When I wrote about owning and controlling my own content, I talked about trying to keep my “content” in its canonical location on my site, and then syndicating it to social networks and other sites. Doing this involves cross-posting, something that can be done manually (literally copying and pasting titles, descriptions, links etc) or through automation. Either way, it’s a real faff. Posting to my site alone is a faff.
I am not being defeatist when I say that these tasks are often beyond my means. Beyond my means in financial cost, ability, time, and confidence.
Owning your own content is expensive because you’ve got to host your own content. Jessie Frazelle wrote this relevant tweet last year:
when you can spin up infrastructure to mess around with things without paying for it. (working for cloud provider)”
I think of cloud privilege every time a person complains that someone else took their old site offline, or didn’t set up redirects. Hosting a history is expensive. Paying for yearly domain renewals is expensive. It may be a negligible cost to you, but it is not a negligible cost to everyone.
Of course, there are numerous cheap (or even free) hosts and cloud-related services out there. But do they respect my privacy? Do they respect the privacy of the people visiting my site? Recently I wrote about the cost of access for folks using free assistive technologies. The same goes for all technology as well as owning our own content. Privacy should not be the cost of freedom. As ever, marginalised groups are the most affected by these costs.
Another area where owning your own content is a privilege is time. Building a website is time-consuming. Manually copying and pasting content to syndicate it to social networks is time-consuming. Building a tool to do the work for you is time consuming. Nobody is going to pay me for this time.
As free time goes, I’m fairly well-off. My only dependent is a dog. But the majority of my time is spent doing work that pays the rent, domestic tasks that keep me alive, and enough time leftover to stop my mental health from caving in. That does not leave a lot of time to create, maintain, and use the tools required to own my own content. Because these tools do not really already exist. And those that do exist are not trivial to use… which brings me to ability.
I can make websites. I can make text into a web page and deploy it to my own (rented) server at my own publicly-available address. Those things alone are not insignificant—it took me a lot of time, and some financial cost, to get my knowledge and skills to the point where I had the ability to do those things and more.
There are tools, libraries, and all sorts of wonderful things that could make owning my own content easier. But many of them are still outside my ability. Many of their readmes and tutorials assume notable existing knowledge. It’s not necessarily the fault of the people making (and generously sharing) these tools and libraries. But they are making those tools for people who have the same desires and abilities as them. I don’t have the same abilities, or the resources to get me to the point where I could have the same abilities. Perhaps in time, but it’s not going to come cheaply or quickly.
I’ll write about this later in this series, but confidence also plays a role in owning your own content. If you have the finances, the time, and the ability to have a system up and running, you also need to have the confidence. The confidence that you are choosing the right approach and technologies for yourself, and the confidence that the content you are creating is worth the time, cost, and effort. Committing text and images to a web page feels more permanent than spitting out status updates on a social network. It is more permanent. And for people from more marginalised groups, having findable content attributed to your name can have unpleasant consequences. So maybe the heading for this section should be Confidence/Foolhardiness. There is no (usable) “only for my friends” mode for personal websites. Yet.
It’s frustrating that in order to own and control my own content, to have real freedom on the web, I need all of the above. It’s like running through treacle, stopping every few miles to shave herds of yaks. We need to enable and build alternatives to mainstream technology that are inclusive. Inclusive because they are accessible to everyone regardless of background or personal situation, and also minimising the requirements of money, time, technical ability, and confidence in using these alternatives.
Much of the thinking in this post comes from irritation and, quite frankly, bitterness, when it comes to working on the web. Too often I feel I must meet arbitrary expectations or give up arbitrary rights in order to participate freely in technology that works for me. I don’t want this for me, and I don’t want this for anyone else, and I’m going to keep trying to do something about it.
Part 2 of an as-yet un-named series. Working out my thinking around personal websites.