Reclaiming Your Social Life Online

There’s been a lot of talk over the years about creating a “Facebook killer” to replace Facebook with something that isn’t a horrid privacy disaster.

Remember Diaspora? How about Ello? Or Path? Yeah…pretty much nobody else does either.

The one thing almost all of these services or ideas miss is that we already have a replacement for Facebook. It’s just that over the years we all forgot how to connect the dots on this wonderful thing we call the Internet.

Here’s the solution (aka how it used to work):

  1. A domain name and a website forms the core for each person who wants to share. Maybe that’s a WordPress blog, or a Micro.blog site. It could be a Squarespace site, a Ghost blog, hand-coded and hosted on GitHub or even served up locally from your own computer if you’ve got the know how to do that.
  2. RSS ties everything together. If you want to publish to your own website and then syndicate it to other places, then Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is the answer. It’s existed for a long, long time and works well. There are lots of clients and pretty much every content management system (CMS) can generate RSS feeds. Remember Google Reader? It’s how we used to get news, information and updates from our friends blogs.
  3. Comments and Trackbacks interconnect everything. Remember comments? That’s what we used to do before Twitter and Facebook came along. We’d read a blog post, and leave a response in the form of a comment. If we had a lot to say (or if we wanted to re-blog or amplify a post to our audience) we’d write a post on our own website and a trackback would link the original post to ours.

We all got lazy

Facebook and Twitter made us all lazy and now we’re paying the price. It used to be important to own our content and ensure it was portable. Then these services like Facebook and Twitter came along and promised to make it all so easy. The only downside was we no longer controlled our own content, and we used their domains and drove traffic to their sites. Never mind we also had to trade every single bit of data about ourselves that these services could take from us. And ads. So. Many. Ads.

My efforts to take back the web

Here’s what I’m doing to make this a reality. Many others are also either making the switch to an independent Internet, or never stopped doing it this way.

I publish everything on my own site and domain name first (you’re reading it right now). I use WordPress for this but there are a ton of good content management systems that would work fine. As long as there is an RSS feed, you are good to go.

Self-publishing doesn’t mean you have to stop using other services. In my case, I’ve stopped posting to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram because I don’t think the privacy trade off is in line with the limited value they provide. But if you have audiences or friends there, the tools exist to continue to post out to those services. The key is to include links back to your site, and not drive traffic to a domain you don’t own or control.

This is referred to as Publish (on) Own Site, Syndicate Everywhere (POSSE) and there are a number of great ways to accomplish this. A neat little service called Micro.blog does a great job syndicating your posts out to a good list of services. IFTTT can also take an RSS feed and push out posts to other services.

The IndieWeb is alive and well

The IndieWeb organization is dedicated to maintaining independent Internet publishers and creators. They have a ton of information and even tools that help creators take advantage of what the Internet can offer without selling out and giving up control of their content to companies and services that are far more interested in monetizing your personal data than helping you share ideas.

If you want to get started down the road to owning your own content and identity online, then the first place to start is with a domain name. I recommend Hover because I happen to work there and we are focused on usability and privacy, but any leading domain registrar will do. You can get a domain name for about $15/year.

The reason I like Hover is because we don’t tie you to a specific service or tool. Instead, we built smart tools into Hover that help you connect your domain to whatever service you want. And if you change your mind, it’s easier to switch and keep your content at your own domain forever.

Once you have a domain name, you need a way to get a site online. That could be a simple WordPress site using WordPress.com (like this site) or self-hosted using inexpensive shared hosting. Or you can use Micro.blog which is a nice, easy to understand way to publish short posts (just like Tweets or Facebook status updates) that you control.

It takes some time and effort, but in the end, it’s more than worth it to own your content and be in control of what you publish.