How to Weave the Artisan Web
Posted on November 25, 2022 Posted by John Scalzi 55 Comments
I wrote on Twitter yesterday:
“But Scalzi,” I hear you say, “How do we bring back that artisan, hand-crafted Web?” Well, it’s simple, really, and if you’re a writer/artist/musician/other sort of creator, it’s actually kind of essential:
1. Create/reactivate your own site, owned by you, to hold your own work.
2. When you create that site, write or otherwise present work on your site at least once a week, every week.
3. Regularly visit the sites of other creators to read/see/experience the work they present there.
4. Promote/link the work of others, on your own site and also on your other social media channels where you have followers. Encourage your followers to explore more widely, beyond the algorithmic borders of “social media.”
Now, why should we bring back that artisan, hand-crafted Web? Oh, I don’t know. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a site that’s not run by an amoral billionaire chaos engine, or algorithmically designed to keep you doomscrolling in a state of fear and anger, or is essentially spyware for governments and/or corporations? Wouldn’t it be nice not to have ads shoved in your face every time you open an app to see what your friends are up to? Wouldn’t it be nice to know that when your friends post something, you’ll actually see it without a social media platform deciding whether to shove it down your feed and pump that feed full of stuff you didn’t ask for?
Wouldn’t that be great?
“But Scalzi,” I hear you say, for a second time, “I spent all this time on social media and all my people are there! You’re asking me to start from scratch!” Well, see: You don’t have to leave Twitter or Facebook or TikTok or wherever. Stay as long as you like, and post whatever you like there. Just carve out some of that doomscrolling/toiletscrolling time for your own space, that you control, too. And when you do, then link to your own site from that other social media, and invite your followers on those services to visit you in your own place. And link to other people’s personal sites, so your followers can visit them, too. Make social media work for you, and not just for the amoral billionaires.
That said, yes, it will take some work. Setting up a site, or reactivating it, takes a bit of time. Writing or presenting work exclusive to your own site takes some work. Getting your followers on social media used to the idea of leaving those walled gardens of content takes some work. It’s an actual project. But look at this way: You have just spent years building an audience on a platform someone else owns. Why not take a little time to do it for yourself? And to help others build their own platforms, too. No rush! Let it build over time. But put in the time.
Your platform, one post a week. It’s not too hard, and the upside is less reliance on other people’s platforms, and a healthier, more varied Web. Stay on social media! Make it work for you, not you work for it.
Build a better Web. An artisan Web. A handcrafted Web. Take the time to get people used to it. We’ll all benefit from it. We just have to decide to do it.
Quick answers to anticipated comments:
First, for my own site, I use WordPress, and can recommend them, both as a site/blogging software, and as a hosting solution. That said, there are lots of other options ranging from cheap to free, including things like Squarespace and Tumblr. Just remember “free” usually means someone is putting ads somewhere on your stuff. For creators in particular, I strongly recommend one’s own site, with one’s own domain.
(And yes, nitpickers, unless you have your own server and handroll your own html, you will still be dealing with hosting/blogging services and their terms of service. That said, speaking from a quarter century of having my own site, the control one has over one’s own site is significantly greater, and to all practical purposes, near absolute.)
Second, not every one needs or wants their own site, and that’s fine. But if you don’t want to bother with creating your own site, you can still decide to visit the sites of people who create them, and not just stay within the bounds of Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/TikTok, etc. There’s more to life than just those few sites! Honest! Make an effort to visit more sites. You can even use RSS reader to aggregate posts in an app to make it easy to scroll through your site lists. Here’s a good one to get started.
It’s well worth the effort. I find this time around I am particularly enjoying crafting the metadata, and taking the time to set each post like a stone in a wall. I also enjoy having many drafts underway, continuing the stone wall analogy, to find the next price to the overall puzzle. Thanks for your post!
What you’re really talking about is how the Internet used to be before corporations took over and started exploiting it and us.
Great idea to take back control.
It’s the once a week part that’s killing me lately. But I’m doing what I can between working 2 jobs…
Seconding the Feedly recommendation!
I’ve been using it since Google stopped doing RSS feeds and have had zero problems.
