Worlds apart

Without any coordination, Erik Hess and Brent Simmons published posts today that spoke to the current state of blogging and its relationship to the “old days” of a decade ago. Individually, they’re both good posts, but they’re even better when you read them back-to-back.

Brent’s post was inspired by a brief conversation he had with Merlin Mann, which got him thinking about the open and decentralized web and the various tools that he and many, many other developers built for it. It was those tools that brought Merlin to the rest of us, back when talented writers—and, shortly thereafter, talented talkers—carved out their own little niches on the internet. They entertained and informed us, and they owned what they produced.

Now we’re in the world of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Medium, where creators are more like sharecroppers than homesteaders. Erik’s post is about the tension between the old way of doing it yourself (using Brent-like tools, of course) in your own space, and the new way of just working on someone else’s platform. The platform raises you up so your voice travels farther, but the people listening associate what they’re hearing more with the platform than with you. Erik hopes to resolve the tension by maintaining his own domain, as he has for some time, while using Medium to amplify his words.

You could argue that platforms were important even in the old days. Lots of people didn’t have their own domains and were afraid of the hassles of configuring and maintaining their own places. So they hosted their sites on Blogger, Typepad, WordPress, and, a bit later, Tumblr. But the dream was always to have your own space on the internet, which is why these hosts emphasized things like customization and subdomains—they were trying to appeal to that desire for ownership.

I, of course, am stuck in the past, not willing to give up—or even share—the ownership of my words. Still clinging to a publishing model that may soon be as outdated as print. Erik’s hybrid system is probably the right way to accomodate the new realities while still maintaining control. But I’m not a fan of the new realities. I know the niche I’ve carved out is vanishingly small, but it’s all mine.