Or, the case against hosted blogging options.
More and more I find myself reading articles on blog networks, and by networks I mean Medium. There was a promising short lived moment where smaller, topic-oriented blog networks like Svbtle (amongst others) started appearing, but even those seem to have gone by the wayside and are increasingly being replaced by Medium.
It's not that I have anything inherently against these sites; they are incredibly well designed and seem to be doing a fantastic job at fostering a community and discussion around the writing of people spanning the whole spectrum of society. What I do have a problem with is trusting all my writing to a third-party company, which may or may not decide to monetize my content, shutdown, or update their application in a way that makes it a moot platform for future writing.
Don't get me wrong, from those the few people I've met who work at Medium and Svbtle they seem like honest, top-notch people, but when I read through their Terms of Service it's hard not to be a little concerned.
Like this snippet from Svbtle:
“As a paid customer, you give Svbtle a perpetual world-wide license to use your company's assets and logos, unless Svbtle agrees in writing otherwise. These assets and logos will be used purely for marketing and sales efforts, such as being displayed on the home page.”
So by posting to Svbtle once, they suddenly have a perpetual license to use my company's logo in way's I'm forever unable to control unless they agree not to in writing, presumably before I ever use their service? It's not that I think they're necessarily going to do anything I disagree with right now or in the near future, but times do change — companies transition or are sold to a new owner, and you hear horror stories about formerly reputable companies like Sourceforge, the formerly ubiquitous choice for version control hosting, hijacking GIMP's unused Windows distribution account for their own profit.
Or what about this one:
“Svbtle reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to modify or replace any part of this Agreement. It is your responsibility to check this Agreement periodically for changes. Your continued use of or access to the Services following the posting of any changes to this Agreement constitutes acceptance of those changes.”
Not only can they update the Terms of Service at any point in time without notifying their users, but it's the user's responsibility to check it for changes? I'm not a lawyer, but it seems extremely questionable that they can't commit to providing some sort of outreach before those changes take effect. This is the same type of shady practice that previously earned Facebook heaps of backlash from its users, and led to them adding a clause to their Terms of Service that they'll transparently communicating future changes in advance of them going into effect.1 I don't know about you, but I highly doubt many people are checking the Terms of Service for changes every time they go to make a blog post.
Medium.com's Terms of Service are thankfully written in as much honest, plain-speaking words as possible with upfront statements like, “Even if your eyes normally glaze over the word “Terms,” it’s a good idea to read this agreement carefully before you use Medium.” and “You own the rights to the content you post on Medium. We don’t claim ownership over any of it.”
Still though, you look further down and come across this piece:
“...we may change, terminate, or restrict access to any aspect of the service, at any time, without notice.”
As a web designer and developer, I get it — times inevitably change and you don't want to find themselves in a lawsuit because someone's favorite feature got removed, but still that risk doesn't seem worth it. It's hard enough to muster the time to put my thoughts into words, and the last thing I want is for all that effort to hinge on the decisions of a benign dictator.
Lastly, as great as the Medium community is currently, it's still a walled garden. You write on Medium, read on Medium, discuss on Medium, and inevitably live or die based on the choices of the company behind Medium.
Long Live Self Hosted Blogs
For my own blog I personally self-host Ghost's open-source platform. As it's still pre-1.02 it requires a little bit of technical know-how to get setup, but with options like DigitalOcean's pre-configured Ghost Droplet it's getting easier and easier to manage. On the downside the only writing format it currently accepts is Markdown, which depending on your preferences will be a polarizing feature (I love it).
So maybe Ghost isn't your jam, and that's okay. That's the beauty of self-hosting your own blog, there's so many options out there! Things like Wordpress, Jekyll, Middleman, Octopress, AnchorCMS, PicoCMS, Dropplets, *takes breath* ...and at least hundred others are free and available for you to use, customize, update (or not), etc at your own choosing. That's the beauty of having control over your own writing — the Ghost community might opt to add or remove a feature I disagree with, at which point I have full control to not update to the newest version and plan a transition to a different platform that fits my needs.