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Hell no, personal sites aren't dead!

A few days ago, venerable web designer (and standards advocate) Jeffrey Zeldman posted "The vanishing personal site". Jeffrey lamented the fact that a lot of people who, in the past, might have made personal web sites are instead sharing their thoughts, ideas and creations on social networking sites that they don't control. His post inspired an important conversation across the blogosphere and in media like Wired, which asked the question, "Is the all-in-one personal website headed for extinction?"

Our answer is: Hell no. Six Apart is a company founded in the rich tradition of personal sites on the web. Members of our team have been publishing personal sites continuously for a decade or more. We know that blogs have inherited the mantle of the personal website. We believe fundamentally in people controlling their own information online, and think this makes our platforms better for everyone from individuals to businesses.The promise, the greatest potential, of the web from its very beginning was that any of us could share and connect with friends, family, coworkers, colleagues or strangers around the world using websites and tools that we own and control ourselves.

We love social networking sites. We think they let us do great things. So we've spent years inventing the technology that lets any of us fully participate in social networking sites while still having full control of our information on today's personal sites. And today, we call these ultimate personal sites blogs.

This isn't just about aggregation. This is about smart, two-way connections between blogs as independent personal sites and the entire universe of social networking sites. It's an idea that's been referred to by many names, including "unified social networking", but it's a vision that's shared by any of us who have experienced that signature first moment of realization about a website: "I could make one of these!"

Connecting your blog to everything you do around the web

This isn't just some philosophical discussion -- we've already launched a number of projects to fulfill this vision of new, smarter personal sites that understand the world of social software. And the reality is, your friends are only going to belong to more and more social networks; The most popular networking sites change every year, but the fact that there are increasing numbers of networks doesn't. So here's what we've done to make it all manageable, and to let you use all of these sites while still having your data and your activity live on your own personal site.

  • Action Streams: This system, first available as a completely free and open source Movable Type plugin, lets you aggregate your activity from over 50 social sites across the web. And it's easy to add new services, so when community members wanted to import TripIt journeys or Fire Eagle locations or Amazon wishlists, they just get plugged into the system.
  • Blog It: Blog It is a free Facebook application that posts to your blog or microblogging service, keeping all your networks in sync. And when we say "your blog", we don't just mean our platforms -- Blog It, while powered by TypePad, works with Blogger and WordPress and Twitter and Pownce, in addition to Movable Type and TypePad and Vox. But a picture's worth a thousand words: Check out the Blog It introduction video to see for yourself.
  • Opening the Social Graph: One key aspect of controlling your social networking behavior on your own site is that you have to be able to declare and manage your relationships on your own site. We've worked with the entire community to enable this kind of data sharing while preventing any ugly surprises that can happen when you inadvertently reveal relationship information you didn't intend to share. That's been a consistent theme ever since we were the only partner to provide a completely opt-in implementation of Facebook's "Beacon".
  • Profiles Elsewhere: Every one of our platforms, from Movable Type to TypePad to Vox, has the simple but essential ability to publish links to a list of your profiles on other services. It's easy to take these little bits of connection for granted, but expressing those relationships in a format that web software can understand sets the groundwork for future innovations. And it takes a big step towards your personal site being the place that people go first to find you online, instead of a social networking site you don't control.
  • OpenID: We invented OpenID at Six Apart with the fundamental concept is that your web address is part of your identity, just like an email address. It's a point that's obvious to any of us who use our personal web sites on our business cards (or Moo cards!) to tell people who we are, but OpenID takes that concept and bakes it into the technological underpinnings of the web. And every one of our platforms has OpenID built-in, with more and better support to come in the future.
  • OAuth: This is sort of the software-focused counterpart to OpenID, based on the idea that smart services should automatically integrate into your blogging platform. Vox has done this since it was created -- you can insert Flickr photos or YouTube videos as easily as if they were built directly into Vox itself. And all of this is done with the idea that you shouldn't have to share your password just to share your ideas.
Of course, there's a lot more to come. All of these technologies are available today and are generally free and open source. Most importantly, all of this work speaks to our belief that our innovations should support independent personal web sites, and should honor the tradition of creative individuals being able to fully participate in the web while still retaining complete control and ownership over their ideas and information.

But there's a lot more to do: New networks are popping up every day, and we need to invent ways for us to have even more control over the neverending competition for our attention. There are a whole set of new challenges that we couldn't have imagined in the days when personal sites seemed like the simple and obvious way to have a presence online. The chanegs since then, though, highlight an important new opportunity: Personal websites aren't vanishing, they're evolving. We simply won't let something so important and essential to the web disappear.
May 3, 2008 4:14 AM

Anil, I know we've butted heads about CMS's, but I must say, I agree wholeheartedly with you on the issue of personal sites. I love personal sites, I love having my own domain and sanctuary on the web. I use a lot for links, but I still manage to churn out commentary every week or so. I do love blogs, but it's just not enough for me. Content is king.

May 9, 2008 1:02 PM

I think it's funny how people can just populate a site with their wacky opinions, call it a blog, and then call it a web site. After it was picked from a template that millions of others use. Death to the web designer. I'm one of them wondering what happened to the personal site. Look at band sites.. Poof, myspace.. Poof gone goodbye to the band site. As social networks come flying through the interwebs, we will just have more and more "average users" hopping on and making themselves look good. Thinking they know something about web design because they can change the bgcolor of their myspace page. I think it's more semantics than anything. I use social networks, but I also keep a personal web site. Of course making webs back in 99, that's about all you really needed to make one for. Thanks for the article..

vhiel said:
May 12, 2008 2:44 AM

Personal sites will always be there. But I think it's more of an open diary. People just write about anything. But, I don't think it is going to go away.

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Laura said:
May 15, 2008 8:55 AM

I've had personal sites for years. Make my own template, or at least my own graphics and look for it. I'm on Blogger. Came here looking for help to migrate to MT. I used MT a few years ago when WP was unknown. I still prefer MT and would like to move it all to my own domain, which I already have.

I think the reasons there are fewer personal sites are the time and energy they take for something which is a hobby and frequently getting bashed as being worthless and half-assed. How many of the people reading that article and your own here have also commented about personal sites, as if they should all be designed by professionals. There is an arrogance and snobbery which are really discouraging at times when you are doing your best to create something personal, flaws and all.

Also, far more people have come online with the idea of setting up a blog and having their own get rich quick scheme. Blogs in general are being killed by the weight and junkiness of money-making blogs which offer nothing but self promotion and ads. Blogs are becoming seen as giant, floating commercials. It's hard to find a real personal blog through the forest of ad junk.

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