How I learned to stop worrying and love 3rd party services

I can be somewhat fickle about letting other people help me. Sure, if I have a lot of heavy stuff to lift, gimme a hand. If I’m working in the kitchen though, it’s my kitchen…get out!

Thus, I’ve always had a complicated relationship with 3rd party services for my web work. I mean sure, my first experience with the Internet came when I was about nine years old and my parents let me create my first e-mail account (everyone else was getting them); I used a third-party service for my e-mail because I didn’t know there was any other way to do it—and actually I still do.

Later on, I used 3rd party services for my portfolio, because that was where I could get feedback on my work. I used Blogger, and wrote about absolutely nothing.

As I became adept at building my own websites, I drifted away from other people’s products. Why use a 3rd party service when I could make whatever I needed myself? I built my own portfolios, my own blogs, hosted my own forums, and generally tried out every new piece of CMS software I could.

I kept my documents on my local hard drive, and as people talked more and more about “the cloud”, I got more and more nervous.

This was, in part, because when I was younger, internet access was hardly a constant. Another factor was, I suppose, a deeply ingrained paranoia about letting third parties have my files. It didn’t matter that there was literally nothing sensitive or private about them. I didn’t want unknown people having them.

I’m a bit more educated on the subject now, of course. Still, there are a couple of areas where I have yet to fully embrace the social web: my portfolio, and my writing.

You see, I always thought of portfolio sites and art community portfolios as a place to put my stuff “until I can get my real portfolio sorted out”. The same applied to my writing. I could use a third-party blogging service until I got my blog designed and set up.

Drawbacks

I still have a few problems with these services and communities:

Instability

Companies start up and shut down all the time. That service you depend on to showcase your work may no longer be there later on.

Lack of customization options

Some services give you full control over how your content will look. Many don’t. Others will ask you to pay extra for the privilege.

Branding (especially with free options)

Your content may be yours, but the branding seen at the top of the page will usually direct people back to the service. Mind you, some services don’t do this, opting for unobtrusive text links in the footer or something, but they’re probably not the majority.

Community identity can be restrictive, or deceptive

I’ve found this to be especially true over at Medium.com, where I do some writing now and again. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of good and original content there; and it’s a great platform.

However, a lot of the writers there seem to fall into a category. Maybe it’s a sort of unconscious peer pressure, or maybe the platform just attracts that kind of writer. Either way, you’ll find a lot of very similar articles.

That sort of expected uniformity can also trick you. I encountered a brilliant satirical article by Jenn Schiffer, and I admit, I assumed that she was serious. Mind you, this was mostly my fault, but you do come to expect that people on Medium are dead serious, and trying to shape opinion.

Less control over your data, possible legal issues

Do you actually read the whole Terms of Service agreement when you sign up for a service, any service? Don’t lie, nobody does.

It’s not all bad…

Of course, after a few years, a couple of corrupted hard drives, and two web hosting company screw-ups, I’ve become a bit more educated on the subject. As I said, I am using a third-party platform for my personal blog now, and I’m setting up my photography portfolio on another.

The benefits just seem to outweigh the drawbacks now. For example:

Simplicity

They worry about things like maintenance and servers, you just manage your stuff.

Stability

I know, I’m contradicting myself; but hear me out. Services may disappear, but some of the really successful ones have lasted over a decade.

Great for experimentation, and self-marketing

Ever want to just try something new with your writing, photography, or what-have-you? Having a place to do it where all you have to worry about is your content, and not its delivery, will make things a lot easier.

The social nature of many of these platforms can also help you to guage the inital response to your experiments, especially if they come with their own analytics. So go for it! Try something new. Share it around.

APIs

Having your content on a third-party platform doesn’t mean you can’t show it off elsewhere. In fact, if you put your stuff on the right platform, you can display it on a personal website, import it to another platform for merchandising, and much, much more. In fact “interconnectability” is why I picked Flickr for my photography. This can help you get around branding issues.

In conclusion

I miss Google Reader. Okay, but seriously, if you’re the kind of person who has to do everything themselves, maybe you should re-think your approach. Chances are, someone else has already solved your problem, and provides a solution for free, or at a reasonable price.

Find one that works, read the TOS, and go wild!

Ezequiel Bruni is a web/UX designer, blogger, and aspiring photographer living in Mexico. When he's not up to his finely-chiselled ears in wire-frames and front-end code, or ranting about the same, he indulges in beer, pizza, fantasy novels, and stand-up comedy. More articles by Ezequiel Bruni
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