Self Hosting

I was an early adopter on Pinterest. I liked the service myself, not because I was looking for more social media, but because it allows me to aggregate links and sort them visually. I’m one of those people who navigate by landmarks, so having a visual cue reminds me which link goes to which article.

The problem is that the owners of Pinterest have been working to “improve” the site, often making it harder to use. Primarily adding more bells and whistles — that use more of my computers resources (internal memory). This makes it virtually impossible to use on my little underpowered netbook. (I can only have about 3 browser tabs open before it locks up.) So I usually do research on my big and powerful desktop computer, and the aggregate the links in Pinterest. I have an extensive link library I began to compile there during last years NaNoWriMo when I began my historical novel.

The problem is, Pinterest has recently crippled the service to anyone not signed in. This means I can’t just look at the site to find the link to the material I need, I have to sign in — and use more memory than I can afford — to access this. This is a huge problem for my own use of my own “pins.” But as someone who wants to share links to my own content, this means only people willing to sign in to Pinterest will be able to access my content.  That’s a problem.  I won’t be sharing Pinterest links anymore.

People concerned about personal privacy call that a registration wall. That’s a big part of why I stopped using Smashwords. I couldn’t use it for the purpose many authors use it — to give out free copies of ebooks — but if people have to pay Smashwords in personal information, the eBooks are not free at all. (Now I email review copies of ePubs, or people can anonymously download from TUEBL.)

And of course, there is Imgfave, another service that allows me to do much the same thing– without needing to be signed in to access my own (or anyone else’s) content.  So that will do.

Who’s The Boss?

When we use someone else’s website, they get to make the rules, and we have to follow them. They can change how the site works, or what users are allowed to do, whenever they like. If we don’t like it, all we can really do is leave. (See: MySpace)

Pinterest is not alone in retaining control over how it chooses to allow us to use its website. The same is true of every other website that “generously” allows users to aggregate content or create content for its own greater glory (and profit). All we have to do is pay them in personal information and trust the faceless people making decisions not to change it to make it unusable for us.

Off the top of my head (but by no means an exhaustive list) web platforms that control your data can includes: Twitter, Facebook, G+, Pinterest, Imgfave, Instagram, dropbox, ScribD, NaNoWriMo, LibraryThing, GoodReads, MySpace, LinkedIn, DeviantArt, Imgur, Flickr, YouTube, Livestream, Wattpad, blogspot, WordPress.com, Tumblr, Livejournal etc.

DIY

whatsinsideIf you want to control your own data, you need to host it yourself. And that certainly will sound like a scary proposition. But is it any scarier that ripping up that carpet and replacing it with the tiles you want instead? We have no qualms about Do-It-Yourself projects in the physical world, it is not so much different in a digital world. Probably the biggest difference is that there are sure to be many more how-to videos on You-Tube for doing digital DIY. You can very often talk to actual people who made the software you need online via Twitter or through email. (Ever tried to ask Facebook a question?)

blogging

I know WordPress software is licensed to share, so you can download it to your own computer and host your own blog yourself, on your own computer. It is so easy lots of small businesses do this. WordPress even allows you to port your blog hosted on its free site to your own computer any time you like.

(Which is a great way to make backups… not because I don’t trust WordPress to do so, but because like any corporate service provider, it may be compelled to remove some or all of your content on receipt of a DMCA notice (a legal process that merely requires an accusation of copyright infringement… no proof needed). If your original work is taken down in this way, you will need to prove yourself innocent and then upload your content again. Backups are always a good idea because digital data is fragile. I am not certain but I think you can host your own Tumblr as well.

social media

If you are more interested in social media than blogging, there are a growing number of self hosting alternatives out there. If you like Facebook you might want to look at Friendica or Diaspora, if you like Twitter, you can host your own GNUsocial or StatusNet instance in the Fediverse.  If you just want to be free of Twitter censorship, you can sign up for an account hosted by individual people, and there are a couple of big co-ops like Quitter and Gnusocial.de.

private browsing

I don’t know about you, but I don’t actually trust Google’s “private” browser to be private. And of course if you want more freedom from being tracked, you might want to use Duckduckgo or StartPage or Ixquick to do your web searches…

The only way to be private online is by using encryption (and even then you need to follow best practices). LONG passwords are more secure than a clever one that is difficult to type or remember.)

