If you had told me two years ago that Twitter would be effectively dead within… well, two years, I would have found that rather hard to believe. Sure, Twitter’s user metrics were small potatoes compared to the behemoth that is Facebook, but it was a popular service. While I’ve never bought into the whole “town square” argument, Twitter was great for more text-oriented people1 such as myself to find others with common interests and keep at least vaguely aware of current events. Moderation issues notwithstanding, it felt like Twitter had staying power.
If you had told me one year ago, I would have been right there with you.
In April of 2018, I registered the domain <rdnlsmith.com> through Google. (I didn’t actually take the site live for another year and a half, but that’s not the point.) I chose “rdnlsmith” because it was a reasonably short permutation of my actual name that was available simultaneously as a web domain, a Gmail address, a GitHub user, and a Twitter handle. I wanted to build a cohesive online identity, and at the time I perceived these as four equally-important facets of that identity.
The collapse of Twitter forced me to recognize that no service, commercial or otherwise, is ever permanent. I’ve migrated from Twitter to Mastodon, but I don’t consider my Mastodon profile to be a key pillar of my web presence, the way I used to think about Twitter. The Fediverse will likely continue, in one form or another, for a very long time to come; but someday the Mastodon software may fall out of favor, or the server that hosts my account may shut down, or I may choose to move elsewhere for another reason. When that happens, depending on the circumstances, links may break and history may be lost. Consequently, Mastodon—and any other social media profile I still maintain—is a place for throwaway comments, jokes, and in-the-moment conversations. Anything I put real effort into—anything I want to last—belongs here, on this website.
In June of 2023, I caught word2 that Google planned to shut down their domain registration service. Even though Google is famous for killing off their own products, I had thought Google Domains would be safe because of how it integrated with their business email offerings. I had thought that domain registration would be straightforward enough to operate, and reliable enough in terms of revenue, that they wouldn’t want to outsource it to another company. Apparently, I was wrong.
Rather than accept the automatic transfer to Squarespace, I decided to move my domain to Namecheap. It was incredibly painless. The process was completed in less than thirty minutes, with absolutely no outwardly-observable effects.
That’s the thing about having your own domain: your registrar can shut down, and you can just move to another one. Your DNS provider can shut down, and you can just move to another one. Your hosting platform can shut down, and you can just move to another one. No links will break. No history will be lost. No one who visits your site will ever have to know.
Since then (and before, honestly, though to a lesser extent), I’ve been thinking I ought to establish an email address tied to my own domain. If Google ever kills off Gmail—inconceivable, I know, but that would already be the third inconceivable downfall I’ve mentioned in this post, and the first two have actually happened—then my <firstname.lastname@example.org> address will be gone; and anyone who’s contacted me before, or who came across my contact info via a commit that I wrote, or via some old link, etc., would have to try to find my new address in order to get in touch. But if I have an address on my own domain, and my email provider ever shuts down… I can just move to another one, and the same address will keep on working with no one the wiser.
I spent a few months waffling over which provider to choose, and which address. My username is “rdnlsmith” basically everywhere these days, but <email@example.com> feels redundant. Using a subdomain, like <firstname.lastname@example.org>, helps with the redundancy but starts to feel too long.
The new year seemed like a good time to debut my new address, so I finally forced myself to make some decisions. Henceforth, I can be reached at <email@example.com>, managed—for the forseeable future, at least—by Fastmail. My old address will continue to work, of course, so long as Google wills it; but this new one may someday prove to be the more permanent of the two.3
Compared to, say, Instagram: a service that I will never use because I do not take photographs of things. Except my cat. ↩︎
Although I had been a paying customer for five years, I never received any kind of notification from Google that this was happening. I found out because I happened to see a news article linked on Mastodon. Maybe they would have sent me something, eventually, had I waited longer before switching to Namecheap; but regardless, I consider it something of a faux pas if you fail to inform your customers about changes to your services before they hear it from someone else. ↩︎
Unless, of course, Gmail outlives me; in which case, trying to contact me will get you nowhere regardless of which address you use. ↩︎