How does all this compare with the volume of commentary and information I've contributed to my own web sites, including this blog and www.adamlasnik.net? Ack! Let's just say that the imbalance is at least initially rather shocking and depressing.
Nearly all of my words... shared not in my cyberhome, but everywhere else?! At the end of the day, what do I have to show for this, other than a widely scattered smattering of AdamBits here and there, just blips on the planets of giants and potentially-future-giants?
Yet... all of those other sites clearly offer a lot of value, or I and millions of others wouldn't be spending so much time, contributing so much of our knowledge and so many of our (hopefully useful) opinions to them, right? Indeed. Among other benefits, we get...
- Recs: Oft-improved (personalized) recommendations based upon our input
- Visibility: Seen by interesting / important / attractive people who might be impressed by our brilliant commentary :p
- ...and, more seriously, seen a lot more people than when we post on our own, much less popular blogs
- ...and from the exposure, sometimes extra contract work or even full-time job offers
- More time to write: Freed from having to maintain / structure / security-update our own self-hosted site
- Less friction: The opportunity to offer contributions in handy little bite-sized chunks (whereas writing even a single blog post can be hard work and take a long time!)
- Good karma: A happy feeling from widely sharing our knowledge and opinions with others who are likely to be specifically interested in such topics. My post reviewing a specific Zürich hotel on my own web site? Maybe 25 people have seen it. Had I posted the same review on TripAdvisor, for instance, I bet it would have gotten at least 10-20x the views (and thus helped more people).
In a nutshell, contributing our thoughts on someone else's site is easy, painless, and often philanthropic in a way.
So what are we giving up by posting elsewhere instead of aggregating our expertise on our own sites? (for the sake of argument, I'm assuming it's too cumbersome to successfully do both)
- Ad revenue.
- Stats/analytics: More detailed insights into the popularity of our writings.
- Longevity of our expressions. What happens if and when Quora goes away, for instance? Sure, if they're nice, they'll enable us to export our contributions ahead of time, but that data set'll be largely out of context and frankly not all that usable anymore. In contrast, by forcing ourselves to write coherent, standalone blog posts, we are the ones in control over our words. Even if Blogger were to go kaput, I could pretty easily export my posts in advance, and they'd be just as valuable posted on another service. Even service closures aside, on a well-organized site a piece of expression can remain visible and useful for visitors, whereas a post on Twitter or Facebook, for instance, has a half-life of, hmm, maybe three days?
- Focus. When we contribute our thoughts on other sites, we're more typically reactive... responding to others' questions, replying on an existing forum thread, etc. If one were to somehow magically compile all of one's contributions across the web into a big blog, it'd look like... ugh... long-form twitter! :p. And while blogs (yes, like mine here) can also be all over the place topically, there are also numerous options for creating a thematic blog or site which can ideally be structured and coherent as a whole.
- Centralized identity. There's something positive to be said about having a single "YouHome" where you can direct prospective employers, new friends, buddies you meet at hostels, etc. Then again, there's admittedly also a downside to having a conveniently single place where prospective employers, new friends, and so on can GoogleStalk you.
So obviously there's no right answer here. But at minimum, we should be contributing to the great interwebs with awareness... at least cognizant of the benefits and disadvantages inherent in either building up someone else's business with our words or "hoarding" our words in a cyberplace we own.
What do you think? Are you concerned about the tradeoffs described above? Have I overlooked any pluses or minuses associated with contributing knowledge other other sites vs. one's own?