If you want to be secure, for email use PGP (stands for “Pretty Good Privacy”) the best (free) software; and for everything else, use TOR (TOR project). Great resources can be found at KW Crypto

And of course, you have the same problems if you use software that you don’t actually own… so Free Software is the way to go.

 

[Note: normally I would link everything but I simply don’t have time just now.  Maybe later.]

You Need A Web Presence…

… if you are in business for yourself or if you are an organization with a public face.

If you are starting your own business, if you do free-lance work (or want to), if you are an independent musician, actor, artist, writer, cartoonist, or self-publisher, you need to have your own website, so when anyone searches for your name in a web browser (sometimes referred to as “googling”) they will find you. That way, they can find you and contract for your services (and you can continue to pay the rent and feed the kids)

If you have a Public Service Organization, or a Charity, Fan Club, Guild or any other public organization, you need to a website so people will can find your organization online so they can join up or donate so your group can keep the lights on.

Libreleft books: My Business Blog

The First thing you need is your very own Domain Name

Domain names are unique. There can only be one Libreleft.com and I own that — so long as I pay my annual fee, no one else on the Internet can have that Domain Name.

In the beginning, Domain Name Registration was free, but now it will cost you something, and what it costs varies.

Don’t Use:

A lot of people choose one called GoDaddy because its cheap, but I heave heard such a variety of horror stories, I can’t possibly suggest that — in fact, I will always strongly advise against it. If you can find pages of horror stories about any service, it is probably a good idea to walk on by.

use

I am extremely happy with my Domain Registrar, Register For Less because they have proven very trustworthy from a privacy standpoint (at least until Edward Snowden tells me different — but I don’t think he will.) R4L has always offered Whois Privacy without charge.

Of course, I have no experience with any other Domain Name Registrar, so don’t take my word for it, do research :)

The second thing you need is a Web Host

If you are tech savvy enough to host your own website, you won’t need this article (although you probably know someone who does). If you don’t, you will need to contract with a commercial website Hosting service.on a local service, OR do so through a web platform.

Should you Hire a Pro?

It is certainly easier to pay someone to do it all for you, but there are a couple of things you need to be aware of before you do.

Even if you don’t know what HTML is, the first thing you must insist on is that you have access and control over the website you are paying for. The thing you don’t want to happen is that after you pay for your website but the web designer actually owns your Domain Name and has total control of your site. That can effectively force you to do business with that Web Designer forever and the biggest risk is that you build your brand but lose control of it.

Horror story: I know one non-profit organization that had a volunteer design its site and register the domain name… and when there was a falling out, the guy with the domain locked the organization out and the organization lost all access to its own online content and had to start over from scratch. They could have won in court, but most non-profits don’t want to or can’t afford to go that route.

I am not suggesting web designers are evil, but even the nicest web designer might not always be around. If your web designer controls the only “keys to” your site, and you lose contact with your web designer, you lose control of your site — and your brand. This can have the unhappy side effect of costing you work if your contact information changes.

It is important to have access to your own site after you’ve paid for it, even if you contract with your designer to maintain it, things change. If you suffer financial reverses, you might not be able to continue to pay to have this done for you. And you should always be able to switch to another professional should circumstances warrant it, or maybe you just want access so your grandkid can make regular updates for you.

Or should you Do It Yourself?

There are many different ways to do a website; some want lots of bells and whistles, so if you’re new at this, there will be a pretty steep learning curve.

When you have a domain name and a web host, you need to have something to put there. The most basic function of any website is to serve as a calling card that explains who you are and what you or your organization does and provide a way that your friends, clients and fans can contact you.

A Static Web Page

A basic website is built with a programming language, the current version of which is HTML5. It isn’t particularly difficult, but it isn’t easy either. I learned HTML from a startlingly easy to use set of online tutorials on an awesome website called HTMLdog. (I bought the printed manual to support the author, because it was worth it. And I plug it wherever I can because it was just that good. When I learned it was XHTML, but the whole site has been updated to the new HTML5 standard).

