Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Taking back control of your social networks

If you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit...

There’s an interesting read at VentureBeat called How to take back control of your own social networks, to which the simple answer is ‘run your own blog’. That way, you own all of the rights to what you write, third parties can’t do anything with it without your explicit permission, and if the terms of service change for the worst then your data isn’t held to ransom.

Things like Twitter’s recent API changes are a quoted example – note that at the time I wrote that blog post about the API changes I thought it wouldn’t amount to anything but IFTTT has since removed all of its Twitter triggers and third-party clients have found themselves up against arbitrary limits meaning that no new users can use their programs.

For me, this is nothing new. I’m an active user of Twitter, Facebook and the like, but I tend only to post small updates there, or share links. Anything of substance goes here, where I own the rights to everything. Of course, I choose to make my blog posts available under a Creative Commons license but at least I have that choice. And I have WordPress, by way of the Jetpack plugin, automatically share links to new blog posts on social networks, so I get the best of both worlds.

That being said, this is less about taking an idealogical stand against data silos and more to do with the fact that I’ve been blogging long before social networks really existed. I started in 2002, before even the likes of Friendster and Myspace had launched, and my blog was five years old by the time I’d joined Facebook and Twitter in 2007. Therefore, I already had an outlet for my thoughts, that I was paying for, and, at the time, making money from. Some people have since stopped writing their own blogs, and now write what are essentially blog posts on Facebook and Google+, but by doing that you’re giving up control.

The one exception, for me, is Flickr – I still use this to host my photos, rather than hosting them myself. But my relationship with Flickr is different to other services, because I pay for it; as the saying goes, if you are not paying for a product, then you are the product. To me, it’s not very different to paying my hosting company to host this blog every month, but with the added benefit of a social network on the side.

My takeaway thought is this: if Facebook decided tomorrow that they were shutting down and they wouldn’t let you export your data from it, would you be annoyed? Would you lose irreplaceable photos and writing? If so, you may want to think about hosting things yourself.

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