Think About This Before Saying “Own Your Own Content!”

Actually owning your own content is not as easy as broadcasting it on Twitter. While WordPress does democratize publishing, there are many places and countless situations today that don’t or — perhaps worse — can’t take advantage of WordPress.

Time will tell if Facebook being down on Oct 4th will be the single greatest system failure in tech in 2021. There's been some good writing explaining what went wrong (and the fact that mistakes happen), but predictably when sites and networks fail like this there are reactions on social media. Eventually, especially in the WordPress community, when it comes to corporate sites and social networks someone is there to wag a finger and say “See? Own Your Own Content.” Me included.

This time around — maybe because it was Facebook or I'm just showing my age — it felt different saying “Own your own content.” Yes, you should own your own content. But that's not possible for many people today, and many were hit harder than you may realize. 

There are two basic groups of people using the web today — those who have control of their online presence, and those who do not.

If you own a business and it's primarily running on a social network or in the hands of a third party network like Twitch or YouTube, you should own your own content — if you can afford to do so. This is a message that WordPress and other open source solutions can get behind to educate more people. That said, I have yet to see a clear business case and technical roadmap for moving someone from a business on Facebook to a WordPress-based solution, and I don't see hosting companies targeting influencers at Instagram or Tiktok. That is probably because those networks draw so much attention and ROI that in the minds of their users it's simply not worth their time to maintain a website or blog as well.

The second group is those without control. There are entire countries and regions where Facebook wasn't just their way into the internet. Essentially it was their internet. Most people in this category are using Facebook on their mobile devices with either a browser or the Facebook app. Owning their own content isn't really an option. It's these people who suffer the most when Amazon S3 or a CDN fails — or a critical communication and business tool suddenly goes offline for over six hours on a workday.

Actually owning your own content is not as easy as broadcasting it on Twitter. While WordPress does democratize publishing, there are many places and countless situations today that don’t or — perhaps worse — can't take advantage of WordPress. How can WordPress help these two groups? Can it? Those are questions I would love to discuss — especially the second group which poses a bigger challenge and a greater long-term need.

The next time I say “own your own content” — and I will still say it — I'll think about this. Maybe you will too.

Update: I should point out – and have been pointed out already – that as much as WordPress is a focus really the bigger picture is the open web. WordPress plays a big part in that but my point would fit just as well if not better if the open web was term used. Replace “WordPress” with open web above if that suits you.