I was asked by an aspiring writer whether at this point it’s still worth it as a writer to own one’s own domain, i.e., in the age of everyone being on Facebook, setting up one’s online shingle elsewhere is like opening a business on a dusty street a mile away from Main Street.
My thought on this: Hey, remember when everyone was on America Online? And then everyone was on Friendster? And then everyone was on MySpace? And now everyone’s on Facebook? Yeah, you’ll notice a pattern here, perhaps.
Yes, but Facebook is huge, you say, with unspeakably large numbers of users worldwide and a valuation of $70 billion.
Wow, I say, just like America Online was huge, with an unspeakably large number of users online and a valuation of over $100 billion.
Yes, but everyone knows that AOL was wildly over-valuated, you say.
Really, I say. And then I let that just hang there as long as it needs to until you get my point.
Popular sites come and go. One day MySpace is so popular that Weird Al snarks about it on a Top Ten hit, the next it’s being sold for parts for a sliver of its previous valuation. Friendster topped off at over 100 million users; now it’s got less than 10 million, most of them in Asia, and the Onion smacks them around. AOL, well. AOL, man. And don’t even make me haul out GeoCities or Angelfire, the latter of which, incredibly, is still around in some strange form, along with Lycos, which bought them in the 90s. Knowing that Angelfire and Lycos still exist in some form is like hearing that somewhere out there Matthew Perry and Lisa Kudrow are still putting on new “episodes” of Friends for anniversary parties and bar mitzvahs.
So, let’s go back to 1998. You’re a new writer and you want to establish a permanent residency online. Which would be wiser: Having your own site at your own domain, or putting up a site at GeoCities?
It’s 2001, same drill: Which is wiser: Having your own domain, or creating a site on AOL servers?
2003: Your own domain, or a Friendster page?
2007: Your own domain, or a MySpace page?
(Hindsight is a useful thing.)
And now it’s 2011 and the choice is one’s own domain or a page on Facebook. Guess which I think you should do.
Which is not to say I don’t think you shouldn’t have a Facebook page. You should, if you like, just like I had a MySpace page, and a Friendster page and even a Web site on AOL’s servers (no GeoCities page, alas). There’s nothing wrong with having an outpost where people are, wherever they are. But if you’re going to be online, it’s best to have a site that isn’t at the whims of stock evaluation, or a corporate merger, or an ambitious executive’s “content strategy,” or whatever. Ultimately, your online home should be something you control, and something you can point the people at Facebook (or MySpace, or Friendster, etc) to.
Having one’s own domain isn’t always simple and has its own share of headaches (as you will find if you ever have the need to change your ISP), but at the end of the day what it has is stability. I’ve had Scalzi.com since March of 1998, which has been enough time for at least four generations of online social networking sites. They come and go; my site remains. And it will remain when the hip kids roll their eyes at whatever pathetic dinosaurs still remain on Facebook (hint: that’s already happening). Online, that’s as good as permanence gets.