Timo waterskiing on the Mosel river in Germany
(The oldest digital photo I could find of myself. I haven’t waterskied ever since but that’s roughly how old this domain is.)

The golden days of my own website

It all started in 1999 when I registered the domain name reitnauer.com for a whopping $34.99 USD at Network Solutions. My boss back then had to purchase it for me because I didn’t have a credit card, and I remember getting a letter confirming the domain registration–much to my excitement. Little did I know domains would play such an important role in my work life a bit later.

The oldest archived version of my website is from March 2001 which was just a static “coming soon” page with banners (designed by me) linking to my employer at that time. I think the site stayed like this for a while and served as a playground for Photoshop experiments before I set up a little server for email and WordPress later on. On my blog, I wrote mainly about my travel experiences and moving countries from Germany to Australia in 2007, and then finally to New Zealand the year after. That setup served me well from c. 2005 – c. 2010 until social media took over most of my web publishing (to be fair I was still writing quite a bit on the iwantmyname blog).

The fall of my own website

I was never a big social media user but sharing content on Twitter or posting photos to Facebook or Instagram was just so much easier compared to updating a blog. But I didn’t want to give up on having a website on reitnauer.com just yet, so I used a personal profile page from Flavors.me (RIP) and about.me linking to all my online profiles for a bit. That worked fine until I started getting a bit tired of social media in late 2014 which is when I also questioned why I should even publish anything online. As a result, I stopped updating Twitter, deactivated Facebook, and only used my domain for email.

A fresh start

After thinking about what I want from an online presence in the last two years, I decided to go back to where I started and set up WordPress with IndieWeb plugins. It ticked several boxes for me such as being open source, I could run it on my server, and if I ever have any problems, there is a huge community of people who can help. From being very against setting up my own software and managing a server I went the exact opposite because I was tired of not being able to experiment.

I should add that this was my second attempt of relaunching my personal site. I came across the IndieWeb movement a few years ago when doing some research at work, but it wasn’t until last year that I started looking into it more closely in a first attempt to relaunch my website using Known. It looks like they slightly changed their value proposition to a “social learning platform” in the meantime but it should still work quite well for personal sites as well. I somehow wish I stuck to it because they’ve got IndieWeb features built right in whereas it very much feels tacked on to WordPress at the moment.

The biggest problem for me right now is to find a workflow for publishing. I struggle to get into the habit of writing status updates on WordPress and cross-post them to closed networks because it’s not where I read my Twitter timeline. Same goes for reposting, replying and liking which is why I got excited when I heard about woodwind.xyz in AltPlatform’s blog post on feed readers. Just the day before reading it, I signed up for InoReader after making the decision to only follow people on Twitter and use RSS for everything else. I still need to play with woodwind.xyz a bit more, but I think a service like this could be a step in the right direction.

There is hope for the open web

As Richard MacManus wrote today on why he joined the IndieWeb:

The main impetus is my growing dissatisfaction with Walled Garden social networks, like Facebook and Twitter. My spidey sense is picking up similar vibes across the Web. It’s difficult to define at this point, but there’s a feeling that something needs to change. And that something has a lot to do with openness, inclusivity and not letting powerful corporations dictate what we do and think.

I’ve been through this phase myself, and I very much agree about the vibe, but people don’t quite know what they can do to be less dependent on the big social networks. Not every social media user will care of course, but I believe there is an opportunity for previous website owners and bloggers to start fresh.

At the very least, do yourself a favour and get a domain name that you can use throughout your life. There has been an explosion in domain extensions recently, and everyone should be able to find a suitable web address for themselves. Domains are such an underappreciated piece of open web technology, but as you can see in my example, it has been the one constant throughout the years. And if you don’t use it for a website, make the switch from Gmail to using your domain for email, for instance. There are great email hosting providers like FastMail or ProtonMail who don’t break the bank and are not associated with any big corporations.

It’s still early days for IndieWeb publishing, and along with other initiatives, it’s the first time in a while I feel excited and hopeful for the open web. I plan to continue experimenting with my own site and look forward to the first ever Homebrew Website Club in Wellington. If you care about an independent web and want to discuss your website, you should come along!

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