Digital Sharecropping

For most of my 15-year run as Jim Winter, I maintained a blog first on Blogger, then Typepad, and finally WordPress, where it remains parked today. Eventually, the blog became the main web site, my domains pointed at eviljwinter.wordpress.com.

That might have contributed to that pen name’s demise. Why? I was digital sharecropping.

Too often, writers try to build their platforms in space owned by companies that could disappear tomorrow. This site, for instance, is written in WordPress, but it’s on a hosting account of my own. I’m currently on GoDaddy, but it’s quite likely I’ll move it to another hosting company before the end of the year. There are technical reasons I won’t get into here, but GoDaddy has served its purpose. Likewise, I have access to all my data and can move this blog it will. I’m only limited by my skill set, which I can work on at my leisure.

But remember MySpace? Think of all those bands that built their entire platform on MySpace. Oh, MySpace is still around, but I’ll bet a lot of you didn’t know that until I mentioned it. As a matter of fact, I haven’t seen MySpace in years. MySpace, and its predecessor as the big web kahuna, America Online, should serve as object lessons for becoming dependent on one web platform or another. Facebook, MySpace (in its time), and Twitter have all been useful in expanding audiences and networks. But like MySpace, anyone of these can go away. My old site on WordPress.com can disappear at any moment.

But there’s another reason you should own your own space on the web. I see advertisements for companies that will build you a beautiful website, or, like Wix, promote building your own website without paying a web designer. If you are an author, musician, or just out of business, this is a really bad idea. An online presence is essential today, and if you don’t own it, it can disappear at any moment. Also, think about the business that has its own web domain, most of which can be had for less than ten dollars now. Yourbusiness.com will have more credibility than yourbusiness.wix.com or yourbusiness.wordpress,com. people see your name tacked onto someone else’s domain, it sends a signal that you’re not willing to invest in yourself. That may or may not be true, but that’s the message you’re sending.

I know a lot of authors and musicians and business owners just one get up and running. This sort of “digital sharecropping” can work in the short term, but as soon as it’s up, you should be working to get your own space. And if you don’t think the implosion of MySpace can happen again, just check out all the bad news surrounding Twitter. Oh yes, we love to Tweet. I do scheduled tweets. Four or five a day. But already, talk is that Twitter has hit a wall. What can Twitter do that Facebook can’t? Facebook itself seems like an unstoppable juggernaut, more like Google than America Online, to which Facebook really owes its model. But Facebook changes its rules every week, to the point where almost once a month, people post those stupid Facebook hoaxes. They’ve replaced the old man-with-a-hook stories of modern urban legends. But as ambitious as Facebook is, it, too, can suddenly disappear like MySpace. Technology could do it in.

I really think not posting my own blog had a lot to do with why Jim Winter didn’t do very well. It’s too soon to say whether I’ll do well under my own name, but I do know one thing. I don’t want to be dependent on someone else’s webspace to connect with my own audience.

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