The Platform Era Is Ending
This Week In Writing, we discuss whether you should still own a website if you publish on Medium or Substack.
Last week, Shannon posted a question in My Writing Community. She asked, “If you write on Medium, do you also need a WordPress blog?” Over the last few months, my answer to this question has changed. But before we get to that, let’s take a quick look at what platforms are up to.
Twitter wants you to pay to play; now, Meta is following suit. Want a secure experience? Your posts to appear in people’s feeds? The platforms want you to pony up. These features used to be free. Now, they’re an upgrade. Why?
Ad revenue is done. User engagement is down. The platforms are trying to hold onto profits without providing additional features. You ask me, it seems like a losing game.
However, there are people who will pay. After all, Twitter and Facebook have been around for nearly two decades. I joined Facebook in 2004 and Twitter in 2008. That’s a lot of ingrained history, and these companies are literally banking on the fact that we all find it too difficult to leave.
Mastodon proves leaving is not only possible but much more fun.
Over the last month, I’ve set up my own Mastodon instance. Today, my account is @firstname.lastname@example.org because I’m a 90s kid and, well, I rock.
During the setup process, I learned that (while technologically different), running a Mastodon instance is similar to running a WordPress blog. Both require a server, both give you total control over your content, and both can be moved to a different server at will. It’s a simplified analogy, but it works.
While looking at how to integrate my WordPress site with Mastodon, I learned about the IndieWeb concept of POSSE(Publish on your Own Site, Syndicate Everywhere). Controlling your writing is essential.
You give up that control when you publish on a platform of any kind (Medium, Substack, LinkedIn, Twitter, wherever). You put the distribution into the hands of a company without your interest in mind. Instead, by following POSSE, if you publish on your site, then you control the distribution. You can choose to syndicate that writing on a platform if you want and benefit from their distribution while maintaining full control of your work. The key is it’s your choice.
By syndicating from your site, you also provide a place where everything points. Your website, under your control, remains a constant. As platforms come and go, your website remains. Frankly, I should have realized this years ago, but I’m glad I’m coming around to it now.
So, to answer Shannon’s question, yes, you should still have a website if you write on a platform like Medium or Substack. While I use and recommend WordPress, there are plenty of ways to build and maintain a personal site. Find the one that works for you.
I recently added the IndieWeb Syndication Links plugin to my WordPress site. It displays the places I’ve syndicated to on each post.
Yes, this strategy is more work than publishing in a single location and relying on their distribution strategy. However, this method also protects you from platforms closing or deciding that charging for basic features is now a good idea.
Do you run your own website in addition to publishing on platforms? Share the link in the comments, and let’s create an old-fashioned webring!
Speaking of Mastodon…
For those interested, here is a quick technical explanation of how I set up my Mastodon server.
I began by transferring my web hosting from Dreamhost to Opalstack. The pricing is better, and the support and features are fantastic. Opalstack also has a one-click installation of Mastodon, which is amazing.
What I learned over the course of a month is that managing a Mastodon server requires a lot of system administration. Logging in via SSH to adjust settings, reduce resource usage, and more. I became obsessed with my server’s RAM usage. It was not the social media experience I was hoping for.
So, I moved my server instance from Opalstack to Masto.host. Hugo, who runs Masto.host, provided incredible support and personally did the system transfer. Now, I can run the server as I want without the pesky system administration side. Masto.host manages the server resources, and I just have fun. Opalstack continues to host my website.
Are you on Mastodon and looking to connect? Find me at cox.rocks.
Speaking of detailed discussions…
This is your last chance to upgrade your subscription to join My Writing Community before Thursday’s book club discussion. Join us as we discuss The Storied Life of AJ Fikry live Thursday at 11:00 am EST. You still have time to read the wonderful story, and if you want the short route, there’s a film adaptation available on Hulu. Upgrade your subscription and join us!
Best of The Writing Cooperative in February
Today is the final day of February, which means it’s time for my favorite Writing Cooperative stories. Typically these only send out via the Medium newsletter, but it’s an excellent example of syndicating everywhere. So, here’s this month’s collection. Enjoy!
Most Writers Sound like Beggars When They Ask Readers to “Support Their Writing” by Tim Denning
This is begging. Sorry to tell you. After spending a lifetime working in sales, there’s no freaking way I’d use this approach to get a customer to buy my stuff — or even as a strategy in my former 9–5 sales job.
How Watching Films & TV Can Improve Your Fiction Writing by Jana Van der Veer
As with “reading like a writer,” watching like a writer is important. You can’t just passively consume content and assume you will also imbibe how it’s done. If that were the case, all of us who’ve read books or watched tv and movies since infancy would be genius storytellers by now.
When You Write About People in Your Life, Anticipate Consequences by Martha Manning, Ph.D.
Who owns our stories? Is authorship ownership? Or is our work evidence of the fact that we inhabit endless Venn diagrams, where overlap is considerable and predictable, and must be presented as such?
Copyright Laws and AI Writing Bots: How Much of This is Legal? by Megan McClintock
Copyright is essentially based on the idea that if you create something original, you should get to decide who profits from that creation. Anyone can own the copyright to their own work, and it is an automatic thing. As soon as you create something original, you are its author and owner, and you own the copyright. Once you register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO), that copyright will be protected by law for up to 70 years after your death.
My Most Public Failure as a Writer by Andrea Hoymann
In today’s digital-first media world, it would be an easily-fixed error. But in the early 2000s, that article appeared in print with my name next to it and was distributed to thousands of subscribers. My family and friends were avid readers and would surely ridicule me for my ignorance.
Pencil, Ink, Color: Levels of Detail in Fiction by Tim White
I generally describe characters at a “pencil” level of detail, meaning I give little or no information about what they look like — because their physical appearance almost never matters. Characters’ words and actions drive the story, not their height, face shape, or eye color.
The ADHD Novelist and Writing Productivity by Eileen Wiedbrauk
As stated in this CHADD article, in adults affected by ADHD “the brain looks for something new or exciting, or at least not what it typically does.” Our task is to make sitting down yet again to work on the same novel,into something new, exciting, and atypical so that we don’t latch on to something else (something that is actually new), leaving the novel-in-progress unfinished.
Maximize Your Book’s Impact with DIY Cover Designs by Shelby Sullivan
Gone are the days when an author could catch a reader’s interest when they open the first few pages in a bookstore. Now, readers shop online from their Kindle app or Barnes & Noble account. Some never even look inside the book before passing on the purchase.
How to Find (and Cite) Quality Sources for Articles, Quickly by Nick Wolny
More than ever before, readers want to see your information sources when you make assertions or bold claims. Citations give your writing more oomph, and there are different types of sources — primary, secondary, and tertiary — which are useful in different ways.
I always feel a little lost on the technical side of things. Unfortunately, you can't trust good writing to distribute itself. Thanks for the IndieWeb link, I'll check that out!
Thanks for addressing this important issue!
As a published book author, I think a dedicated website is essential, not just as a place to repost blogs but also as a central information center for bios, blurbs, sales links, etc.
My site is https://aimeeliu.net/
I also post on Medium @authoraimeeliu & Substack @aimeeliu
I treat Medium as an online magazine where I post more polished articles to reach a broader audience.
Substack serves me as a replacement for MailChimp, an easy way to reach core subscribers with more casual newsletters, event and publication updates, and thoughts on writing and legacy.
I have left Twitter, dwindled FaceBook, use Instagram almost entirely for art photography.
Mastodon is intriguing but seems to require way too much work and digital know-how for my old-school skill set.