HTML is the primary language of the Internet… as far as I know email and blogs are written in HTML or a variant. So if you have the time to learn how to do it, you can build your own web page in HTML5. This is great for things that rarely change, like your mission statement or FAQ, sample work, list of credits or résumé.

Pretty nearly any website you have to log into in order to use gives the user the option of a profile page. Always fill these in, and include your contact information. If you want to be contacted, the more places people can find you, the better.

There are also web platforms specifically designed to serve as an online business card. Here’s my about.me page and my artist sister Liana Russwurm’s see.me page.

A Blog Web Page

Blog software has changed the Internet, because it makes it much easier to add new content to keep your website fresh.

There are lots of great blog platforms — WordPress, Tumblr, BlogSpot, LiveJournal — as well as some I’ve only just heard of, like Weebly and Overblog — so you can set up a free blog on a variety of web services. This is my historian-writer brother Lani Russwurm’s visual history blog Past Tense on Tumblr, and it’s previous incarnation on Wordpress and it’s original incarnation on blogspot.

Increasingly non-blogging websites like Flickr and GoodReads are allowing users to blog as well.

A blog can be used to discuss and share some of your work with your fans, as cartoonist Nina Paley does, or it can be entirely new content with a view to finding an audience, as my humorist (and/or science fiction) writer brother Larry Russwurm does

I like Tumblr for my visual blogs; I like the archive features (users can look at thumbnails of your entire blog, and I also like the ability to password protect content and allow people to see it without having to register or log in (sometimes called a “registration wall” because users must register (which entails giving out personal information) as well as using a password to access protected content). You can also use it like a regular blog, alothough if you want to have comments, you need to use Disqus to do it. If you decide to use Tumblr, 10 Tips For Problogging On Tumblr has some excellent advice.

My other favorite is Wordpress, which can be used in different ways:

  • You can set up an entirely free blog ~ my first blog is still at WordPress.com. When your free blog starts getting traffic, WordPress will start posting ads there, so you needn’t feel guilty about getting a “free lunch”.
  • If you decide to go ad-free, you can subscribe to a commercial package from Wordpress, which gives you the ability to post your own video (you can only embed from YouTube in the free version) and you can even get your domain name from there
  • You can download the WordPress software (free as in gratis and free as in freedom) from WordPress.org and create a website to host yourself.
  • Even if you choose to blog on WordPress.com as a trial, and decide later you want to self host, you candownload the whole thing and reconstitute it as a self hosted blog if you wish.
This is my Gravatar on my Author blog, but I also use it anywhere anywhere I need an avatar image.

This is my Gravatar on my Author blog, but I also use it anywhere anywhere I need an avatar image.

An avatar — that little photo of you that appears on Facebook, or Twitter or wherever — is the visual manifestation of your “brand.”  It should be your logo if you’re an organization or a business; if you’re an independent contractor or creator, it should be you. Either way, it should be consistent, because like any brand, people will see in a blink that it’s you. Whether or not you use WordPress, you should sign up for a Gravatar; that way when you make comments in many places, your chosen image will accompany what you write.

recommendation

Many of my blog articles (like this one) are something I’ve written because I know someone who needs the information. A lot of people use FaceBook as their calling card, but do you really want to mix your business and personal contacts? If you are using facebook as your business presence, it is necessary to use a Facebook Page, because what you post on your personal page can not be seen outside Facebook.

One of the things I dislike most about Facebook is that all posts you make there are not seen by everyone in your friends list, and Facebook is forever twiddling with the Timeline order in which your posts appear.  And of course, posts can easily get lost. It can be virtually impossible to try and find something you posted on Facebook a while back. Things don’t just disappear off a real website or a blog under your own control.

Even if you’re a big Facebook fan, it’s possible to set Wordpress or Tumblr blogs to post to Facebook.

If all you want right now is a basic online “calling card” my own recommendation would be to choose the blog software you like best and use that to make a static web page. Later on, if you want to expand it into a blog, you’ll be halfway there.