Juha-Matti Santala
Community Builder. Dreamer. Adventurer.

Why a personal site rather than social media presence?

Kev Quirk started a discussion with Why Have a Personal Site Instead of Social Media? in which he answered a question that he was asked in Mastodon. As an advocate for personal web, I want to add my two cents on top of what Kev listed in his post.

The original question by Jason was:

I am always a little curious as to the point of a personal webpage when you can rely on social media for a presence. What is your primary motivator for investing the time and effort?

Ownership & decision-making power

For Kev, the main reason to have a personal site is ownership. When you are only using social sites, you are completely relying on their decisions and whims. A site might go down, change direction, drop features or let people you don’t want to associate with run amok in the platform. All of these are potential reasons for you to lose what makes being on that platform worth while.

If a platform decides to start hiding your posts from people you’ve connected with because you’re not paying them or because you’re linking to external sites or because your creations are not attention-seeking enough, you have very little power to fix the situation.

This is especially scary if you’re building your career or business relying on these platforms. Putting your eggs into one basket – someone else’s basket I might add – puts your business completely at the mercy of another business and in case of hacking or getting banned, you might lose everything and have to start from the scratch. Even if you use social media to grow your audience, make sure you have a place where you can capture that audience, interact with it and build relationships with them.

I agree with Kev here. For me, one big reason to have my own site where I can share my thoughts in various formats (like my blog or Weeklies or guides) is that I can skip the middleman and the algorithm. I still use social media – although less and less these days – to share those thoughts and to participate in discussions.


Another reason is permanence that Kev mentions but I want to dig a bit deeper. Social media is short-lived, fast-paced and in most places, it’s really hard to find anything that’s older than a few days or weeks. The feed is the main feature and unless you’re there right when things happen, it’s likely you miss them altogether.

With a personal site, the blog posts have a way longer “shelf life”. My posts from 4-5 years or even longer ago are still valuable and easy to find and share. They still gather readers who find them useful or entertaining so what I write and share on my site doesn’t get lost in the feed within minutes.

It’s not a feature that everyone values though. As Morten writes in Blogging is dead. Long live ephemerality.:

A pivotal moment came when I discussed social media sharing with some younger relatives. I told them about how I publish content online and they looked at me in incredulity. “Why would you bother posting something on your blog?” they asked. “Nobody is going to see that!” I tried to explain that yes, people do see it and they shrugged. “Sure, when you post tutorials and stuff, people see it. But that’s not blogging. That’s … publishing. When I post stuff, it’s for my friends, for my followers. And it’s not forever. It’s for right now. If they see it, great. If not, their loss.”

Playground to experiment on

Especially for a web developer, a personal site is a great place to have because it will allow you to experiment with new technologies in a safe way where there are no deadlines, no need to pick tech based on its business value or to worry about breaking something.

I contribute a ton of my early career learning to building personal sites and experimenting in them. And I still do. This site is like a laboratory for all my weird experiments because I don’t have to think about them being valuable or long-term viable. I can build something for a weekend and then the next weekend scrap it and build something new.

Matthias Ott writes about this in Into the Personal-Website-Verse:

Building things for your own site is so worthwhile because you are allowed to make mistakes and learn without pressure. If it doesn’t work today, well, maybe it’ll work tomorrow. It doesn’t matter. And so it was on my own site that I, too, wrote my first service worker, that I first tried out CSS Grid, that I designed and implemented a custom syntax highlighting theme, that I set up an RSS/Atom and JSON feed, that I wrote three plugins for Craft CMS in PHP/Yii, and Twig, with one of those plugins adding Webmention support to my site. I also learned a ton about accessibility, performance optimization, or web font loading. All of which I then could put to use in my day-to-day work as a designer and developer.

Matthias also writes the lovely Own Your Web newsletter that I recommend checking out if you want to learn why a lot of other people share this passion of ours. Especially the third issue, Life-changing is a good one to start from.

No middleman, no recommendation algorithm

To add to Kev’s list, I have a couple of points of my own. First one is my distain for social feeds generated by recommendation algorithms that are tuned to benefit the company, not the user. In my blog post What does it feel like to read RSS feeds? from earlier this month, I talked about this from the perspective of following blogs through RSS feeds rather than social channels:

For writers, it means you can write when you feel like it and when you have something to say and you know people who subscribe to you will see your post with equal standing compared to everything else. For readers, it means the people you follow don’t need to publish for the sake of publishing and staying relevant. I believe that helps increase the quality and depth of the writing. You don’t need to worry about missing their post if they only post twice a year because it will come to your feed.

Having my own site and publishing my thoughts here, I can decide what gets shown, what is prioritized and what gets a spotlight. Not someone else and their recommendation algorithms.

A home address

My website is the place where I can point anyone interested to. It’s like my home address, in the web. As long as I pay my domain bills and keep the domain pointed to a site I control, people don’t need to learn my new account names or which platform I’m blogging this month.

You can find my Youtube channel at https://hamatti.org/youtube and my Mastodon account at https://hamatti.org/@hamatti and they will always redirect you to my current account even if I switch accounts or instances.

I’ve had my current domain for over a decade and I have no intentions of letting it go. Even if my website in its current format changes as I expect it to do over time, you’ll always find me at hamatti.org. I find that extremely powerful.

Even if you don’t plan to build a full website and start blogging, at least buy a domain, build a page that links to your other online presence. That way you can get started with little work and when you start to get ideas that don’t quite fit into any social platforms you’re in, you have a place to put it – and people you’ve shared your address before already know where to find you.

Access in open web

One aspect that I completely forgot to mention is that things that are shared on a website in open web are accessible to everyone without needing an account on a specific platform. This used to be very different even just a couple of years ago but then almost all the platforms locked their gates and it’s harder and harder to access posts that are linked by others if you’re not on the platform the original post is.

For personal posts, you might be okay limiting your posts to a specific audience but once again, if you run any kind of business, only having your information accessible to users of particular platform is going to hurt a lot.

Back in the day, every business made a page in Facebook and that was all most of them have. Now, as some part of population have left Facebook and younger generations never even joined in similar numbers as the previous generations, these businesses effectively disappear from the web.

Big thanks to glyn for reminding me of this.

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