One of the reasons I started this blog is that I’d come across the concept of the IndieWeb and really liked it. I went into some detail about that in my first post here. The principle of the IndieWeb that appealed to me most of all was the one about owning your content, instead of “sharecropping” it across half a dozen more narrowly focused sites and giving them control over the sole copy of all my data.
So, I brushed off my domain name, which I’d kept paid up but not really used for years. At the root domain, I started a static website (initially hand-coded, but once I wanted more than two pages, I switched to generating it through Hugo). It’s hosted through a cheap shared hosting provider (through which I also got the domain). But then (and this is the fun part!) I didn’t think I’d keep up a blog if I had to update it manually through Hugo, so I set up shop at Micro.blog and pointed a subdomain at the new website; later, I also settled on a unified layout for the two sites, so the two come across as a single, integrated website, despite the content itself being split across two different servers (and subdomains).
Similarly, just in the last few days I’ve been experimenting with the Gemini protocol, and after a lot of faffing about I decided my best strategy to participate in Gemini space is a similar approach. I’m using Flounder.online to manage and host my Gemini capsule, and pointing a subdomain of my own at it, so it’s available at gemini.jayeless.net. This means that if Flounder ever shuts down, or if a different Gemini host pops up that I think serves my needs better, I can jump ship and simply point my subdomain at the new server, causing minimal disruption to visitors and preserving all my old links.
Now, there is naturally some disagreement about what “owning your data” means and whether the approach I outline above actually counts. As far as the IndieWeb wiki is concerned I seem to be covered, as they outline two components to owning your data:
- content being available at your own domain name (so you can move the backend as you wish without breaking links)
- you are able to retain your access over time (preferably hosted somewhere with high longevity, but even if so, somewhere that offers clean exports so you can easily move if you need or want to)
But not everyone agrees that this is all there is to it. Here’s just one blog post from someone who feels that hosting your content on a server you control is also important. Otherwise, you’re at the whim of the person who does run the server to keep their service going, and also to not break any aspect of their service you might depend on. I think that this is a fair point – if you have the ability and the inclination, you will indeed have more control of your content if you control the web hosting behind it.
The thing is that it’s also a question of degree. Arguably, I have more control over the Hugo-generated static content that I upload to my web hosting than I do over the contents of this blog. However, my web host could still pull the plug on me if their business folded or something, just as Micro.blog could. So sure, the ultimate in “owning your content” is probably to put everything on a computer physically owned by you and become your own sysadmin. Making sure you know how to secure that server perfectly and make and restore from backups, of course. (Important sidenote: backups are still critical even if you’re not self-hosting.) But if that’s not in your wheelhouse, I don’t think it’s not “owning your content” to make use of online services like web hosting or even narrower ones like Micro.blog – unless the TOS says something like “you grant us the worldwide irrevocable licence to use your content however we see fit with no compensation due to you”, of course (and Micro.blog’s TOS certainly does not). It’s a good idea to select hosts/services with an eye for longevity, but if you can’t (Gemini, for example, is too new a protocol for track records to really exist) then making sure you have usable backups and control the domain name you use, for easy switching, is the next-best thing.
It’s important to recognise this because what you would not want is to push people away from reclaiming their presence on the web by making it seem too hard. Micro.blog is probably one of the most accessible entrypoints into the “IndieWeb ecosystem”, and for people who really do find it limiting, it’s relatively easy to use it as a stepping stone to learn how to do other things (like run a Hugo site, or a self-hosted Wordpress blog, etc.) and redirect your domain name accordingly. But for people who don’t find it limiting, it’s great! I can design my own theme to control my posts’ presentation, it manages image uploads for me, I can receive Webmentions from other sites (sending them is still a bit dodgy, admittedly), and so forth. It’s not really very different from running a CMS on my own web hosting – and that is certainly “owning my content” 🙂
To my mind, I agree with Manton that owning your domain name is the key to it all (alongside solid exports) – the way to maintain flexibility behind the scenes and stability… in the scenes. You can move platforms and hosts, and even (with subdomains) use different services to host different bits of content, and unify it all under an address of your choice. For my current level of techie-ness (ahem, not much of a programmer), this is a good balance for me.