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Own Your Data

My friends, this is a call to return to blogging; a return to those halcyon days where everyone had their own URL, their own HTML, and their own theme. The days before Twitter & Facebook began consuming our lives (both our content and our time).

Friends, collegues, those of the greater geek community:

Trash CanStop throwing away your content.

Looking at my own experience I can see why social networking sites are becoming so popular. I had stopped posting on my personal blog because it had become too much effort. It was so much easier to post a quick thought on Twitter or to upload a picture to Facebook. And the feedback was immediate, because that’s where the people are. Your collegues and business contacts are on Twitter. Your mom and dad are on the Facebook. We gravitate to these sites because that’s where the rich interactions take place.

But tell me, what happens to those interactions after a week? A month? A year? These interactions effectively dissappear for you, unless you are willing to hit the “next page” link hundreds of times and wade back through the timeline. If you wanted to, could you get that data back? If you wanted to, can you even find that data in the first place?

These sites want your data under their control. Facebook, as an example, has made it clear that they own the rights to your data. But that’s just the legal aspect about what they can do with your data outside of the site. My concern is: what can you do with the data outside of the site? We are all pouring content into these sites (myself, included) and there is no easy way to get it back out if we wanted to. Good luck looking back 20 years from now and trying to find all the nice things people posted on your Wall for your birthday. And that’s nothing compared to the unthinkable: if any of these sites shut down and disappeared off the face of internet tomorrow, where would all that content be?

So, be aware. Take control of your data. I’m not saying to quit Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or anything drastic. After all, that’s where the people are. That’s where the conversation can happen. Just remember that everything you do there is ephemeral. It can disappear on the wind like a conversation in the park. Before you post, take note of how valuable that content is to you both now and in the future. Here’s a couple of concrete things you can do to try to protect your content:

  1. Keep copies of media: I hope this one is pretty common sense. If you care about your pictures or videos, don’t just upload them to a site and delete your local copy.
  2. Register a domain: It’s relatively cheap, you can easily find deals for less than $10 / year. This will allow you to create a sign post to your content on the internet that you control as long as you want. If a site goes belly up, you can point to another one quickly. A custom domain has the added benefit of email addresses that you can control forever. I just have mine forwarding to my gmail, but if I wanted to change where it goes, I could.
  3. Post content where you can easily export: My blog is now on WordPress, which has a direct and simple export file which I can save and reload wherever I want. Try using dropbox to share pictures on the web. After you’ve posted your precious content on a site you control, then post a link to that content on your favorite social media site, where you can have the conversation.

I’m still trying to figure out the balance for myself. I’ll probably still be posting plenty of content on protected sites in the days to come. But these sites will not be around forever. Plan accordingly, and think.

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