Why writers should have their own domains

Great, sage advice from John Scalzi about why a writer might want to pay to register a domain in the era of Facebook:
So, let's go back to 1998. You're a new writer and you want to establish a permanent residency online. Which would be wiser: Having your own site at your own domain, or putting up a site at GeoCities?

It's 2001, same drill: Which is wiser: Having your own domain, or creating a site on AOL servers?

2003: Your own domain, or a Friendster page?

2007: Your own domain, or a MySpace page?

(Hindsight is a useful thing.)

And now it's 2011 and the choice is one's own domain or a page on Facebook. Guess which I think you should do.

I agree with everything he says right up to the point where he recommends getting a Facebook page too. Not because it might not be good for your career, but because I think it's an ugly, stupid service designed to teach you to systematically undervalue your privacy.

Mastering One's Own Domain, and No, This is Not a Seinfeld Reference


  1. I’d like to welcome everyone who’s joining us via Facebook.com/boingboing. You’re all fools!

  2. You can always have a minimal Facebook page that points people to your personal site, and have a high-quality discussion forum on your own site (check out Max Barry’s site, maxbarry.com).

  3. The mistake is thinking that anywhere in the entire internet is not a public place. If it’s not encrypted, it’s public. People are so obsessed with privacy they freak out over their name, address and phone number being published in a phone book. Does anyone understand how to distinguish between what is public and what is private any more?

  4. I’m curious as to where one should look to find an ideal Voice Over IP utility.
    At present i run an Android OS phone and use a OSX computer.

  5. Yes, a good idea. But if you’re a writer and still poor, paying to maintain a website can sometimes be hard on the wallet. Also, isn’t you’re bang for the buck is less where SEO is concerned? Maybe hopping from one latest thing to the next is good strategy too.

    1. #6 suggests that if you’re a writer and poor, this can cost you money. A domain name costs about $10/year if you’re buying your own and not getting it from your hosting provider. A web site can cost anything from $0 to $LARGE, but for example you can get a reasonable one from 1+1 for $3/month (unlimited bandwidth, a few simple apps) – even if you link your traffic over to Amazon to do the actual fulfillment, you’re still in control of your name for the price of a latte per month.

      #6 also brings up the SEO issue – Assuming you’re just talking about “making it easy for somebody to find you” rather than “telling lies to Google’s robots so you’ll get a high ranking”, it should be easy enough to find you with “J Brokewriter Science Fiction”, even if just searching for “J Brokewriter” gets 100 pages of Google hits for “J Brokewriter Jazz Drummer” and “find great prices for J Brokewriter here”. Owning your domain not only means there’s some longevity (which Google values) and a hopefully-meaningful domain name, it means that you don’t disappear off the map when Facebook gets replaced by Anti-Social Networking or whatever the next shiny trend is.

  6. I’m having a tough time interpreting “Which is not to say I don’t think you shouldn’t have a Facebook page. You should, if you like, just like I had a MySpace page, and a Friendster page and even a Web site on AOL’s servers (no GeoCities page, alas)” as a recommendation for a Facebook page…he’s just saying that keeping one egg in your own basket is the best hedge against the day when someone else’s basket gets overturned….

    Frankly, it’s good advice for everyone. Why worry about someone from MegaEmailCorp looking over your shoulder when you can run your own? (Sure am glad I pay for mine in 10 year chunks…they aren’t making any more IPv4 real estate ;-)

  7. “Why HUMANS should have their own domains” FIFY.

    Another advantage is that I get no spam email at my @.net email address. I use my @.net address to give to corporations. My personal email address is given almost exclusively to humans. Even @gmail.com may pass away (or become passe’), but as long as I pay my bills I’ll never have to change or be ashamed of my personal email address. I bought each of my kids their own domains, too. They’re still to young to read, but they’ll thank me when they’re older.

