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Where It Lives

May 22nd , 2016

I’ve accumulated a lot of digital clutter over the years: personal blogs, company sites, side project paraphernalia. Every now and again I like to go back and sort it out, even if it can be overwhelming.

Regular updating is also necessary when the platforms I use change their functionality, or simply come and go. For a long time I had a blog on Wordpress; more recently I’ve moved that to my own domain, running on Jekyll. You may be reading this on there, or maybe on Medium; that’s really what this post is all about.

Sites like Medium make it easier and more tempting to just publish everything we write on them. But articles like this from Dave Winer suggest that we stop and think before we launch fully into a Medium-only presence. Dave himself publishes on his own site first and then to Medium via RSS. It’s worth thinking about as an approach, not just because it makes us think about ownership, but also because it provides some clarity around what to publish where.

Medium’s new Publication features are great for getting content online easily, but they deliberately pull us further away from owning our own content. What we write and share increasingly goes into the stream, just like tweets. We feel like we have a branded presence, that the space we write in is ours, but little by little we’re letting go.

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about where content physically resides, including researching the vagueries of running my own mail server. Much of what’s involved to really own digital things, to know where they are, is way beyond most people’s capabilities, including mine. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but that the work and investment required often outweighs the benefits.

However, that’s not the case for everything. While a mail server might be just too much stress for the reward, owning—keeping—what we write isn’t actually that difficult. My recent exploits with setting up a static blog have brought some pleasure in knowing that I’m basically saving text files on my computer; everything I write on mistergough.com is created on my computer first and shared from there.

The best thing about blogging this way is that it now makes real sense to publish everything, for whatever project, on my own blog first. Previously this blog didn’t really serve that purpose: I used it for random posts, things that didn’t fit with any particular theme. But the increasingly ephemeral nature of platforms like Medium makes something as tangible as my static blog even more useful.

And so, I’m starting the work of putting all my writing through mistergough.com before importing elsewhere. Medium’s import feature even links back automatically to the origin of the post. Of course this requires a little more work than just publishing everything on Medium, but it feels right. All these platforms want our attention, our creativity, our efforts, to build their own products. We all know that, but perhaps we don’t really know how easy it is just to tweak things a little bit back in our favour.