Why a Website (and RSS) Is Still Your Best Bet

I’ve been think­ing a lot lately about how to jus­tify what I do to my clients and peo­ple in gen­eral. Because what I do is not exactly cheap; but I believe in the ser­vice I pro­vide. Still, you might won­der, why have a web­site at all these days?

There’s Twitter. There’s Facebook. You can reach a hell of a lot of peo­ple on those plat­forms, and while the medium lim­its the mes­sage some, if you’re try­ing to stand out from the crowd, con­nect with read­ers, they can be great plat­forms. Why would you still need a web­site? Why pay some guy like me to build you an elab­o­rate set up when you could spend 15 min­utes cre­at­ing a Facebook fan page and Twitter account and be done.

To explain why, I want to talk a lit­tle bit about RSS feeds first.

We have this thing called RSS (Really Simple Syndication), which has been around for ages, and web pro­fes­sion­als like me love it, but it’s not nec­es­sar­ily taken off with the gen­eral pub­lic as a means of keep­ing up with what a web­site does. RSS gen­er­ally requires a spe­cial pro­gram, and it allows you to keep track of your favorite web­sites. Just about every­thing on the web you might want to fol­low gen­er­ates some kind of RSS feed so you can aggre­gate all that infor­ma­tion into a reader (like Google Reader, soon to be dead) with­out hav­ing to remem­ber to go to the web­site directly every day, check­ing for new content.

RSS is really, really great. There’s a good chance if you’re read­ing this, I don’t have to tell you that because you already sub­scribe to my blog. And it’s a big part of why the open web beats social media. RSS is open; you pub­lish to your feed, and sub­scribers of that feed get the updates. Why would you not rely exclu­sively on Twitter or Facebook to do the same thing via their plat­forms? More peo­ple use those, right? Because Facebook and Twitter are com­pa­nies that ulti­mately con­trol what you pub­lish and what oth­ers see. Your web­site is an exten­sion of the open web. Open beats closed when it comes to dis­sem­i­nat­ing information.

Facebook started out with a really open-​​seeming plat­form, let­ting any­one set up fan pages and it was great at first, but then they decided they needed to turn a profit. They took your fans hostage and decided, hey, it would be a shame if your next post wouldn’t reach all 5000 peo­ple who have “liked” you on Facebook, wouldn’t it? Why don’t you pay us for a “pro­moted” post, and we’ll make sure they all get to see it. It’s back in the news lately–you just can’t know what they will decide to show, and to who. 25,000 fol­low­ers does not mean 25,000 fol­low­ers anymore.

RSS doesn’t have that, thankfully–the reader decides what they see and what they don’t. The process, for all the reader tools I have used, is trans­par­ent. Facebook’s process is opaque. And you can prob­a­bly bet it’s only a mat­ter of time before Twitter intro­duces some­thing sim­i­lar (although to be hon­est, the noise on Twitter is so enor­mous that it’s prob­a­bly not nec­es­sary to “hide” any­thing. It just goes by too quickly to be noticed).

A web­site (and thus your RSS feed) is some­thing you own and con­trol, for the most part (let’s not get into seman­tics about own­ing domain names and so forth). It’s an out­post on that wild, untamed open web, a place where the rules are a lot thin­ner than Facebook and Twitter. It seems safer to stay within their lit­tle ecosys­tems, and they’ve done a great job of mak­ing it seem easy and close to free; but you’re not the cus­tomer there; you are the prod­uct, as Charlie Stross (and per­haps oth­ers?) famously pointed out.

There are a lot of ways to build your plat­form online, your way of con­nect­ing with friends, fans, fam­ily, what­not. I use them all, and I encour­age every­one to use them all; but I also think you should never rely too much on some­one else’s prod­uct. Ironically, it’s been the announced death of Google Reader that has me real­iz­ing that. Free is great, but free can go away just as eas­ily as any­thing. Google Reader can evap­o­rate, doing enor­mous harm to RSS, and Facebook can decide to start charg­ing you to access the peo­ple you did the hard work of gath­er­ing around yourself.

Websites still mat­ter; I firmly believe it, or I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now. But why hire some­one like me? You hire me for the same rea­son you hire a plumber or a car­pen­ter: to build some­thing you don’t want to build your­self, because they can do it faster and maybe bet­ter. Because spe­cial­iza­tion is the secret to human civilization.

And because this is the web we’re talk­ing about, all of this is sub­ject to change with­out notice at any sec­ond. Get ready; dis­rup­tion is coming.

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3 Responses

  1. […] (Via Why a Website (and RSS) Is Still Your Best Bet | JeremiahTolbert​.com.) […]

  2. Laurie Robey says:

    Speaking of which, what’s your RSS feed? I’d like to fol­low it.