I am with you. Already started this in 2015. Tried to go the literary journal route, ran out of disposable cash to pay contributors, so I returned to blogging.
Plus we have WordPress mobile now.
It’s unfortunate that it asks for our URL, but doesn’t actually show it to others.
Maybe a separate post in the near future encouraging people to share the links to the sites they’ve created?
The timing on this particular tweet-and-post is eerie, John. For the past week or two I’ve been feeling motion toward reactivating my Hub Archives site, and this morning I woke up with a decision made and a rough timeline in mind.
So, yeah, you can claim the credit or take the blame. The timeline is some weeks out as year-end stuff at the day job and getting holiday parcels despatched are more time-fixed priorities. But, yeah.
You kinda validated it for me. Thanks!
This is a test post with no associated meaningful data.
If people click on your name, they go to the URL listed.
Posting to a blog regularly (once a twice a week) needn’t be a chore. Using a blog like you might with a Twitter account or a Facebook page is viable and WordPress can be set up to cross-post to both Twitter and Facebook (harder to cross-post to a Mastodon account but not impossible).
It needn’t be long-form essays or deep dives into something.
RSS feeds work just as well today as they did a decade ago. I still use one to track all of the blogs I like – including this one. I never understood why a Facebook feed was any better, although I was only on Facebook\Twitter for maybe a couple of months way back when. RSS lets you control your feed, instead of letting someone else do it.
A WordPress blog and an RSS feed. Sure, it’s like writing a novel with a fountain pen by candlelight, but sometimes the old ways are still the good ways.
On Blogger since 2004. It’s good enough for me, and after thousands of posts….I don’t really want to move.
Another benefit of having your own site:
Search engines can see your site. Which means they can highlight one of your blog posts in a person’s search results, when your post topic seems to match what the person just searched for. If the person then clicks, they’ll be taken to your site—and voila, someone new is introduced to you, at the exact moment that the introduction is most relevant to them! Even if you posted that post years ago.
What you put on your website keeps working hard for you over time, unlike your social media posts.
Wow… I last updated my WordPress site on Star Wars Day 2012. Time to get to work!
I’d be thrilled if more folks I’m interested in would return to blogging.
I am fairly militant about guarding my privacy and my data, which means that I have never had a presence on any form of social media. Every single one of them appears to me to be nothing but a ploy to get the gullible to share personal data to enhance the profits of the site’s owner. Since I have zero interest in allowing total strangers to enrich themselves by violating my privacy, I have never and will never establish an account on any social media platform.
Blogging, on the other hand, allows me to read the thoughts of people I find interesting without nearly as much concern about my privacy. I’d honestly be delighted if more folks resumed that practice.
100% with you on this. Blogs are infinitely more interesting than a stream of tweets. I’ve got four years and a few hundred thousand words written in my little contribution to the Internet, and it feels great to be in control of my own “platform”.
OK, regarding the URL optionally provided by a comment poster here, IF you include a valid URL as I did in my test, your user nym will link to that site. There is no visual indication until you hover over the nym, in which case the URL is displayed in the lower left of the window and your nym changes color and gets an underline.
Hope this doesn’t annoy anyone. Hope everyone had a nice holiday yesterday, we did a seafood dinner for just Wife and me.
Then around 2 or 3 am biggest black (85 lbs) dog snuck into bed with us and donated a couple of pounds of venison — urp! So some clean-up in the wee hours. That’s how dogs in the wild bring food back to their den, so I didn’t fuss at him.
I have been old school blogging all along, because it’s easier to not get shamed and doxxed and harassed to hell when few people read what you write and it’s not easily found on social media.
I’m just afraid to actually have people read it these days, because see above.
I will recommend Dreamwidth (dreamwidth.org) as yet another blogging platform and FeedBro as yet another RSS reader.
I used to blog fairly regularly, and post to a couple of other platforms like DeviantArt and Ravelry. That practice petered off a couple of years ago. I blame the dumpster fire of 2020 and the malaise of continuing consequences, even if my household has managed to avoid COVID.
Thank you, Mr. Scalzi, for injecting some encouragement and enthusiasm back into my brain, and by being someone who has kept up a regular blog even while working full-time and actually having a life.
