I’m an admirer of Ev Williams. When he founded it, Blogger was an innovative platform — one of the first to bring accessible online publication to non-technical users. I use Twitter — also co-founded by Williams — dozens of times a day. His most recent project, Medium, continues his commitment to make publishing online as easy and elegant an experience as possible.
Nevertheless, I think he’s dead wrong when he says:
The idea won’t be to start a website. That will be dead. The individual website won’t matter. The Internet is not going to be about billions of people going to millions of websites. It will be about getting it from centralized websites.
Williams is talking about the dominance of the platform over the website. Medium is a platform. Facebook is a platform. Platforms are online entities that give people the tools to publish content and put it front of million of peoples. There’s nothing wrong with that in theory, and we all use platforms every day, but there’s a fly in the ointment.
Relying exclusively on a platform gives the platform owners control over your content.
A couple of months ago, Medium changed. Its focus moved from the publication of content to a more social environment in which the goal was not to create the best possible work, but to publish and share thoughts and respond to the writing of others.
As a consequence, Medium laid off many of its writers and editors. Its magazines were closed down. Williams’ vision for Medium isn’t the problem, but that vision is a consequence of incentives that don’t necessarily align with the interests of creatives. Medium — and other platforms — live, die, and pivot according to movements over which no individual creative or collective of creatives has any control.
Platforms are not accountable to you as a writer, blogger, photographer, artist, developer, or designer.
Websites are a different. You could construe web hosting as a platform, but there are differences. You own the data you upload to a web hosting company. It’s usually in a form that can easily be moved elsewhere if need be. Although the quality of the services that web hosts offer can vary widely, most use standard open source technology, which means creatives can move their content at will.
Platforms fund themselves by monetizing your content. They cream off some of the value that might otherwise accrue to you. Web hosting companies have a different business model. They have no interest in monetizing your content, because they are paid directly. That creates an entirely different set of incentives — ones that privilege the interests of clients.
Web sites will not die because they offer businesses and creatives control over their content, how it is displayed, and how it is monetized. Platforms have a valuable part to play in content promotion and engagement, but the traditional website will remain the hub of the wheel with platforms like Facebook, Medium, Twitter as the spokes.