Should I self-host my blog or post to a site with a built-in community?
November 9, 2015 5:15 PM   Subscribe

I've been a blogger, off and on, since "weblog" first became a word, but the way blogs and communities are built these days confounds me. I miss tight-knit, ye olde internet communities but am no longer sure how they are built or nourished in a noisier, more commercialized web. I need opinions.

I've had many (mostly personal) blogs over the years, a few of which have had a number of readers. However, my more recent, self-hosted attempts, which were not so different in nature from their predecessors, made it clear that online community has changed, maybe especially in my age group (30 and younger).

Part of it is how the web is now. Visitors are more transient. Sites are more locked down, less likely to be self-hosted. Communities are more commercialized and interested in what's commercial. Places where conversations used to flourish are either less active now or have evolved into other beasts (e.g., chatting on Twitter was once common; now, Twitter is a sea of RTs and scheduled tweets, my own included). It's harder to get to know people, and to be known.

In the past, it was easy to find everyday people and their personal sites. You found them via forums/groups/clubs, directories, webrings (lol), link/blog rolls, Technorati, small site/blog networks, etc. Sure, there was a mountain of porn spam, but there was also a lot of heart and less site-approved spam clickbait! Now, many communities are large, noisy, and automated (or affected by some form of automation)—and deeply impersonal. Worse, there's a bias toward them, meaning the little gems are more hidden than ever.

How do I find the "real" people who want to be found? How do they find me?

What I miss is the online friendship that came from slowly getting to know people. Many relationships I made online 10–20 years ago turned into real-life encounters or friendships, a few of which I still have and treasure. As far as I can tell, these sorts of organic relationships are rarely found online now, but still occur (sometimes) between mommy bloggers and vloggers on YouTube, in fandoms, and through MMO games. Unfortunately, I'm not a die-hard fan of any one thing; I love video games, but usually hate MMOs; and I haven't quite decided whether I want to deal with the misogynistic assholes that will come with vlogging. I am also not looking to be a mom any time soon.

What's more likely to give me the community I want—the people I can get to know, the people who will want to get to know me? Should I just stick with a self-hosted blog and see what happens over time, or am I better off foregoing administrative control and embedding myself in some commercial entity's built-in community? If the latter, I should mention I'm more inclined to use Tumblr (yes, even since the Yahoo! takeover), simply because Tumblr would give me more control over the design than or Medium would, but I'm interested in hearing about any and all recent, positive community experiences found anywhere.

A few things:
  • My interests are varied—books, music, art, occasional (liberal / very liberal) politics and irreligion—and I like it that way. Blogging used to embrace that personal stream of consciousness and self-discovery, but I feel I might have a better chance of building a meaningful community if I focus on one interest. Unfortunately, that also tends to create echo chambers... Thoughts?
  • I know a lot about SEO. This is not an SEO question. This is not about bounce rates, keyword density, or any such thing. I can "drive traffic," but that builds an audience you sell to, not a community you talk with. Different concepts, no matter what marketers say.
  • The blog in question does not have to be "monetized." If my writing can make money naturally, like some of my blogging has in the past, that's cool, but it's not the focus.
  • I am a designer. Design and usability matter to me. Don't send me to ugly places, please.
posted by iamfantastikate to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Paging stavrosthewonderchicken.

The chicken knows about these things.
posted by vrakatar at 5:45 PM on November 9, 2015

FWIW, I've stayed self-hosted. The relationships you speak of still happen for me, but it's more likely to be due to Twitter than the blog. What I miss is the conversations that grew in the comments of my blog. I get zero comments on the blog now. Conversations still happen about my blog posts, but they happen on Facebook. And since I keep FB locked to down to a couple hundred friends, I don't get the random encounters that become friends like I did back in 2003 and 2004. I guess I could try opening up those particular FB updates to public, since they are simply pointing to a public blog post anyway.

People I know that have tried Medium have reported a good experience and lots of traffic to their writing there. I've stuck to just commenting at Medium so far.
posted by COD at 6:01 PM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Facebook groups ape Usenet discussion about as well as anything on-line. It has the advantage of having a critical mass of people who are using their real name -- as was the case when people with access to Usenet had access only through the graces of a university or employer -- with a few anonymous psychotics thrown into the mix, it's easy to jump in and out of conversations, the spam level is relatively low, the signal to noise ratio on a good group with at least light moderation is decent.

Here is the section on Usenet from 1992's "Zen and the art of the Internet," which may be of interest -- it is part of the answer to how did people start to talk to each other on-line?
posted by kmennie at 6:16 PM on November 9, 2015

I'm seeing more manual syndication these days - i.e., multiple duplicate posting. For my next writing, I'm going to go ahead and post in full on my blog, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, and on Medium (and you could add Tumblr).

