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TECHNOLOGY

Want to Connect and Express Yourself Online? Forget Facebook, Start Your Own Website

A growing chorus of experts is urging people back to old-fashioned blogging. These days it’s easier than you think.

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BY Jessica Stillman - 28 Mar 2018

Want to Connect and Express Yourself Online? Forget Facebook, Start Your Own Website

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Panicked about what Facebook is doing with your data? You're far from alone, and the more you learn, chances are the more panicked you'll be (just look at what these folks found when they asked the site for all the data it had on them.)

The problem is that this level of privacy invasion isn't some isolated hack or mishap. Facebook's entire business model is surveilling your digital life for the most personal information possible and then selling it to whoever wants to pay for it.

So what should you do about it? There's the obvious answer of following the lead of Elon Musk and others and deleting your account. But if you organize events on the platform, share pictures with distant friends and relatives, or otherwise enjoy some specific benefits of connecting online, swearing off entirely might not be an appealing option.

If that's your conundrum, a chorus of experts might have a solution. Their idea sounds a little labor intensive at first, but hear them out. They swear that the best way to get the benefits of socializing online without the drawbacks is to have your own personal blog or website, and they claim it's way easier than you think.

Break out of the walled garden

Social media makes connecting online super easy, but there's a price to be paid for that convenience. First, you produce a lot of data that makes these sites a boatload of profit -- profit which isn't shared with you. Tech critic Nicholas Carr has called this "digital sharecropping." You work. They get all the money.

Second, and probably more annoyingly for those of us who aren't too bothered by the work of posting pictures of our kids or travel adventures, that data is then used to shape what you see. Or, in the words of computer science professor and author Cal Newport , social media sites use your data to "control your behavior -- nudging you toward certain ways of describing yourself and encountering the world that make you more profitable to the social media barons, but might alienate you from your humanity."

The solution, according to Newport and a host of other experts, is simple -- break out of the "walled garden" of social media by starting your own little kingdom in the form of your own blog or website.

"If you want to connect and express yourself online, the best way to do so is to own your own website," insists Newport. "Buy a domain. Setup a web hosting account (my host, A2, has introductory packages that cost less than $4 a month). Install WordPress or hand code a web site for this account. Let people follow you directly by checking your site, or subscribing to an RSS feed or email newsletter."

"In other words, acquire your own damn digital land on which you can do whatever you want without anyone else trying to exploit you or influence your behavior," he advises.

Yes, that does sound like a bit more work than simply hitting 'post' on the Facebook app, but these days technology makes building a site relatively easy. And the benefits are immense. Setting up your own site will keep your data safe, but you'll also be nudging the internet towards a healthier and more broadly beneficial future, argued top VC Fred Wilson back January even before the latest revelations about Facebook:

"We are in the 'Internet Two' phase as Steven Johnson called in it his piece that I blogged about yesterday. Internet One was an open network, open protocols, open systems. Internet Two is closed platforms that increasingly dominate the market and own and control our content and us. We need to get to Internet Three where we take back control of ourselves. It is high time for that to happen," he wrote.

What good is a blog if I'm the only one looking at it?

Good question. But as 20-year blogging veteran Jason Kottke notes, if you jump (back on) the blogging bandwagon, you might not be alone for long. He reports "friends and writers, not thousands or probably even hundreds, but solid dozens, returning to old-fashioned weblogging as a way to get their thoughts in order, take ownership of their intellectual property, get away from the Twitter hubbub, stick it to Facebook, or any one of a dozen other reasons to write a blog."

That might not generate enough "ambient humanity" to satisfy our craving for social connection right now, but if enough people are bold enough to make the switch, blogs might be buzzing again soon enough, and without the drawbacks of having your phone mined or your data sold to hostile parties trying to swing elections.

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