    (I do feel a bit sorry for all the Jim Smiths in the world, though)

    1. As a musician, I’ve had my own domain for 5 years, and I do like the bonuses that complete control over my email confers. Spam is almost nonexistent.

      However, in the past year or two, I’ve noticed a significant downside. My domain is in an IP block that has, from time to time, also been inhabited by some nasty spam action. Due to this, and to increasingly aggressive spam filters, personal emails I send are increasingly making their way into recipients’ spam folders, and many people never check for false positives. This happens particularly often in gmail, and it’s gotten to the point that if I’m sending a message to someone I don’t know (e.g. responding to a Craigslist posting), I send it from my gmail account instead so I know it will get there.

      Effectively, my domain has been ghettoized.

      1. If I understand the underlying technology correctly, if you have your domain hosted by a different company you’ll be fine.

  8. Totally agree. I’ve had my own domain and site for years. (My domain host, my ISP and my email are independent of each other–that turned out to be a very good idea.)

    Here’s a secret most people don’t seem to be aware of: it’s not that hard to make your own web site! Then you don’t have to see one particular shade of blue on your page if you don’t want to.

  9. Doesn’t the phrase “that’s designed to teach you” imply an intent on Facebook’s part?

    1. Facebook’s business model is to monetize information about its users that many people would consider private. The more information you share, the more money Facebook makes.

      Of course there’s an intent on Facebook’s part to encourage the sharing of this information.

  10. I’m always a bit surprised at the vehemence regarding Facebook. While their default privacy settings are probably too wide open, there’s nothing preventing one from using it responsibly. For my own account I reset most items to private (but enough so people who actually know me can find me), and the biggest thing – I don’t use any apps. None. I “like” extremely little. The only people who can get at my info are Facebook (the data does have to live somewhere) and my friends.

    Nothing about Facebook forces you to be an idiot online and broadcast personal and private details to corporations willy-nilly. Just like any other tool it can be used well, and it can be used poorly. Just because I’ve hit my thumb with a hammer doesn’t mean I’m tossing it out.

    All of that said, Facebook has been transformative for me. Post-college everyone spreads to the four corners of the earth, and Facebook gives me a simple way to keep up with their lives. I’m back in touch with people I’d lost contact with for 15 years, and it’s rekindled some genuine friendships. Many of these people live thousands of miles away. None of that would have happened without Facebook.

    In stark contrast to the rest of the internet, I also find some of the most friendly, civilized discussion on Facebook, and I’ve got friends spanning Tea Party, local Democratic Party presidents, classic Republicans, and Libertarians. It’s kind of amazing after years on the internet watching people act like human beings toward each other again.

      1. And what’s not classy about that? ;-)

        Okay, *my* Facebook page is civilized. But then again, so are my friends. :-)

  11. The fact Facebook is a highly configurable, powerful tool for families, friends, musicians, artists and (sigh) even writers, seems to be irrelevant to the tools that prefer to proclaim their self-righteous indignation at every opportunity, where little is good enough for them and everything is flawed (except their own value system, of course). My only reaction can be: meh.

  12. Why demonize Facebook for an author? Privacy??? An author WANTS PUBLICITY — otherwise, why bother with a web site in the first place.

    Also, how else is an author supposed to get a “I am working on a new book — look for it in six months” message to his fans? Are fans supposed to remember to check the web site of every author that they like every month or so? Mailing lists are not an answer for some people because they are afraid of being spammed. Yet it is easy to post a message on Facebook where all of your fans have the opportunity to see it.

    I am not defending Facebook’s deplorable privacy practices when it comes to private people. However, if you are actually looking for publicity, then Facebook makes a lot of sense.

    1. I’d think that an author wants publicity for his role as an author, not for his private life.

      Personally. I don’t care for author’s private life. Not even for their political leanings, unless they rub them into my face and they smell bad.

      But they do have some and they may want to share this with friends, colleagues and family. If they have a tool to do this so I can read about their next plans for their books w/out boring me with their trip to Hintertupfingen or that they really, really like fried eggs, I’m all for it.