I'd propose an experiment. Just cut-and-paste everywhere. People used to tell you not to do this, but I think people these days are just, like, whatever and let Google sort it out.

After N posts over M weeks, you'll know where you can find some conversation. Double down in those places. Robert Scoble is having great success on Facebook - he's basically stopped posting anywhere else. Thinky media/design pieces seem to do well on Medium. Work blather gets lots of Likes on LinkedIn. Etc. I'm seeing likes/comments anywhere but my own site.
posted by troyer at 6:29 PM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Sorry, @vrakatar, but what am I supposed to take away from Wonderchicken? I'm already a designer/dev, and most of the communities listed there don't seem to be achieving what I'm talking about here. I'm probably missing something, though.

@COD and @troyer, ugh, I hate to think FB might be the way. I use FB, but I really loathe the company for so very many reasons. As for duplicating content...I'm not really looking to be read far and wide, though that's nice, just thoughtfully or well. (Potentially helpful aside: Duplicating content will probably further kill a personal site in search because Google is more biased toward big media than ever before. See here.) I feel like duplication is the kind of strategy that ensures content is gobbled up and shared by a large(r) audience, but not necessarily intimately participated on by a community.

@kmennie, not sure I think FB groups are like Usenet. I participate in a few FB groups and have never really gotten to know anyone from them. :/ Medium does seem to do well for long works, and I love how it does highlighting/commenting, but I don't get the impression that it's a stable community where people get to know each other. I always come to pieces quite randomly and never attach them to the author, but rather to Medium itself (which I'm sure thrills the makers of Medium...).
posted by iamfantastikate at 7:10 PM on November 9, 2015

I've done both over the years from LJ to tumblr. I ended up self-hosting a blog because I became tired of the communities a bit e.g., tumblr is too young. Also, I can experiment with the layout/designs more on my own site than built-in one but YMMV.

I still find some of the more well-known forums to be active communities like SA which has a ton of sub-forums/topics to explore. Also, there's reddit if you don't mind w/e problems associated with it for niche communities.

Steam has some groups for games that people organize and add friends over there even if you don't like MMOs. Typically, I either add people from games to Steam/Skype.

Mefi/AskMefi is nice too but I figured that might be too obvious.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 9:18 PM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I guess I was conflating two things - mostly suggesting the multiple posting as an experiment to see where people hang out that like your stuff. I self-host too, but I'm willing to consider going to other platforms if that's where the people are. I will still post back on my site if for no other reason than to keep a copy for myself.

I think we will eventually swing back to smaller community circles and away from FB/Twitter, and already I see some private groups that are working. I'm with you on FB in general but I'm in some secret FB groups that are nice. Also some Slack chats. So if you have a core of people to invite you could try something like that.

Here's one more idea - start a newsletter. My newsletter has gotten a much higher audience than my blog. (A little googling will reveal a bunch of trend pieces extolling the new newsletter hotness, but I can personally vouch for it. In a post-RSS world, newsletters are fun again. I get all sorts of crazy dada/personal/newsy things in my inbox - feels a lot like early blogging again.) Tinyletter is easiest but if you're a designer use MailChimp or something free that lets you mess with the design.

2015 is weird.
posted by troyer at 9:30 PM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

There's always self-hosted plus auto-posting plugins. My blog posts get automatically mirrored to LJ, Tumblr, FB, and G+, plus auto-tweets. Though Tumblr and Facebook only get excerpts rather than the full piece due to API limitations; aometimes I'll manually post stuff to Tumblr with the images hosted there instead of using auto-post so it shows up better. Usually this is something I want people to reblog, like an announcement that my comic finished.
posted by egypturnash at 11:03 PM on November 9, 2015

Tumblr makes it easy to use a custom domain name, so you can have use instead of and move from tumblr-hosted to self-hosted pretty easily if you need to jump ship 5-10 years from now.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:18 AM on November 10, 2015

Tumblr can skew young, but the beauty of Tumblr is that you can select who you follow and interact with, so your dash can be full of people more your mindset if you want. I returned to Tumblr after a year's hiatus and I'm more selective of who and what I follow, which makes for a more fulfilling experience overall.
posted by divabat at 9:56 AM on November 10, 2015

I just dipped my toes into slack communities. (See the Meta thread on emotional labor or the MeFI thread on men's friendships for two recent ones.)
posted by typecloud at 1:45 PM on November 10, 2015

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