@JR in VW:
It’s subtle, but I do see a visual difference when there is a URL. Those posters’ names are in bold face type, but are in normal face type if no URL was given. I do see your link in your test post.
As I said, subtle. The way the page is currently displayed for me, I have to look carefully to spot those bolded names. But it’s definitely visible.
Piling on here to recommend RSS aggregators like Feedly for curating your own home page. I have mine set up to send me news from the sites I trust, and fun stuff from the Scalzi-verse.
I control the vertical and I control the horizontal!
I’m going to make a writing blog and the first post will be titled “Scalzi made me do it.”
I’ve been thinking about doing the whole buying my own domain thing and WordPress has a good sale today. This makes my mind up.
I’ve been blogging more on books, reading and mental health.
I do get trapped by social media and it rabbit holing me. I would rather spend my time reading.
I went back to a blog that has not been active for six years and posted a new essay “Blame Scalzi”
+1 for: Feedly is amazing. Whenever the creators I follow post up new stuff, feedly auto-catches it and presents it to me. One click and I am there.
While I’ve never stopped blogging, I’m going to have to figure out how to get my RSS feed accessible and I suppose I’ll need to start putting together a Blogroll again, huh? Wow! It’s like 2002 again! (Or it COULD be. Those were good times, in a lot of ways….)
I never quit blogging. My site has been there since 12/31/1995. I even wrote semiregular updates in 96/97, before the word blog was ever uttered. Thankfully, those early essays have completely disappeared.
An excellent answer to the “where do we go after Twitter”-question. Own you own is a great alternative, as has been reminded on this site before. I’ll give my site som TLC, thank :)
On the “no ads” front, several creators I follow have ads on their personal websites, just because that’s the only way they can afford the bandwidth fees.
They’re also among the very few sites I’ve never used an adblocker on. Except for that one site with ads that inexplicably crash my browser 7 times out of 10.
I never thought I had much to say, but when I went back over all of my best, most effortful social media posts and collected them all in one place, I guess I do.
Hi John, long time reader, thanks for writing thoughtfully about topics to make the world a better place. I appreciate your insight.
Thanks for bringing up this topic, it is timely.
For those looking to have their own space with more control, but not maintain a full site, I have been testing out the platform Substack – https://substack.com/
Several writers, bloggers, and tweeters that I follow began putting their posts there over the past year, and it has been a useful place to collect my thoughts.
Substack has been commenting on many recent social media changes, and discussing how they want to build a platform that empowers writers, readers, and useful content, rather than shady engagement algorithms.
For example, they posted “The problem isn’t that Elon Musk owns Twitter – it’s that you don’t” – https://on.substack.com/p/the-problem-isnt-that-elon-musk-owns
Discussing how it is silly and harmful for one person to control all online engagement. And encouraging writers to create their own, better spaces for publishing content too, just as you mention.
They also wrote a post in December 2020 about their view of content moderation, which works to support writers – https://on.substack.com/p/substacks-view-of-content-moderation
It looks like they even automatically set up an RSS feed for you –
I have been enjoying writing longer-form content, off of the main controlled social media.
Good luck to everyone who is building a better internet by doing the same.
You anticipated one of my biggest concerns about returning to a curated list of blogs that I could follow: the death of Google Reader years ago. I tried a few others that were recommended at the time, but the Google product worked just as I wanted it to.
I will give Feedly a try!
I moved from Livejournal to Dreamwidth in 2017, and I still haven’t stopped blogging. I may go into web-silence there for days at a time, yes. And I’m still not stopping.
I’m showing my age – I never stopped using RSS feeds (at present, inoreader). I only wanted to be able to follow you and a few other blogs, and any links you had were usually great ones. Over the years my community grew greater than I ever could have imagined. I have a lot to thank you (and them) for. This is just a reset. Not necessarily bad…
I never quite learned to like microblogging, so am not devastated to see it go. My college years were during the heyday of LiveJournal, and logging in each day to find 3-4 new thoughtful, in-depth entries from across a set of 8 to 10 good friends on campus every day was a joy.
