A few weeks ago, I asked the question, having belatedly registered my own domain name, and not wishing to duplicate posts between Medium and my new site, how was I to decide which posts belonged where?
When choosing between posting to Medium and to your own website, the trade-off seems to be between size of readership and control over what you’ve written. I don’t claim to have a huge readership on Medium, but I don’t have any doubt that it’s considerably larger than the number of readers I could have attracted to a lone, solitary blog. The advantages of Medium in terms of “reach” are not to be dismissed lightly.
The main counterargument from the proponents of blogging is that, on Medium (as on Tumblr, or Google+ or a free WordPress.com site) you don’t own your posts, and that leaves you at the mercy of changes of policy and/or strategy on the part of the host company. (This is a constant theme on Micro.blog where I’ve been hanging out a lot since I quit Twitter.) Tumblr recently decided that it would no longer host pornographic content; Google+ has announced that it’s closing its doors to all but enterprise customers in a few months’ time. Flickr has drastically cut the amount of storage available to holders of its free accounts. In each case, users have complained that something valuable has been taken away from them. In much the same way, Medium could, at short notice, end the partner programme or reintroduce ads, or worse. Therefore, we’re told, the only way to have control over your work is to publish it on a self-hosted site.
The first thing to notice about this is that it doesn’t seem to be about ownership at all, but rather about control. What would it mean to own content? I’ve tried to imagine an answer to that question but it eludes me. How can you own something as ephemeral as a blog post, or even a series of posts? At best you can own rights over them, such as the right to stop others from copying your work, the right to be acknowledged as creator of the work, the right to take down the posts and/or publish them somewhere else, etc. Copyright, in other words. And, of course, unless you’ve assigned or renounced these rights, you already own them. If Medium were to change its policies tomorrow in a way you found unacceptable, you’d be perfectly entitled to remove all your posts from the site and repost them somewhere else instead, including on your own self-hosted site.
In short, your rights of ownership are not at stake. What exactly would you lose if Medium were suddenly to become a hostile environment for your posts and you decided to move them to a different site? A certain amount of time and effort, certainly. But the main things you’d lose would be your connection with the readership/following you’d already built up on Medium and the likelihood of attracting even more readers in future from outside that following.
So, when people write about “owning your content” they’re actually using a misleading phrase. What they really mean is “controlling your following/readership”. Once you recognize that, you see how insubstantial the idea of “ownership” is. As far as I can see, there’s really only one way to use a blog to build up a controllable following: the mailing list. You could have lots of subscribers on RSS (which would be wonderful) but you wouldn’t know who most of them are. You’d know who regularly commented on the blog, but it’s likely that they’d be a small subset of your readers. As far as I can see, literally the only tangible thing worth “owning” that you can acquire by keeping a blog is a mailing list. (I intend to write a post soon about why I think the effectiveness of the mailing list has been greatly exaggerated.)
The question of ownership is a distraction. When you choose between posting a story/article/essay/poem on Medium or on your self-hosted site, the real decision is between the relatively large readership (and visibility to search engines) provided by Medium on the one hand and the directly contactable (and ideally loyal) members of your mailing list and subscribers to your RSS feed on the other. (That’s assuming that you already have a mailing list, of course. If you haven’t … well, that’s something I’ll look at in my post about mailing lists, coming soon.) It seems to me that the choice is clear: Medium is obviously offering the better deal. Unless you’ve already got a highly visible, popular blog, your post is likely to be read by a lot more people on Medium. So post here first.
And yet …
I’ve been noticing that a few things about Medium — some minor, some significant — have been annoying me. I mentioned in my earlier post Nikitonsky’s arguments as to why he thinks Medium is a poor choice for blogging.
Medium is a poor choice for blogging
Many people choose Medium lately as their go-to platform to blog. Kind of like Blogger a while back, it just seems what…
I agree with some of this, particularly about the nag screens and other obstacles it puts in the way of casual readers who haven’t signed up for the site. And now that I’m trying to use the iPad exclusively as my non-work computer, I’m often reminded how odd (read “irritating”) it is that Medium notifies me when people I’m following create a series, but won’t let me read series in the app!
Then last week, Medium changed the font they use for titles of posts. The new one is lovely, as you’d expect, but it’s a serif font! As far as I’m concerned, this is a step in the wrong direction. I’ve been saying almost as long as I’ve been using the platform that they should offer the option of a sans font for body text. Now they’ve decided we can’t have sans fonts even for titles. It would, of course, be silly to throw a tantrum over a small change like this, but it does feel like a gentle hint that the platform is less in sympathy with my preferences than I’d thought it was.
In my previous post, I suggested that I’d probably use the novelty of having my own site as an excuse to post mostly there at first, but in the expectation of drifting back towards Medium over time. From that point of view, nothing’s changed.