You still need your own website

Brett Slatkin on the federated social web and why a website still matters.

Brett Slatkin created a Twitter account a few months ago.

Big deal, right? Thousands of new accounts are created every day.

In this case, it is a big deal. Slatkin joining Twitter marked a significant shift in his thinking. For years, Slatkin (whose day job is at Google on the Consumer Surveys team) has worked to build the federated social web — a structure that looks to offset social media silos with open protocols that easily and freely spread content across platforms. When he created a Twitter ID, Slatkin willingly entered one of those silos (he marked the occasion with a blog post titled “Hell has frozen over“).

During our recent interview at Foo Camp 2012, I asked Slatkin about his initial view and why he changed his mind.

“For years I’ve been putting off having a Twitter account,” he explained. “I had hoped that I would be able to tweet from my own blog without having to be part of some other service. The idea was that there would be this decentralized social web that my node could be a participant of. And it’s just like email — I have a Gmail account and I can send email to Yahoo accounts or Hotmail accounts. It all just works. But social networking isn’t like that. Facebook accounts can’t talk to MySpace accounts. There’s this real interoperability problem. So, I worked for years to try to make that happen.” [Discussed at 1:03.]

Given that Twitter hasn’t been supplanted by and that Diaspora doesn’t keep Facebook execs awake at night, you can see how frustration may have set in. But Slatkin isn’t giving up on the federated social web; he’s just addressing it in a different way.

“I took a step back and looked at the services I’m using to connect with people,” Slatkin said. “I realized we really need to take an approach from the other side: from the end user. Normal people need to understand why it’s important to run their own websites and to own their own content. They need to understand they should publish from their own blog, so they’re in control of how their content is accessed, how it’s monetized, how it’s packaged up. But the thing is, if you do that, you lose this engagement.” [Discussed at 1:45.]

This was the point in the interview when Slatkin offered a simple and succinct guideline that every content creator should print / memorize / tattoo:

“The new thought here is: publish from your own site, but use all these great social networks like Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook to connect with your audience, to boost engagement, and to get as much reach as you possibly can.”

Let’s repeat that, just so it sinks in: Use social networks all you like, but continue to publish content through your own site. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr et al are the spokes that attach to the hub you own and control.

This applies to companies, too

Things like social media interoperability tend to be associated with the individual. That’s an important part, but these ideas also apply on an organizational level. Related to that, Slatkin pointed toward the trend for companies to bypass the old “” and instead send people directly to their Facebook pages.

“Coca-Cola is willing to send you to Facebook to engage with their brand because that’s more valuable then going to,” he said. “The corporate website is not interesting to an audience. I can’t really argue with that and why they promote that. But I hope that over time people will realize the control they have, especially over stuff like monetization — I don’t want ads next to my posts; that’s a valid thing — and it might start to swing the other way.” [Discussed at 3:18.]

If you’ll now excuse a short-but-related tangent …

The “send ’em to Facebook” trend has been bugging me for a while. Beyond the whiff of desperation attached to pleas for “likes” and “follows,” a total reliance on external platforms is asking for trouble in the long term. It’s like a football team forfeiting home field advantage — there are certain things you simply can’t do, and benefits you can’t enjoy, when you’re playing on someone else’s turf. You can’t tweak templates or easily showcase related content on these external platforms. The analytics are decent, but they can’t compare to the data gathered through your own site. And, as Slatkin mentioned, the commerce and revenue opportunities are always subject to the whims of the platform owner. This is something book publishers know all too well. Perhaps the lesson here is for “publishers” of all types — individual and corporate alike — to focus on open options while we wait and work toward open platforms.

Other things from the interview …

Slatkin discussed a number of other things during our conversation:

You can see the full interview in the following video:

Associated photo on home and category pages: Used front wheel by itsbruce, on Flickr


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