What is a silo?

Disagreeing with Jatan Mehta, I argue that WordPress.com's domain ownership and content portability offer effective audience engagement and control.

I read Jatan Mehta's argument about WordPress.com, and while I respect his perspective, I must respectfully disagree with some of his statements. Let me offer a rebuttal to address the concerns in his article Medium, WordPress.com and social platforms are siloes you should try avoiding.

Jatan Mehta asserts that blogging on platforms like WordPress.com can lead to being "semi-locked-in" regarding owning the connection to your audience. He’s conveniently found a way to apply the "semi-locked-in" label to WordPress.com by focusing on how mailing lists are managed. He argues that social media platforms often make it difficult to move your followers to a new platform and that WordPress.com and Medium have adopted similar tactics, hindering portability. He conveniently ignores that as long as you own your domain, your "followers" can always find you.

Before I start, one major issue with Jatan's article is the comparison of WordPress.com, a blogging platform and content management system, with microblogging and social messaging platforms like micro.blog. It's crucial to recognise that WordPress.com doesn't include any social messaging features – it never has. He might as well be comparing pawpaw and papaya. I don’t think anyone in the IndieWeb community would apply the word "silo" to self-hosted WordPress websites.

While I understand the concern about maintaining a connection with your audience, Jatan's argument overlooks some important aspects of using WordPress.com and similar blogging platforms. Let's delve into these points:

  1. Standardisation and Portability: Jatan acknowledges that blogs are largely standardised, allowing easy movement from one platform to another. This is even easier if your website has a domain name. This is a crucial advantage of blogging platforms like WordPress.com. Unlike social media platforms, where your content's fate is tied to the platform's existence, a blog can be exported in a format other platforms can understand. Thus, even if WordPress.com were to suspend your account (an unlikely scenario for most users who adhere to platform guidelines), you still have the option to take your content and migrate it elsewhere without losing your valuable thoughts and contributions.
  2. Audience Ownership: Jatan raises concerns about owning the connection with your readers and followers on WordPress.com. The idea that you "own your followers" bothers me. While it's true that some blogging platforms, such as Medium, force you to retain followers within their ecosystem, it's essential to consider that your primary means of communication with your audience on WordPress.com is through your content – your blog posts. Your readers subscribe to your blog and follow you (via RSS) to receive updates directly from you. While there might be other mechanisms like "Follow" buttons or email subscription lists, the heart of your connection with your audience remains rooted in the content you produce, not just the platform-specific features. Regarding Jatan's notion of exporting his micro.blog followers and forcing them to follow him on another platform is far-fetched. How exactly does he plan to make that work? Again, The idea that you "own your followers" bothers me.
  3. Diverse Engagement Options: WordPress.com provides multiple avenues for engaging with your audience. While some may prefer direct email subscriptions or RSS feeds, others might find value in following your blog through the platform's built-in "Follow" mechanism. Different people have different preferences, and offering a variety of options can be advantageous in reaching a broader audience. Automattic has acquired the ActivityPub plug-in! With this development, I'm confident that WordPress.com will soon be able to facilitate rich conversations with Mastodon instances. This integration holds great promise for enhancing the platform's capabilities and fostering more dynamic interactions across the web. Remember that engagement methods should complement one another rather than create a rigid either/or choice.
  4. Medium's Algorithmic Challenge: Jatan highlights his struggles with Medium's algorithm, which impacts the visibility of his posts to his followers. While algorithmic challenges can affect content reach on some platforms, this is not an inherent limitation of all blogging platforms, including micro.blog and WordPress.com. The reach on micro.blog is noticeably lower compared to other platforms. The community size is relatively small, and Manton's intentional design choices constrain the behaviours that expand reach. WordPress.com, for instance, provides various ways to optimise your content's discoverability, such as SEO tools, tags, and categories, but the platform lacks any algorithmic system. Engaging with your audience through WordPress.com is a more direct and transparent process compared to social media algorithms, where your content's reach is often at the mercy of platform-specific algorithms.
  5. RSS and Email: Jatan mentions RSS and email subscribers as the solution to platform lock-in. He’s on the right path to how to avoid platform lock-in, whether micro.blog or otherwise. He conveniently ignores that WordPress.com supports both. WordPress.com supports RSS follows via JetPack’s Reader. They call this feature "follow". As a WordPress.com user, I can follow any blog vis RSS feed, whether hosted on WordPress.com or micro.blog. Anyone can sign-up to get my newsletter. They don’t need a WordPress.com account to do so. When I want to leave WordPress.com, I can export all the email addresses to a CSV file and import them into my new platform. I can export all my JetPack Reader follows as an OPML file and follows those blog in another RSS aggregator.
  6. Comments: There's an important distinction to be made when leaving comments on micro.blog posts versus WordPress.com websites. On micro.blog, leaving a comment to a blog post requires having a micro.blog account, whereas on WordPress.com, no account is needed to leave a comment. WordPress.com relies on the Akismet service, which has proven incredibly effective in keeping spam at bay. After over 20 years of using WordPress, I can confidently say that Akismet has not failed me. It's a reliable tool that ensures the comments section remains a clean and engaging space for readers and bloggers alike.

Manton wrote about silos in his book:

Not all centralized services are silos. The key trait of silos is isolation. Silos wall-off and limit our control over content, usually by storing all content at the silo’s own domain name rather than allowing personal domain names.

Jatan's's preference for email and RSS-based direct engagement with his audience is valid. I’ve always encouraged my readers to use RSS. Additionally, the portability and standardisation of WordPress.com blogs ensure that my content remains under my control. While platforms may offer additional engagement options, the primary connection with your audience lies in the value of your content. Embracing diverse methods of engaging with your audience can amplify your reach and impact, making blogging platforms like WordPress.com valuable tools for building an online presence and sharing your thoughts with the world.

As Manton said in his book under the section, Owning your content.

I think in the tech world — and especially as programmers — we tend to make things more complicated than they need to be. We know too much about content ownership, most of it irrelevant for mainstream users.

If you want to control your content on the web, post it at your own personal domain name. That’s it. Everything else you want to do is icing on the cake.

Owning your content isn’t about portable software. It’s about portable URLs and data. It’s about domain names.

When you write and post photos at your own domain name, your content can outlive any one blogging platform. In all the years of blogging at manton.org, I’ve switched blogging platforms and hosting providers a few times. The posts and URLs can all be preserved through those changes because it’s my own domain name.

If you can’t use your own domain name, you can’t own it. Your content will be forever stuck at those silo URLs, beholden to the whims of the algorithmic timeline and shifting priorities of the executive team.

I’ve had my domain for over 20 years, and this blog has lived on UserLand Manila, Blogger, WordPress.com, and MoveableType before I settled on self-hosted WordPress. I'll never be locked in as long as I can export my content and my audience can access RSS.

NOTE: Both @moonmehta and I are part of the micro.blog community. I supported the original Kickstarter! However, it's worth mentioning that my primary website is self-hosted WordPress. For those interested in a self-hostable, single-user, IndieWeb-friendly open-source software microblogging platform that you 100% control, check out microblog.pub.

Author: Khürt Williams

I work in application security architecture and I live in Montgomery Township, New Jersey with my wife Bhavna. Passionate about photography, you’ll find me writing about cybersecurity, tropical aquariums, terrariums, hiking, craft breweries, and capturing birds on camera. My prose is like a caffeinated squirrel—fast, unpredictable, and occasionally insightful.

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