People 20 years (!!) ago, when asked about why they blog: Oh, idk, journalling was really about my mental health
People now, as social media is on fire: Oh, idk, journaling was really about my mental health
Time, flat circle, etc.
A few of us were joking recently that we ought to bring back webrings. Maybe I should get serious about organising one (or preferably, joining an existing one). I’d also gone in search of an up to date RSS reader and was embarrassed to notice that Thunderbird has one already. It all helps :)
Kent Bunn wrote, “It’s the once a week part that’s killing me lately.” Well, why post once a week?
Sure, if you have a personal brand to maintain, as our genial host does, that makes perfect sense. Posting regularly keeps your (hopefully growing) audience coming back for more.
But if you’re just posting for friends and acquaintances, or to express your thoughts to anyone who happens by, why tie yourself to a schedule? Post when you have something to say, when something interesting happens in your life, or just when you have some pictures you’d like to show. Don’t feel that you have to be a slave to the calendar, or force yourself to come up with things to post about when you don’t feel like saying anything. Don’t force content. I’m reminded of an RVer who used to post in detail about every meal he ate. It got boring pretty quickly.
I posted to my site, “Travels with Andy,” when circumstances warranted. Sometimes a couple of months would go by before I felt I had something worth talking about. Then again, sometimes I’d post almost daily about some ongoing event. I wasn’t trying to build a brand or grow an audience. People read it and liked it, or they didn’t.
I started in 2000, but after seventeen years I grew tired of putting my life online, so I paused my posts. Maybe I’ll start again sometime, I dunno. I don’t feel obligated.
I own my domain, and I write everything in HTML. Once I’d built a few templates, that wasn’t hard, but I realize it’s not for everyone. Most people will find WordPress easier. I just like to have complete control. There are no plug-ins involved, so I never have to worry that a vulnerability in somebody else’s code will compromise my site. Just sayin’. :-)
But however you do it, just do it. I couldn’t agree more with John’s recommendation not to tie yourself to Twitter’s or Facebook’s apron strings.
I have never experienced the same level of community and camaraderie on any social media site as I did on blogs “back in the day”.
And the algorithm of any social media site has never beaten the curated content that gets delivered via delicious RSS to my Feedly account.
Huzzah, let’s bring back blogging!
Some of us still use IRC you know
I’m all for interaction on a site you own! I recently imported one WordPress site into another, and was surprised by how much engagement I used to get on my writing blog with my friends.
(I imported it into my “techhie” blog–for Reasons [TM]–which never got a lot of engagement but I have some posts there that people find on google and seem to like.)
It seems like a lot of people really like… er. It’s probably better to say “a single walled garden to find everything they need in a convenient phone app” than “social media that is evil and smells terrible.” Even if both phrases might describe the same site from a different point of view. Hopefully I can lure those folks back to my site!
I started a blog in May. This was after I deleted Twitter and realized I spent too much time trying and failing to be a YouTube star. Blogging was a more efficient outlet for the world to ignore me. At least writing helps me organize my thoughts even though no one reads it.
I have been using the RSS Bandit feed reader for a long time. Mostly it satisfies my needs, but at some point Whatever seems to have stopped posting articles. It was only when I saw a link to https://whatever.scalzi.com/ in a blog post that I realized there are no recent posts in my reader even though the posts continue.
I tried setting it up as a new site, but no feeds were detected. Instead I got: “The underlying connection was closed: An unexpected error occurred on a send”.
Most of the blogs I follow continue to work as before, but there are a few that have stopped, as has this one.
Does anyone know what might be causing this problem? I know RSS Bandit is old and no longer supported, but I like the way it works, when it works, and would rather not have to find a new reader.
Thank you for the mention of RSS. I depend on it to save time and maximize discovery and serendipity.
Once in a while I like to return to a blog post by Stevey, called You Should Write Blogs.
His posts are often funny, composed in one evening over wine.
My old blog had precisely 500 weekly essays through a host I DON’T recommend, Google’s blogger (blogspot) A lot of us left blogger after it got “new and improved.” Now, if you edit any post it moves to the top of the queue. I hadn’t touched my blog for a year or two and just yesterday I found it had vanished.
