I recently read through Matthias Ott's 2019 article Into the Personal-Website-Verse where he describes the many benefits of having a personal website, and the greatness of the indie-web. I've written before about why I think having a personal website is important, but this got me thinking about the drawbacks of keeping the content that we create on corporate platforms that we have no control over and the many benefits of having your own website and domain.
As Matthias points out, like the websites that preceded them, social media and other publishing platforms like Medium, Blogger, Substack etc, will likely disappear at some point in the future. It's no surprise that most people keep their personal content exclusively on a social media or writing platform without having any offline local copy. When these platforms eventually disappear or decide to block access for violating some ambiguous rule, they lose all their personal writing, photos, messages, and videos along with it.
However, you're more likely to booted entirely from a social media or blogging platform for any arbitrary reason than the platform is to shutdown for good. There's been countless stories of people losing access to their accounts and therefore important photos of friends and family because a comment or post was incorrectly flagged or they unknowingly violated some guideline. Oftentimes there's no explanation as to what rule was violated or any indication of what they did that resulted in the ban. Unless they have a substantial following, they often have little to no recourse. If they're lucky, only a temporary suspension or a shadow-ban is placed on their account. This boils down to that cliche phrase that you, the user, are the product and not the customer.
When you have your own website, you don't need to worry about a platform closing it's doors for good, or violating some obscure or ambiguous rule. Having your website suspended or shadow-banned from the internet isn't possible. Having access blocked or having your website taken down would require that you were doing something extreme, like blatant copyright infringement. Even then, if your hosting provider gives you any trouble, you can simply switch providers and move your domain and website to another without anyone ever noticing.
That being said, it's good practice to keep a backup of your website locally. Personally, I have my entire site stored locally on my machine with a couple backups. I make changes locally and when I'm ready I upload the changes to the hosting server, I push via it FTP. Having a local offline backup is good practice regardless if you run a personal website or decide to host your content on a social media or writing platform.
There are, of course, some caveats to a personal website. You don't technically "own" a website. You pay for a domain name which is essentially "leased" to you for a period of time. You also typically have to pay to host the website somewhere. However, you have a far greater sense of ownership and control over a personal website than you do over a social media handle or some writing platform account. You are also the customer and not the product.
This also opens up yet another can of worms. If everyone paid for and ran a personal website, there would be significantly more link rot on the web. Larger corporate websites like Medium and Substack are far less likely to disappear than an individual personal website where the owner never bothered to (or couldn't) renew their domain or hosting subscription. This would also result in the content potentially being lost. Luckily, the Internet Archive exists, as well as their Wayback Machine digital archive that routinely scrapes and stores snapshots of websites. One might think "If Internet Archive is doing this to websites anyways, why not just continue to use social media websites?". Unfortunately, most social media and writing platforms block Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, so when these sites do disappear or the user gets the boot, the content is gone for good.
Another barrier is if you're craving lots of traffic and attention, discoverability is an issue for personal websites, especially if you don't play the SEO game. At least for me, my website is where I can publish and think through things. I'm not seeking out a ton of traffic, but I can see why one would want their website to gain some traction and a following. Although I personally advocate for being off social media entirely, I do think a compromise exists for those who want more control over their content while also benefiting from social media and blogging platforms. There's the concept of "POSSE", an abbreviation for "Publish on your Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere". Use social media for discoverability and driving people to your site where they can subscribe to your content via RSS or something like an email newsletter. Keep the conversations off of social and on the personal website, using social media simply as a link aggregator for your content..
There's a saying (and blog post titled): "don't build your castle in other people's kingdoms".
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