I had a lovely vacation, and returned with a couple of lovely thoughts about communicating from solid ground.
You know, the wise man built his house on the rock, the foolish man built his on sand (or wrote in the sky.)
While there are many facets and layers to this, they all boil down to one thing: do you own it?
Those of you on wordpress.com or blogspot.com domains, are building on someone else’s sand.
Those of you on Twitter and Facebook are building your reputation on someone elses’s sand.
And sand shifts.
Links and Trust
When the dunes move, they can tear down things you’ve built.
I made a decision a few months ago to build my own link shortener, using an open-source script that I housed on my own server space. (It’s not my physical server box in my house, but if I rent it and own the data, then I can export it. Not quite sand…)
At the time, there was much discussion about how link shorteners can be used to hide malware, and the issue of trust remains a big one with me. If you ever see an http://ike4.me link out in the wild, you can rest assured that only two people might have created it. It was either me, or my friend Adam Daniel Mezei. You don’t have to worry about whether it was a malware link that someone foisted on me, that is automatically coming to infect you.
There is a larger trust factor involved too. I hesitated writing about this, but I had been consulting with my friends at the American Red Cross and the Centers for Disease Control for a while, discussing the benefits of having custom URL shorteners. In a major disaster or pandemic, there is a great benefit in knowing that the public health advice being offered is truly from a trusted source. (I didn’t write about this in the open, for fear that idiot speculators would jump out and grab all of the good obvious short URLs and hold the organizations hostage for a sale.) But seeing a shortened link with rc4.us (or some variation) would carry a lot more merit, and people would be more inclined to act on it and share it.
Trust and Consistency Matter
Before you dismiss this, you need to understand how crucial the elements of trust and consistency are in a time of public confusion. When you see conflicting statements from organizations, it rapidly promotes inaction for the very people you are trying to help.
- Do we save one gallons of water per person, or two?
- Does frozen food stay frozen for 24 hours or 60?
- Do we need food for one week or three?
After a while, it is too confusing to sort out, and paralysis ensues.
Imagine what the next big public health issue will look like. The Red Cross and the CDC — who have been very diligent about making their messages uniform. During disasters, the Red Cross works with FEMA for the same reasons.
But you know as well as I do that those messages will get drowned out by all of the well-meaning bloggers and contributors who dig up their old versions of documents, some of which were never right to begin with, and sharing them across the internet. In a major disaster, a large segment of the population will turn to Huffington Post and other high-traffic sites, and consider what they see there.
Which is why the branded link shortener can be so very important.
The Sand that Shifted
Yesterday, Twitter unveiled an upcoming feature, whereby all links in Tweets will be “wrapped” by a link with the t.co domain.
When Twitter began, the default shortener was (the now gargantuan) tinyurl.com, then it switched to bit.ly. The difference now is that every link will apparently be washed through Twitter’s shortener service, and will appear as a t.co.
Twitter is offering a benefit, namely it will screen out the malware links which made trust an issue in the beginning. But I submit that it doesn’t solve the other trust issues remaining, and it leaves Twitter vulnerable. Now if a piece of malware does squeeze through, Twitter is indeed culpable because it has made the pledge to stop that. Also, there will be issues with false positives, and the possibility that really scummy Black Hat SEO types will figure out how to temporarily get their competitors on the Twitter black-list.
http://ike4.me will still work for me, but it now gives me no real advantage. And I would have to think that the bit.ly and awe.sm services that have been offering premium-level service to nyti.ms and huff.to and others will feel the pain. After all, why should the New York Times bother promoting a service that brands its links, if no one sees the branding.
Yes, it’s only Twitter for now. But consider:
- Facebook has fb.me
- Google has goo.gl
- WordPress has wp.me
That’s what you get when you build on sand. And that’s why I want to own as much of my data as I can, and you ought to as well.