This article is part of my series on how I set up my website and blog.
“Just because,” may be an answer to the question that few would ask in 2022, but this brief response would lead to an unfulfilling article. Thankfully there is more to the story.
I set up several blogs over the past decade, the last of which was the direct predecessor of my own website and blog that you are likely reading from now. My journey of blogging was surely similar to most in my initial objectives – I wanted to have a blog and chose the path of least resistance. Then and now, that path is still the free WordPress option. It is very straightforward to set up a blog hosted by WordPress, and without any monetary obligation.
The free WordPress route is easy and perfectly fine to begin your blogging journey. And depending on the objectives for your blog, it may suffice indefinitely. But it should go without saying that “free” is a limited proposal and nothing truly is, for the price comes in the form of limited functionality and uncontrollable ads. The latter was one of the main reasons I wanted to get off of the free option. As the blog’s owner, I did not see the ads, but I discovered when sharing the blog’s link to potential readers how cringy they made my blog look. For no mater how much diligence, effort, and art I would put into the presentation of my own little blog, it was steamrolled top to bottom by ads for toenail fungus cream or similar bizarre pitches that ruined the reader experience I wanted to create.
Ads in and of themselves are not necessarily a bad thing, but from the perspective of a content creator, not having any means to control their presence or placement on your website is terribly frustrating if you want a sustained web presence that you fully control.
The free option also means you are locked in to basic and limited features. There is no avenue for custom plugins and integrations on free WordPress blogs. If you are aware of what these are and have a need for them, you are obviously past the free blog tier, especially to support a business model. Plugins can offer extended functionality to any website, and integrations can help with publishing context to other media platforms, like LinkedIn.
So why did I, personally, choose to self host my own blog? I could have, for example, moved to a subscription tier with WordPress or another blogging platform. Ghost, which is what my website is built on, has a free self hosting option, and so do a variety of other blogging services. But they also have, mostly, open source versions of their blogging applications and services, which allow anyone to set up blogs on their own server. Here are my key reasons for going with self-hosting.
Being in Control
If you made it this far into the article, this reason should be self-explanatory. Free hosted blogs are nice to get started, but they are limited in terms of how you can present your blog’s content to the Internet. And that presentation, largely controlled by the hosting service, can change at any time. A host like WordPress can, for example, inject their own special banners onto your website, without recourse for content creators to turn the banners off, even in paid tiers. Such actions are generally minimal and unobtrusive, but they also frustratingly exemplify the limited control you have over your blog that is hosted on someone else’s service.
Anyone who participates in any type of social media platform will know this as well, since platforms can change their look, feel, and functionality solely at this own discretion and timelines. Although platform may give advance notice of changes, users of those platforms will likely have little-to-no recourse to veto the changes.
All of those restrictions go away when you self host your own blog, or any other service for that matter. While I may be limited technologically by the platform itself, I am fully in control as to how my website and blog are presented on the Internet. Assuming you are reading this article from my website, take a scroll up and down the page. Everything you see was deemed by me to be there – the overall theme, images, fonts, buttons, menus – all of this was at my sole direction and execution. As a content creator, that’s a great feeling to know you have such level of control over your own site.
To Try Something Different
I had my prior blogs on WordPress, and the logical progression path, if I wanted more functionality past their free tier, would have been to go with WordPress’s subscription model. I did consider this and even reviewed their pricing. But as I explained previously, there were several facets of WordPress that I was not enthralled with, particularly the bloated editor and overall feeling of being a platform locked into a 2008-mindset.
So I wanted to try something new and different with a modern feel. Going to another blogging platform was the right call for me, and as I explained in my previous article, I chose Ghost.
And in choosing Ghost, I could have gone with one of their hosting options. It would certainly have made the setup far easier and quicker. But I was all-in on exploring a new frontier, and with my technical background – a computer engineering degree, prior programmer, and working in information technology for over a quarter century – it wasn’t a hard choice to take on the harder challenge. There was a great appeal to me in allocating, setting up, and managing my own little cloud-based Linux server.
And what if, one day, I decide to self host with another open source platform, even WordPress? I can do that too. It would be quite a bit of work, but if I deemed the risk and effort were worth the pain and trouble, I could make that decision of my own volition.
My Own Corner of the Internet
Flowing naturally from my prior reasons, I enjoy having my very own modest homestead in the digital universe. It is exclusively mine and mine alone. I can do with it as I please. More importantly, from here I control in full my digital presence, and am not beholden to any social or other media platform. That doesn’t mean I won’t use other platforms, but now when someone wishes to learn about me, I simply direct them to my website and the ~250 articles I have written to date.
This may sound counter-intuitive, but I enjoy the quiet and solitude here. At first, I was worried about it. Hosting directly on WordPress means you are integrated into their ecosystem of users and other WordPress-hosted blogs. Here, it is just me and my content. For me, the ability to run, manage, and control my presence online far outweighs not being integrated into a large platform and network. Perhaps my thinking on this will evolve over time, but for now I simply like where I and my blog are at.
For the Challenge
I enjoy building things. My Dobsonian telescope is one of my prime examples. Months, and sometimes years, go into my build projects. While this website’s setup did not take nearly as long as the telescope, and I didn’t have to saw anything, it was no less of a challenge than my physical products. As I will continue to extrapolate in other articles, there were numerous decision points and execution tasks that went into creating the blog you are reading from today. Like the telescope, there were many “make versus buy” type decisions. To self host or not was one of the bigger early choices.
There were points along the way I felt like quitting, like I was going too far down paths I was unfamiliar with. I feared I would not have the technical abilities to correct and resolve problems. Setting up the comments system with Commento was the largest of these challenges. I had never set up a database on a Linux server, and I had absolutely no idea if the Commento system would integrate correctly with my Ghost setup and presentation theme. But in the end, it all worked, even grander than I had expected. Ultimately I was able to navigate the risks, thanks to my technical troubleshooting. I know enough to figure out how to get the help I need, and this ability carried me and the blog immensely as I had to solve problems I never encountered either personally or professionally.
For the Accomplishment
Even early on in this blog’s planning stages, I had this end goal in mind, to be able to look back on the entire process and take pride in the end-to-end accomplishment. Was it worth the effort? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Of course. In fact, I have pondered other future self-hosted website options if I decide to reach beyond the parameters of this blog. Nothing is even in early planning, but it is a great feeling to know I now have that capability, to build even more if I wished to pursue other challenges along the same lines as a website and blog setup.