with Mir Kamin
I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.
To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at http://www.wouldashoulda.com/
The great thing about making a living writing online is that you can do it from anywhere; have Internet, will travel. You don’t need a fancy office. You don’t have to spend thousands on start-up costs. It’s an incredibly accessible field—if you have something to say and an engaging way of saying it, chances are you can build a following and make some money. But the terrible thing about making a living writing online is that you are dependent on the services of others for your work to exist. Write a book, get published, and the book doesn’t disappear off the store’s shelves every time the power goes out. If someone gets angry at you, your book doesn’t vanish into thin air. And I think the criticism leveled at online writers for raising their voices when they feel they’ve been done wrong is often particularly harsh, as if having a platform is somehow unfair or shameful.
I’ve written about bits and pieces of this in the past, but I’m thinking about it today because of the recent post by Darren Rowse (a.k.a. ProBlogger) detailing his mysterious suspension from YouTube. The post itself (and the updates; Rowse’s account was later reinstated just as mysteriously as it had been frozen) is worth reading, not just for the actual information but because he manages to infuse what must’ve been a maddening situation with a bit of humor, even while frustrated.
Rowse doesn’t just make his living blogging, he makes a lot of informational videos for his site, and his unexplained suspension from YouTube meant that suddenly his online presence, his business, was now peppered with “This video has been removed as a violation of YouTube’s policy against spam, scams, and commercially deceptive content” messages. Anyone who knows Rowse’s reputation in the business probably realized it must’ve been some sort of mistake, but what about someone new to his site? The ramifications to his reputation could’ve been disastrous.
The video that caused the hubbub was titled “Secrets to Making Money Online,” and in it, Rowse clarifies that there aren’t secrets, there is only hard work and strategy. But apparently the phrase triggered some sort of spam detection, and thus the problem.
Here’s the interesting piece, to me: Ken V., an early commenter on the post, blasts Rowse for being “naive” in not realizing that video title was going to be a problem. He goes on to say:
Now, I DO AGREE that since you have 5 years of video history with them, pulling the single video was probably a much better way to go. YouTube definitely has to fix that. But playing the victim and writing a cute letter doesn’t remove your responsibility to know how things work.
I’m fascinated by the notion that this commenter 1) believes Rowse “should’ve known” that YouTube would flag that title (as if he’d titled his video MEGA-ORGY DOGGIE STYLE CHILD PORN and really, what did he think would happen?), and 2) is trying to shame Rowse for his reaction, which—given the circumstances—I think was actually very calm and rational.
[I had a flashback to when Heather Armstrong took to Twitter to complain about Maytag, and immediately became the subject of criticism because "who does she think she is?" and she'd reportedly actually said to the company things like "Do you know who I am?" and "I have X number of followers on Twitter." While I'm not interested in commenting on the Maytag situation, I think it's worth noting that Rowse's situation was much more central to his business, but not once did he "throw his weight around" in his post addressing YouTube. Personally, I find any criticism of his handling of this matter hard to substantiate.]
Okay. So: What are the takeaways here for those of us relying on the services of others to support our online business?
1) Look for reliable service (and be ready to pay for it). There’s tons of free services out there, and most of them are fairly reliable, but if you’re making your living online, you need ones that are totally reliable. This is why, if you’re more than a hobbyist, you shouldn’t rely on a Blogger- or Wordpress-hosted blog—you should have your own hosting. And as I had the misfortune of learning years ago, even your own hosting isn’t necessarily a guarantee. I now pay a lot more for hosting than I used to, but guess what? It’s a lot more reliable than it used to be, too. It’s not going to make a lot of sense for most of us to have our own dedicated servers in our basements, but the difference between Bargain Internet’s $5/month service and Reliable Company’s $100/month plan is more than just the price.
2) Have redundancy where possible. YouTube is a pretty reliable service, right? What happened to Rowse does seem like a fluke. But maybe, if your site uses a lot of video, it’s worth making sure you have a backup if one service ends up having a problem or, say, accidentally suspending you. Few of us can afford the hosting/bandwidth necessary to house all of our own video, but maybe it’s worth using both YouTube and Vimeo, for example, if video is an important component of your work. Just a thought. (Similarly: Even if you’re using independent blog hosting with the world’s greatest provider, you should still be doing regular backups and exports to a separate location, just in case.)
3) It’s okay to speak out, but be prepared for backlash. There’s always going to be someone who has a problem with people who dare to complain. No matter how well-thought-out and measured your words, I promise you there’s someone ready to bash you for them. That’s just a fact of existing online. That said, it’s worth carefully considering what matters to your reputation and how to handle problems when they arise so that your actions are in accord with the image you wish to project. This isn’t a foolproof guard against criticism, of course, but it means turning a challenge into something that reinforces your message rather than taking away from it. Again, I think Rowse handled this beautifully: His missive to YouTube was perfectly in line with his established persona.
(This all makes me want to start a new category called “Things that make me go ‘Hmmm.’” Heh.)
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