I enjoy blogging but I’ve had mixed feelings about sharing details about others that they might not want to be so publicly accessible. In this post I’ll describe my thoughts on blogging vs privacy, and how I balance the two.
I’ve written an entire post on this, but I have two somewhat incongruent objectives:
- Share my ideas, opinions and knowledge with the world
- Share my experiences and memories with family and friends
The first is served well by having a public blog, but the second not so much. Especially when most of my memories and experiences are involve others, and they might not always be comfortable with their stories being made permanently public.
So, I’d like for some of my posts to be public, but others to only be accessible to friends and family, and maybe acquaintances. When I post something, I’d sometimes like it to only be as public as sharing it with someone at our local WordPress meetup, not as public as putting it on billboard along the highway.
Here’s a concrete example: I’d like to share stories about my family, including my sweet little girls, but I don’t want those stories to be easily findable in 15 years by their high school friends (or enemies). I.e., I’d like some of my posts to come up first on Google, but others to never come up at all.
So, how can you achieve this?
Facebook allows you to post to all sorts of levels of visibility. So that seems like a good match right?
- Not everyone is on Facebook
- Facebook might not be around, or the same (eg, still be free, allow me to publish what I want, or even work for me) in a few years
- It probably says on their user agreement that everything I put on Facebook is their intellectual property. I’d prefer to keep it, thank you.
WordPress.com and Blogger.com allow you to make your blog totally private, so only specific users will be allowed to read it, so that sounds like what I want. But there are drawbacks:
- None of your posts can be public. Eg, you couldn’t be reading this post right now unless I specifically sent you an invitation, so my blog couldn’t serve as my “public soap box” for my ideas, opinions, and occasional stories I actually want to be public
- I dislike signing up for yet another service, so don’t want all my friends to need to sign up for my site also (plus sites get hacked occasionally, check out https://haveibeenpwned.com)
I’ve seen some blogs where they replace friends and family’s first names with just a letter. Actual friends and family know who they’re talking about, but not creepers on the Internet, and it will be hard for someone to search for stories on that individual in the future. But here’s the downsides I see:
- It’s a bit less readable (especially when it gets printed out)
- There may still be information in the posts that gives away individuals’ identities to strangers anyway (eg which school my child attends, who their teacher is, etc)
- you also can’t search it very well. So if I want to search my blog for all stories about my daughter, I can’t.
So, here’s my “medium security”, free, solution to balancing blogging and privacy.
I have a blog on WordPress.com, (although this approach works equally well for self-hosted WordPress blogs.)
The blog is public, so anyone can find it using a search engine.
For posts I want totally public, I just write and publish them as normal.
For posts that contain personal information, here is what I do:
- Write the post as normal, using full names and as much information as I would share with a friend (or even trustyworthy acquaintance). So I use full names and add pictures (although I don’t set a featured image with anything personal in it, like faces, because some themes make featured images public; the post’s title will also be public)
- Before I publish it, I add something like this at the very start “This post will be password protected. If you’d like to read it later, use the password ‘xxx'”.
- I publish it. My blog’s subscribers all get an email and get to read the post.
- I then change the post’s status to “protected”, add the password, and remove the line at the beginning saying what the password is. In the future, only people with the password can read it.
- I share a link to the post on Facebook to my friends, and also tell them the password. Now they can read it too.
Also, I have a page explaining this “policy” on my blog. I tell visitors to subscribe to see future password protected posts, and to email me if they would like to read an old password protected post. (I may use the same password for posts, and could give a clue to it on that page; so mostly just friends would figure it out, but certainly not search engines).
And lastly, if I want to create a post strictly for my memory only, I create a private post. Easy.
- My blog can have public, semi-private password-protected, and private posts
- Existing subscribers can easily read my protected posts from the emails they get; they also know the password so they can access it later on my blog or comment on it
- Facebook friends can read password protected posts too
- My password protected posts won’t show up in search engines, or be readable to total strangers
- I can also remove followers if I were to decide I didn’t want a particular person reading my password-protected posts
- A friend or subscriber who gets a post’s password might share it with others. This is the online equivalent to them passing on the information. The difference is that the 3rd party can read the original content too, not just what my friend or subscriber related to them
- While it’s better than requiring others to create an account in my site, it’s a bit of a pain for them to enter a password. This can be mitigated by using the same password on all posts, because WordPress remembers you provided that password before, and so avoids requiring that you enter it again.
- It’s a bit of a manual process for me, I could make a mistake
If you’re more concerned over privacy than I am, you may prefer a private blog, or no blog at all. But for me, this maintains a comparable level of privacy to what I have in “real life,” while also sharing what I want with friends, acquaintances, and the general public.
So that’s what I do to balance my desire to be heard and record through my blog with the desire to maintain some privacy.
What do you do to balance privacy and sharing? What do you think of my plan?