Owning My Data

This post is dedicated to Aaron Jorbin, who donated to help me get to WCSF. Aaron knows that haters gone hate and never lets that stop him. Also: We’ll always have schwarma.

BricksThere is a reason people call me a Tin Foil Hat. First, I do have a small tinfoil square in my hat (as a joke) but also I have a ‘thing’ about owning my own data, which in turn has surprisingly helped my ‘SEO’ and ‘brand’ over the years.

While I often cross post links to my content on other sites like Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Livejournal and Google, my content primarily lives on my sites. I link back and share some content, but the content is mine and it lives with me on my sites that I pay for, maintain, and support. I really like to be in charge of my data and how it behaves. That’s why I crafted my own mailing list from WordPress and RSS2email, why I use Yourls, and pretty much why the only data I ever outsource is analytics, even though I could use my own.

Analytics is funny. I have a lot of tools on my server, but frankly they suck. If someone open sourced GA and I could install it on my server, I’d probably use that. I’ve used all the locally installed Analytics tools, and just never really been fond of the interface. Right now, I have GA on my sites and it’s actually the only Google interface I use, save ‘Webmasters’ which is just there in case I get blacklisted.

You see, I don’t trust Google. I don’t like how they, like Facebook, take all your data. I don’t like their ads which screwed me over big time last year, and I switched to Project Wonderful. I make less money, but I get to approve my ads. Google Ads hit me hard when I said I didn’t want any religious ads on my site. Suddenly my profit went from $60-100 a month to $10-20 1. The point of this is, the larger a company gets, the more funny rules and regulations they end up following. If you read Jane Well’s ‘A Tale of Two Brothers’ and how it relates to construction and development, basically Google started as Brother #2, and are now Brother #1. There’s a time and a place for both brothers, sometimes in the same project. And with each brother, you have a comfort level. Some people love flying by the seat of their pants. Others prefer to have a plan. Some of us just want to wear a hat. This comes into play, for me, when I consider my personal data and content.

One of the schools of thought is that social media is for being social, and your website is for complex, static, content. There is a lot of line blurring these days that didn’t exist back when we just posted on our blogs and replied to comments. Now we can leave comments, or tweet, or share, or a hundred other ways to push our information out there. We have options on how to communicate with our readers. How many of us end up responding to comments on Facebook and Twitter, as well as our blogs? It’s nearly at a point of information overload, and we don’t know where to post this content. There’s clearly a need to balance out your brand promotion and your brand. Will you be diluting your brand by posting all over the place? How do you drive the readers back to your site, engage them, and keep them coming back for more?

This is where you need to own your data.

Obviously it’s a good thing to post to Twitter and Facebook and Google+. These are avenues to connect with people, but you need to follow up on them. Recently I had an odd experience with hotels, where a handful tweeted me, asked for contact info to help me with ‘deals’ and never followed up, except for one, who did email me, and got me a great rate, $40 off their normal ‘low’ rate. Guess which hotel I’ll be using? What made this odder was that they said I could get better rates at their website than at places like Kayak or Orbitz. We all know the pain of a hotel is finding one and comparing prices, right? Travelocity and Orbitz said $167, Kayak said $199. I ended up getting $167 but through the company’s website directly. They cleverly both played the system (getting two of the three sites to show accurate prices) and offering the same deal on theirs. By owning their data and content, and letting these other sites feed into their site, they’ve won. They communicated, they contacted, and they put up accurate information that led me back to their site where, indeed, they made a sale (and the likelihood for a repeat visitor).

Owning your data is controlling your presence. It’s not just remembering not to post that awesome information in just one place, it’s knowing how to ensure that your face is seen, the content is shared, and in no way does it misrepresent you. That last one is why I like to use my own short URLs, and why I dislike Facebook and Google. Think about the advertising on Facebook and Google (and now Twitter). You don’t get to say ‘Never show people ads for things I find reprehensible or scammy.’

Weather.com Ads

Weather.com Ads

Personally I think the world would be better if every company said ‘No more get rich quick ads, or ‘With this one secret tip…’ or outright scams.’ Weather.com is notorious for this. Looking at the ad I screencapped, you can see things that no one in their right mind would click on. And yet these things clearly ‘sell’ or Weather.com would have scrapped them years ago. They feel the trade off between ugly, scammy ads and free content is fair, so they show the ads.

There are times when not owning your data is alright, but generally those run towards sharing your social media and any analytics. I mentioned analytics before. It’s not just that I don’t like any of the tools I could install on my server, it’s that Google does it better. There are multiple layers I can peel through, and if you’re an analytic junkie, that’s what you want to use.

Any time you come to a place where you have to decide between owning your own data and letting someone else be the master of your domain, I strongly lean towards self-ownership.

Notes:

  1. For what it’s worth, I make the same money now on Project Wonderful and feel better about the ads.
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Comments

  1. I quite generally agree with you. It amazes me how even large companies, that should really have brand managers or whatever, are pushing people away from their own websites and into the “social media” world.
    It amazes me how companies and people have “special offers”, only available via FaceBook or whichever flavour of the month social website.

    I don’t object to using these websites, but I think it’s very strange when companies or individuals are driving people away from their own websites to these third-party websites!

    My content, on my website. My brand. Me. Not FaceBook, not Twitter, not MySpace or Google Plus, or any other.

    On the subject of analytics, if you are happy with GA, you may also be happy with Piwik. It’s also a JavaScript system,but rather than the JS coming from Google, and sending data back to Google, it is hosted on your own website, and sends data to a PHP/MySQL system on your own server. I’ve not used it, but I’ve heard good things about it.

    (Personally, I have needs/wants that aren’t covered by any JS analytics software. So I don’t use any of them.)

    • I recently installed logaholic on my server, and I’ve been experimenting with that. It manages to record the whole server, regardless of ‘domain’ source, so I see halfelf and ipstenu all mingled together. I have to sort out how to report that better.

  2. I think I’ll try project wonderfull :)

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