I’ve been tempted to write here again for a while, very much so since November. It’s oddly intimidating. Four major challenges: time to write, which is usually scarce but which feels relatively heavy in my hands here in Florida; the pressure of writing for public consumption, which I’m spared when I stick to my journal; a certain alienation from the online writing landscape that’s been so significantly altered by quick-fix, character-limited, opaquely ranked, shallow-dive social networking interactions; and my eyes, which are undeniably going, and these Duane Reade computer glasses aren’t really cutting it anymore.
In November I a) traveled b) to the Bay c) and then flew to Florida to visit my mom & family down here for Thanksgiving, all three of which tend to prime my writing pump. In recent months I’ve had a few unexpected but welcome reminders that I once wrote decent stuff that meant something for some people out there. (Thanks, y’all.) Nico started blogging more again, which I only learned about through Facebook because I simply do not read any blogs these days. (I read blog posts on occasion, having learned about them via Facebook or Twitter, but I don’t read blogs. That’s different.) I posted a comment on one of his posts on FB expressing my temptation to start blogging again, and he encouraged me to go for it.
So, here I am in Florida again, after only about 20 days at home in Brooklyn; the past three months have included a large amount of travel by my scale. Here I am with a head full of thoughts and time on my hands (heavy.) I’m burning a candle that I’m pretty sure I acquired in high school, in a room dubbed mine in a house full of stuff I know well in a gated subdivision that I’ve known for just shy of a year, listening to Peter Murphy, Trent Reznor et al perform “Warm Leatherette;” what else can I be expected to do but write?
I recently encouraged someone very close to me to live more fully for themselves, for their own happiness. In what I see as an essential tandem for them, I also encouraged them to consider new possibilities for happiness than the ones to which they’ve limited themselves in the past. I try not to give advice that I don’t take to heart myself these days; as I write this, that advice is on my mind. I think I’ve made good progress on these fronts in recent years in many areas of my life, but one’s got to stay mindful to keep good practices up.
As such, if I’m gonna keep writing I’ll have to commit to write in an authentic voice without too much self-conscious performance; to not feel pressure to fit a particular profile or style at all times; to strike that necessary balance in my writing between the public voice (here) and the private voice (elsewhere), both of which I crave; and, in the end, to write primarily for myself. That may sound funny coming from someone who’s putting their shit out there for anyone to read, but writing for oneself doesn’t necessarily mean writing only for oneself to read. I need both.
I worry when I see that the brilliant words, images, and other creative works of so many folks are only posted on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other corporately-owned services. Posting such content to those services only, and nowhere else, has two worrisome consequences.
First, whenever we post our words, photos, videos, or other things that constitute intellectual property to these services, we’re automatically giving these for-profit corporations various rights and licenses to store, use, reproduce, display, modify, and share our work. We agree to that when we accept the Terms of Service (ToS) when signing up for a new account; these Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr ToS are examples that many of us have accepted. They’re all a little different and some are better constrained, better written, or better explained than others; the Tumblr ToS seemed particularly clear to me. In each case we still retain ownership of all intellectual property rights for our content, but the companies still gain a good deal of freedom over what they do with our content and how they can make a profit from it. (Profit that we’ll never see a cent of, of course.)
That squicks me out, but I worry more that many of these services — Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr in particular — make it difficult to transfer all of that content out of their systems and into other ones, including systems that we have way more ownership or control over: our own hosted blogs or websites or our own computers. It takes a fair amount of time and tech know-how to set up any automated system for pushing content from those services to something else that we control more. And some of those systems don’t make it very easy to get to your older content, either.
So to me, it always feels like my content is disappearing into the cloud, a very dark cloud, perhaps never to be seen again. I don’t know how it will be used exactly, I don’t know how long it will be around for, and I don’t have any easy way to get back to it later.
That’s one of the motivations for this blog: it’s a WordPress blog hosted on servers maintained by a web host that I know and trust well with my data. I’m able to back up the whole thing automatically and redundantly (I’ve got a few backup systems so my backups are backed up). I can do that in part because free WordPress plugins like BackUpWordPress make it really easy for anyone to do, and in part because my tech knowledge of things like git gives me easy options for having multiple copies of my site and data stored in many physical locations, including my own computer and backup drives.
I’m trying to always copy the more thoughtful, interesting, meaningful or funny things I post on Facebook or Twitter to this blog, too. That doesn’t undo the fact that Facebook and Twitter both have somewhat creepy rights to what I’ve posted there, but it does make sure that my content is also stored in many places where I can truly own, control, and trust what’s going to happen to it.
It also turns out to be a good way to get me to write more; this post started out as something that was Facebook-ready, meaning short — three sentences, maybe. Even though Facebook status updates can now be more than 60,000 characters long, Facebook still seems to work better with short posts, in part because folks are more likely to read, “Like,” and comment on shorter things. But after getting used to writing for Facebook and the 140-character-tops Twitter, I’m really enjoying having some more room to stretch out into with my posts.
If other folks are wondering what they could do to deal with problems like the ones I’ve brought up here, I’ve got a few suggestions (and would welcome more from others!)
- Learn how to get set up with your own website or blog using self-hosted open source software. That’s a daunting task, but it’s doable, and there may be resources in your own communities — friends, fellow activists and organizers, fellow students, family members, etc — that can help you get started. I highly recommend WordPress for getting started and rather like WordPress for blogging, even though I love building websites in Drupal.
- Use online services that give you better options for exporting or re-publishing your content. WordPress.com and Drupal Gardens let you get started with your own free site without setting up your own web hosting or buying a domain name. If you want to move to your own self-hosted solution later, both services make it pretty easy to move your whole site off their servers and onto your own. You can also use services like Twitter and Tumblr that provide RSS feeds and APIs that let you re-publish your content automatically to other websites and services.
- Cross-post your content. I really like using Facebook and Twitter; they make it easy to share content with tons of people. But I still want to be able to own and keep track of my content, so if it’s good I post it to this WordPress blog, too. Soon I’ll get around to setting up automated feeds from Twitter (and maybe Facebook, if that is possible?) to this blog in a way that actually creates posts on the site (rather than simply displaying content that’s still trapped in Twitter or Facebook.)
- Save your content on your own computer. This is a really easy way to make sure that you’ve always got a copy of your content under your own control. Save all your photos locally instead of only leaving them up on Twitpic or Instagram; copy and paste your good Tumblr, Facebook, or Twitter content into text files or documents on your own computer. (For bonus points, learn how to do regular backups of your own computer, too!)
Any other good solutions out there?
I left the Allied Media Conference with a fire in my belly and blog posts gestating in my brain. It’s been a long time coming; let’s see what comes of it.
Dotster is inexplicably taking it’s time getting my access to my new domain name, but thanks to May First/People Link and their handy auto-generated mayfirst.org subdomains, a little thing like a mysterious PENDING status need not stop all the action.
Now, needing to be functional at a decent hour tomorrow, that will stop all the action.