The Dangers of Content Platforms

Platforms are a useful tool, but it dangerous to use them as the primary home for your content. If you want to start publishing, you aren’t required to set up your own domain and personal site. There are platforms available now that allow you to post instantly. The most popular is Medium.com, and for developers, there is Dev.to. You can also publish articles on LinkedIn and Quora. Despite the ease of use and the promise of more distribution, I strongly suggest that you set up a site you own from the beginning. 

What’s wrong with platforms?

When you publish on a platform, you’re participating in what Nicolas Carr calls “digital sharecropping”: 

“One of the fundamental economic characteristics of Web 2.0 is the distribution of production into the hands of the many and the concentration of the economic rewards into the hands of the few.”

Nicolas Carr

When you publish on other people’s sites, you are doing work for their benefit. They can decide to change the rules at any point. In fact, Medium did just that, causing all kinds of issues for contributors.

Example: FreeCodeCamp

FreeCodeCamp was originally a publication on Medium. A publication is a collective of posts controlled by editors. They can choose to allow submissions of articles, creating a platform within a platform. Then, Medium decided to move away from advertising and towards a paywall system. Paywalls aren’t a good look when your name is “Free Code Camp,” so they decided to move their content to their own platform. When they did this, they removed all of the canonical URLs from the pages, which referenced the author’s original work. They also removed several links to the author’s pages.

Medium’s terms of service say that you own the right to your content, but do you really?

In addition to content platforms, there’s also social media. I’ve seen a couple people talk about how Twitter threads are the new blog posts, and that is an idea I can’t get behind.

How Facebook Ruined Online Comedy

There was a time when comedy publishers became more and more dependent on Facebook as a traffic source. When Facebook decided to change the rules and assert more ownership, they realized they had given their businesses away to the Facebook machine. From a Vulture article: 

The whole story is basically that Facebook gets so much traffic that they started convincing publishers to post things on Facebook. For a long time, that was fine. People posted things on Facebook, then you would click those links and go to their websites. But then, gradually, Facebook started exerting more and more control of what was being seen, to the point that they, not our website, essentially became the main publishers of everyone’s content. Today, there’s no reason to go to a comedy website that has a video if that video is just right on Facebook. And that would be fine if Facebook compensated those companies for the ad revenue that was generated from those videos, but because Facebook does not pay publishers, there quickly became no money in making high-quality content for the internet.

Sarah Aswell, How Facebook is Killing Comedy

In both of these cases, platforms decided that you need to play by their rules and ensure they get paid. Otherwise, they will put themselves between you and your fans.

What to Do Instead

Publishing on your own is not without its own problems. You take on responsibility for hosting your content. You have to take content promotion into your own hands. In my experience, it’s worth it for the ownership. You will have a small piece of the internet that’s yours, and no one can take that from you.

Also, in my experience, the promise of additional traffic is overrated. On both Dev.to and Medium, to get any traction, you still need to promote your own content.

You can leverage these platforms as part of your content promotion strategy. Here are some ways I use them:

  • Syndicate content to dev.to, and formerly Medium. I don’t see any significant traffic from Medium, so I’ve cut it from my mix. 
  • Dev.to also acts as a communal space online. I enjoy using it to talk with other devs in the comment sections and post questions.
  • Use Twitter and tweet threads as experimental grounds. If I write about something and it gets a positive reaction, I consider digging deeper into it.

I’ve also seen other interesting strategies on platforms, but I cannot speak to their effectiveness.

Use platforms as a way to build your online presence. When you use them exclusively, you expose yourself to a large amount of risk.