This constant change means that no established convention is safe and even things that were once fundamental to the Web could become irrelevant. One such convention that’s being challenged, in some cases with great success, is the notion of setting up a .com and running your own hosting account.
Sure, most companies are going the traditional route, but more and more individuals, hobbyists and even smaller professionals are eschewing the notion of setting up a hosting account under their name and are, instead, relying completely on third-party services.
It’s hard to blame them. With a Facebook and Twitter-centric Web, having a traditional site feels much less like a “home” and more like an archaic obligation.
But before you ditch your hosting account, it’s important to remember that there are drawbacks and concerns with making such a move and a few good reasons to keep your server, at least for now.
How to Never Pay for Hosting Again
When most people and companies set up a new site, they have a small number of goals they want to achieve, which usually include:
- Static Content: Pages, contact info, etc.
- Blog: News, opinion, etc.
- Social Networking: Twitter, Facebook, etc.
- Multimedia: Video, podcasting, etc.
However, to do all of this there isn’t much point in having a server. Social networking, for example, already takes place primarily off site, using Facebook, Twitter and other services. Multimedia, in the age of YouTube and SoundCloud, is almost never stored on the server and blogging services like Tumblr and WordPress.com make it easy to setup a blog and static content for a company without the need to ever purchase a “real” hosting account.
Best of all, each of these services work together so that the experience can, with a bit of work, seem to be almost seamless even though ones presence is spread across half a dozen services or more.
It’s very easy to see why so many use exactly this route. These types of sites have played a major role in Tumblr’s rapid growth and it’s a trend that is only set to become more popular as people see less and less need to go through the hassle of buying a hosting account, setting up their own installation of WordPress (or another platform) and then building out from there.
For many, the modern Web presence is decentralized and completely relies on third party services to make it happen, a trend that should have hosting companies more than a little worried.
Reasons to be Wary
Of course, with any new system comes a series of pitfalls and risks and the fact that something is trendy does not mean, necessarily, that it’s the right approach for everyone.
The biggest problem with not having your own hosting account or server is that you don’t control your data and you don’t control the service. If Tumblr, for example, were to disappear tomorrow millions of bloggers and some companies would be in a very bad spot. Likewise, if they made a sudden change to the way blogs are displayed, it could easily impact your presence.
When you don’t control your server, you don’t have backups, you can be victimized by sudden changes in the service you’re relying on and you can find it difficult to make an exit. With a traditional hosting account, it’s easy to pack up and move to another server, especially with good backups, but porting a Tumblr blog to a Posterous or WordPress.com site can be a major challenge that, at the very least, involves crafting a new theme and a new presence.
While bad things can happen no matter where you keep your site, you can more easily recover if you control the server, the platform and the conten. Best of all, you aren’t subjected to anyone else’s whims. However, on the flip side, you do lose the ability to exploit the built-in communities that these services have, which can help you build traffic, grow your followers and network, without having to rely solely on search engine marketing or advertising.
Hobbyists, individuals and even some small businesses have taken this approach because it is cheap, easy and trendy. Having a Tumblr is easier and cooler than having a regular site and making Facebook your primary point of contact is becoming more common as well.
However, there are a lot of risks involved with going this route and it’s unclear how things such as SEO are impacted by this approach. You’re essentially trading control for a cheaper, easier and more trendy setup.
Whether this is right for you depends on the purpose for which you’re setting up the presence. If you’re just dabbling and experimenting, it might be a great idea. If you’re trying to build a business, especially one that you hope will be a good portion of your income, the loss of control should be scary.
In the end, this is a trend that will continue to grow but I don’t think the traditional website is dying. Though you can build a professional presence online without a hosting account, those who are serious about the Web and want to be around for a while on it would be wise to still use one.
After all, the Web is in a constant state of flux and though Tumblr, WordPress.com, etc. might seem to be on top of the world now, they could be at the bottom of the heap in just a few years…
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