I DO recommend WordPress. (WP) A blogger I like, Scott Berkun, was a guest one-year project manager there and wrote My Year Without Pants about their business model.
Unhappily, just in the last few days WP got “new and improved” and I can no longer sign on easily. (I used to have my dashboard on my favourites list, and just hit that button)
I think it’s normal to have stage fright, which could be why WP found (from Berlin’s book) that many people will set up a site and not post, or post just one time. Hence WP has an easy way to read your new darling as soon as you post it, to help you feel motivated.
One of my favourite bloggers, Paul Graham, has a site that is all essays, including his piece Age of the Essay, so I try to do essays too.
To brainstorm: anything one wants to blog, such as what they had for breakfast, (remember those?) is just fine too.
More brainstorm: I for one have posted poetry, fiction, rants and, with interstitials, I posted my several comments to a topic of Athena’s.
When I was a tourist in London in May I did a few posts on how the Brits are managing their racism, from seeing their museums and galleries.
I hope you-all blog.
Trying to think of how many world wide problems are reasonably solved by picking up some forgotten 20 year old tech.
I think its just this one.
Time to fire up the old vacuum tubes….
Yesterday I posted a comment about RSS Bandit, and today I went looking at all the various alternative readers. None did what I wanted, most are browser based.
Then I found a newer version of Bandit on GitHub and the Microsoft Store, and I installed it. Now the missing posts from Whatever are where they belong.
The reviews say it is not perfect, but I will continue to use it.
This is EXACTLY what a bunch of fanficcers did after the great Strikethrough scandal at LiveJournal. They were sick unto death of being driven off websites for reasons that came down to “we don’t like you,” and even sicker of techbros trying to monetize their hobby. So they decided that what fanfic needed was a site that was owned by fans, run by fans, and moderated by fans, for fans.
Spoiler: a dozen years later the Archive of Our Own won the Hugo for Best Fan-Related work, fanfiction was being taken seriously by academic, and award winners like Naomi Novik and Seanan McGuire were quite open about writing fic in between professional publications.
May I also recommend supporting RSS?
An RSS reader (e.g. https://theoldreader.com among many others) makes keeping track of new posts really easy.
After a few years of not posting because I didn’t have new books to push, and I was fed up posting “no writing done” every week or so, I revived my blog with weekly postings.
The UK was going through its second or third lockdown of the pandemic at that point and the mainstream narrative was vastly different to my lived experience. Maintaining a journal of weekly thoughts and links became a sort of social history project, and through that I discovered other writers on WordPress who are now a small community of online friends.
The habit of posting once a week has become ingrained – part of my routine, like a daily exercise. I write more now than I did before; crafting my random thoughts into publishable shape is a discipline I rather like.
Book sales are up too :-). Blogs are good.
Agree with this 100%. I have been running my own arts and culture (OK, mostly music) website, Burning Ambulance, since 2010 – http://burningambulance.com. There’s also a Substack newsletter by the same name; that goes out every Wednesday, and the newsletter content feeds to the site on Friday. I enjoy Twitter quite a bit, but having/running my own site is crucial.
You inspired me to write a blog post … about blogging! I used to read so many blogs, but it’s harder to find ones that are still posting. I’ve put a call to my blog readers to see if I can round up a list to share.
I always liked the idea of having a blog, where all my writing was centralized. Always disliked the idea of Facebook, even before it became apparent that they were antidemocracy and basically just harvesting users. So I’ve been writing on my blog for the last ten years, and getting zero interaction, and just hoping for the time when blogs come back. Back in the oughts I was thrilled when I had four comments, and I know those days can return. So you tell ’em, Scalzi! Viva la blogosphere!
I got back on the blog wagon a few months ago. I had been letting it slip as it felt like I was just yammering into the void that social media had left. But thanks, John. This post embiggens me. I’ll keep at it and strive to do something interesting other than my usual old man barking at the moon (and the lousy weather).
Yesterday Om Malik linked to this post and inspired by “John Scalzi, veteran blogger” offered up a list of blog posts that caught his eye as a tech journalist/investor.