  13. i bought 10 years more hosting (after already having a domain for six years) back in february for about $550 @ about $3.80/mo. for not a lot more you can buy something just this side of a vps for $5.50/mo if you buy it in 5 year installments. if you wait for a sale you can usually buy a domain name for $5/year. this is not a huge chunk of cash for a decade of online presence. in my case I am able to pay the hosting cost and then some, just by sparingly using affiliate links. additionally, you can host multiple domains from a single hosting account in 99% of situations.

    once it’s bought and paid for you don’t have to budget for it. it’s yours. it’s a cheap cost and things like ftp access with hundreds of GB of storage mean you don’t have to worry about email attachment size, etc.

  14. I love all the Facebook fans who immediately take any criticism of the platform as heresy. Firstly, as others have already mentioned, maintaining a website is not a particularly expensive thing. Reliable hosting will set you back ~$100 a year for more bandwidth and storage than you could possibly use. Some domains set you back only $10 a year. If you are smart about it you can even share hosting cost amongst friends. It also gives you the ability to operate an FTP server where you can easily dump or transfer files.

    Secondly, the author of this post isn’t saying that a FB page is bad, but by means of comparison there are far more benefits to running your own site than running a FB page. In the end the internet is about exposure. If a company or person has a site and a FB page they immediately seem more legitimate.

    Doesn’t the phrase “that’s designed to teach you” imply an intent on Facebook’s part?
    @IrishPidge: That is exactly the purpose. Facebook stands to benefit by teaching its users to share more information. It makes their user base more attractive to marketers. They are training you to devalue your privacy whether you like it or not.

    seems to be irrelevant to the tools that prefer to proclaim their self-righteous indignation at every opportunity
    ^Says the guy who is expressing his self-righteous indignation.

    The fact remains that anything you put on FB is not guaranteed to be there in the future. You have no true control over what happens with the pages and info you spent time creating. If the Zuck decides tomorrow that he’s gonna scrap a feature… whatcha gonna do about it? Nothing. There is nothing you can do. You don’t control the availability of what you put there.

    A good analogy is billboard vs. noticeboard. If you fork out for a billborad to advertise your product there is no guarantee that a particular person will travel past the billboard and get exposure to your product. If you put an ad on a (real-world) community noticeboard then you know there will be a certain set of people who will see and read it, but the owner of the noticeboard can take down your notice, or the board down at any time.

    No one is saying don’t make a FB page. The author is merely saying don’t only make a FB page which is *very *good *advice. There are a whole set of people who never use Facebook. Many companies block anything FB. Anyone interested in exposure would want to reach those people as well.

  15. You know, you could get a facebook page and just not put anything on it that you consider private. Especially if you’re famous.

    First rule of privacy: don’t do private stuff in public.

  16. i fail to see where he recommends getting a FB page…he said its 2011 and now your choice is FB, the guess part I’m guessing means that he would choose a domain over FB…

  17. In each of those cases, the best option is BOTH if possible. Some people get stuck on Facebook, MySpace, whatever the latest thing is, and they don’t venture “out” to other places. Capture them by having some presence at their preferred venue, capture others who are specifically seeking you by having your own venue. Develop new presence on Twitter or Foursquare or wherever the @hipsters are hanging out, as long as it’s free. Frickin publicity, how does that work?

  18. I think in the case of authors the concern isn’t so much about privacy but about the continuity of your content and also perhaps copyright issues.

    If you’re an author and posted your writings on Geocities, Friendster etc, you’ve had to either migrate that content or it’s lost while if you had posted it on your domain you would have no such issues and a record of your writing spanning decades by now.

    Also, to the people that mention that FB has privacy settings you can implement I have to ask you how many people you know that actually know about or know how to use those settings. They’re fragmented, contradictory and arcane. The very people that need to configure that stuff the most are the ones least likely to know how to go about doing that effectively. This is by design, don’t kid yourselves.

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