitter, Revue stopped existing. Luckily for me, who used this platform, and many others—Revue offered an option to take out the data. Do they all offer such option? Don’t know.

You are your brand

It’s hard to talk, or in my case write, about branding without sounding like a wanna-be-twitter-influencer. But in reality branding, and especially personal branding—existed for many years, decades even, if not centuries. And for many content producers, their content becomes their brand. I know of technical bloggers who are getting jobs because of their blogs.

In his book, Developer Hegemony: The Future or Labor (not an affiliate link), Erik Dietrich talks a bit about branding. One of the traits of the “opportunist developer”, as Erik calls them, is that they market themselves. Here is what Erik writes about marketing and branding:

Everyone I interviewed markets themselves, with varying degrees of deliberateness. But all of them have made names for themselves. Blogging is, perhaps, the most common vehicle and was frequently mentioned. But podcast appearances, user group participation, video creation, and speaking at conferences all factor heavily into the equation for the developer opportunists. They have made themselves known by marketing themselves.

— Erik Dietrich, Developer Hegemony

But guess what happens to your brand when you let someone else own your content? You are essentially creating a brand for the hosting platform. When I land on a Medium article, I don’t care who wrote it. I just learn that a lot of people write on Medium.

But when I land on a personal blog, I explore a bit. I check who is the author. Where does he work? What else did he write? I subscribe to his newsletter; favorite his blog.

How to own your content

I hope I was able to convince you that owning your content, rather than renting it to a third-party platform, is the better alternative. The next question you might ask is How. I can’t give you a definitive answer for every use-case. But I can provide some guidelines, mainly for written content.

Host it yourself

The reason people resort to big name platforms—is because they might lack the technical know-how of hosting their own blog. But since I posted this in my technical blog, rather than the second one, I assume you are a technical person. Hosting your own blog is not complicated. Writing your own platform—takes a couple of evenings, and there are existing platforms like hugo or Jekyll. And if you are really lazy, you can self-host WordPress.

And it’s cheap. Like $0 cheap. You can host it on Netlify (not affiliated). And if Netlify takes down your site, or it becomes expensive, you can move to any other place, because you own your content. By having your own domain, pointing to your own content, you will never lose SEO or branding due to movement from one hosting provider to another. I honestly don’t understand why people choose existing platforms—that lock your readers in their ecosystem, and end up owning your content—rather than self-hosting.

POSSE

POSSE? Yew, sounds gross! But stay with me for a moment. POSSE is an abbreviation for Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere. It’s a common term in the IndieWeb movement with a simple mission: because you self-host your content, you shouldn’t deprive consumers from your knowledge.

Our content is worth as long as it’s useable for our readers. And, as the Stoics believe, I can only control my actions. I can’t force everyone to go to my blog. Some people do like the ease-of-use of existing platforms. And they deserve to enjoy your knowledge as well.

So the premise behind POSSE is to always publish on your own website—for the benefits of owning your content, and building your brand. But syndicate this content to other platforms. And remember to always use the correct canonical URL, so search engines will prefer your self-hosted copy, over syndicated one. And platforms that do not support canonical URL—should cease from existing.

Final words

Owning your content concept extends way beyond blogs posts. But this post is already at ~1700 words, and I want to make it short and to the point. If you are interested in other forms of content ownership, and my approach to them—feel free to reach out to me via LinkedIn, Twitter, Mastodon, or Email.

”You are a lair!”

Yes I am. While I do believe in owning my content, I’m not without sins myself. My newsletter is still powered by Substack. However, I’m in the process of moving away from Substack.

I’ll use those last words as shameless self-promotion. I’m building a newsletter platform for the privacy centered people. People who care about owning their content, rather than participating in the creation of yet another big-tech social-network.

It’s currently under heavy development, and I share a lot of the process in my Twitter and Mastodon. I encourage you to follow me there. And if you don’t have any of them, then subscribe to my newsletter in order to be the first to know when it launches.

Own your content.

Footnotes

  1. That might not always be true. Some countries might forbid you from re-encoding the files you own. Crazy, I know. IMNAL.

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