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sharecropping is a deprecated metaphor for the practice of primarily or exclusively creating/publishing content on silos as opposed to doing so first (or primarily) on your own site; the IndieWeb community long ago abandoned use of this term, breaking from prior usage, please avoid use of the term as a metaphor for silo-only usage or users. Similarly, the term (digital) sharecroppers was used to refer to those that publish primarily or exclusively on silos.

The silos typically claim some degree (sometimes exclusive) ownership of what you create/contribute through lengthy/unfriendly terms of service (TOS) agreements (hence you're sharecropping on their content silo farm), and then display/sell ads on or beside your content (they profit from your labor).



The terms "sharecropper" and "sharecropping" have been used in the context of the web since at least 2003:

  • 2003-07-12 Tim Bray: The Web’s the Place (especially "What‘s a Sharecropper?") specifically for operating systems

    Are You a Sharecropper? · If you’re developing software for the Windows platform, yes. Or for the Apple platform, or the Oracle platform, or the SAP platform, or, well, any platform that is owned and operated by a company.

    Tim is specifically talking about building applications for proprietary platforms, in this case, in contrast to the web:

    You’re not a sharecropper, especially not a sharecropper, if you’re building on the Web platform. If you can define your value-add as a series of interactions via a browser, or an interchange of XML messages, nobody can whip the land out from under you.

    • The "interchange of XML messages" is merely an early 2000s anachronism reference to XML, the longer term intent was something more like "interchange of open standards based messages" instead.
    • Note that Tim's use of sharecropper is specifically about applications, not content, and thus it's a predecessor but not the actual term we use today.
  • 2008-01-22 Dave Winer:The UGC limb, day 2 (especially "2. Control of my own data. ")

    The clearest sign that a company thinks I'm a sharecropper and they're the bossman is that they won't let me move my data where I want it to go. If you give me the power, that doesn't mean I'll use it, btw. It might mean quite the opposite -- empowered to use my data in more meaningful ways, I might be happy to leave it where it is.

    • Note specifically "let me move my data" - Dave's use of "sharecropper" is purely about data portability rather than ownership, and doesn't actually care about creating content for someone else ("might be happy to leave it where it is") as long as the content is movable. Thus this is also a predecessor (though closer than the application one) to the actual term we use today.
  • 2010-11-07 Shane Becker: No More Sharecropping!

    Then as we published all of our content on other services, we became dependent on them. We became digital sharecroppers.

    • Shane's use of sharecropper was the earliest use of the term prior to initial usage in the IndieWeb community before the term was abandoned - for creating content for some other site, regardless of whether you can "move" your "data" or not.


More articles about (digital) sharecropping:

See Also