Aug 1, 2020
I've found myself an interesting problem space. Something that I can personally relate to. Something that I want to fix in the world. So what is sharecropping? It's like when the king would lend you a piece of land, which you and your family cultivated, and in return were allowed to keep a small percentage of its produce. There's an analogy to the digital age. Platforms like Medium keep most and often all of the revenue to themselves. We create the content with our sweat and toil, and we give it to these platforms for free, in exchange for what, likes and "followers"?
What are likes? Instant gratification. Social approval. Nothing to see here. What are followers? You could argue that's power. You get the power to reach a large number of people, influence their thinking, and possibly turn that influence into cash or favors. Now, remember Blogger? Remember Tumblr? What happened to all your followers from back then? You lost them. Platforms are like empires. They come and they go. We never know how long they will last. Another thing might have lost is your data. All those blog posts, with no easy export function.
So what is king? King is having the web traffic going through a domain you control. It's owning your data, but also controlling it. If you have users coming directly to your domain, you can place ads (if you'd like), you can add a call to action (which Medium forbids), and ultimately you can forward those visitors to another page, or another URL entirely. You have complete control over the platform you use to communicate with your audience. You own the platform. You are the platform.
I don't know about you, but I've had 4 email addresses in my lifetime. First one was from my local internet provider. Second was a yahoo one. Third one was my GMail one. And finally I own my domain name and the mail traffic going through it. Given, when I had my first and second addresses, I didn't have any businesses to take care of. So losing those contacts was not a big deal. But right now I am transitioning from GMail to my custom domain, and I'll tell you, IT'S HARD. Empires come and go—Google shall go too. I still use GMail because it pretty much rocks, but I have email forwarding set up. @gunargessner.com -> @gmail.com. I own the domain. I own the mail traffic. I can forward these mails anywhere. If I want to start using Protonmail, I can simply forward emails there. I own the platform. I am the platform.
So that gives us two platforms we can own. Web traffic and mail traffic. Of all the technically-able people in the world, a certain percentage of them have awareness of the problem (like me or Mark Shust). So that's the first problem. Creating awareness. There are people who know how to set up the most amazing event-based architecture on AWS, but haven't yet fully appreciated the value of owning the platform. Being the platform. And I'd tell you that I'd even consider myself guilty of relying on Twitter too much. (Once I was close to 600 followers I started counting each follow and unfollow and I'll tell you, that's more addicting than rewarding).
This one guy sent me to blockchain-land. Because "that's how we're going to own our data." But here's the thing, that is the furthest away possible from what I want to accomplish. I want to help non-technical people to own their data and their platform, and blockchain has the perennial problem of having terrible user experience. There are benefits to be had today, mainly by hosting your content under your domain name. I don't want to single handedly disrupt the market. I don't want to create the future. I just want the future to be more evenly distributed.
Ghost.org seems to do a pretty good job at this, as long as you close your eyes to two points. Firstly, it doesn't help you in owning your data. Let me explain. Yes, it's easy to export the JSON with all your blog posts. But to the layman, non-technical person, JSON is meaningless. It's an unformatted file that "doesn't even have headings! Or folders or files! Where's my data?" Secondly, you still need to register the domain yourself, and do this "DNS thing about pointing something at some numbers" yourself.
So I'm thinking, is there perhaps space for a product with an even better user experience? I'm thinking something like this. 1) Similar to Ghost.org but would register the domain for you (and sets up DNS etc). 2) Similar to Ghost.org but with continuous sync of your posts into your Google Drive as GDocs files—GDocs should be something that feels "solid" to everyone, right? 3) Similar to Ghost but create email forwarding for you à la anonaddy.com.
A platform like this would give you control over your platform (web and email) and over your data. A platform like this should, in theory, be easy to use by pretty much any internet user. A platform like this would help the layman escape digital sharecropping.
Now, is that something that enough laymen would value, in order to create a business around it? Do they value having control over the platform? Do they value having control over their data? Only the former? Only the latter? Both? To be continued.