As you may or may not know, I am a big advocate for self-hosting your podcast RSS feed. I’ve self-hosted all of my individual podcast project’s RSS feeds since I started podcasting nearly 10 years ago. I’ve also put many hours into this method, even though there were solutions that would have been less time consuming. Today I’m here to explain why self-hosting your RSS Feeds is not always the right answer.
Before we continue, what do I mean by “self-hosting” my RSS feed?
Let’s back up for a moment. An RSS feed is essentially the technical-guts of your podcast. The RSS feed is “the code” (for a lack of better term) that tells podcast apps, services, directories, etc, where they can find your podcast. These services essentially “read the code” (again for a lack of better term) in your RSS feed for the information needed to get your podcast (such as descriptions, file location, etc). As such, the RSS feed is arguably the most crucial technical component to your podcast.
Generally speaking, there are two main ways that you can store your RSS feed:
1) On Your Own Website (self-hosting your RSS)
2) On Your Media Host’s Website (the place where you store your files)
The reason why I’ve often elected for self hosting (option 1 above) is a simple one: 100% control. While podcast media hosts (such as Podbean and Libsyn) offer to redirect an RSS feed hosted on their platform if I wished to leave, that offer is only as good as long as it stands. What I mean by that is let’s say I start using MadeUpPodcastMediaHostA and submit my RSS feed that is hosted over there to a bunch of places. I later decide to leave that company and redirect my RSS feed to the one on MadeUpPodcastMediaHostB. If host MadeUpPodcastMediaHostA goes under (or if they change their policy on these redirects) then all of those bread crumbs left that were pointing to MadeUpPodcastMediaHostA no longer redirect to MadeUpPodcastMediaHostB. It could be YEARS worth of back links that I could lose control of. However, with self-hosting, if my RSS feed is kept on my website (assuming that I retain control of that domain) I have ultimate control forever and can do whatever I want with this using website protocols — and this approach has actually benefited me many times in the best (see Better Podcasting Episode 65). Self-hosting my RSS feed is the only 100% guaranteed way to ensure that I own my RSS feed forever (assuming I keep control of my domain, which is a post in itself).
WITH THAT SAID, I also believe that every individual has to make their own choice on their podcast platform(s), and as a self-hosting advocate, I recognize that not everyone has the patience, control, knowledge or budget to bark up this tree – it’s definitely NOT for everyone. There are many reasons that self-hosting an RSS feed may not be the right solution for an individual. For example, some people have experience using one podcast provider already and want to expand their project list, because of that existing experience it’s easy for them to continue building with this provider. Other people only have a certain amount of budget that they can spend on their podcast, and retaining total control of their RSS feed may not be affordable for their particular requirements. There are infinite reasons that someone might feel that using a media host is the best option for their individual situation, and while I am generally willing to educate people on the benefits of keeping full control of their RSS feed (a friendly reminder that I live by this method – because I believe in it), I’m never going to expect that MY WAY is the way for them.
I’ve been involved in building web properties for a very long time. The very first webhosting package that I purchased was paid for by cheque – because I was too young to have a credit card and it was before the days of everyone taking services such as PayPal. I state this to convey two things. 1) I’ve been doing webprojects for a long time and 2) I have an above-average comfort level with websites and webhosting. I look at podcasting the same way that I look at the web industry – everyone has different experiences and there are many pros and cons to the different approaches. Every person who creates or maintains a website has to make the choice that fits best for them. In the website world, this means that some people will pay for shared hosting using cPanel, and some people pay for shared hosting using Plesk (yep, there are other web hosting panels than cPanel). Some people will have the skill and comfort to upgrade to a VPS, some won’t. There are people who can run their own dedicated servers, and others will pay for someone to run them for them. Some people will have to pay to build their website, and some people will build their own website. Even with those people who do build their own websites, some will use WordPress, some people will use another CMS and some will hand-roll (they have way too much time on their hands). All of these decisions come with their own pros and cons, and every individual has to make the decision that works best for them. Why is podcasting any different? Well let’s be honest – it’s not. This goes on both sides of the discussion too.
Where I often think new podcasters go wrong when they start is by not educating themselves enough on these different approaches. Often I see someone sign up for one service because they saw someone else do it, only to find out later that it doesn’t work for their particular needs. Sometimes in these situations, if that individual had taken the time to educate themselves before pulling the trigger, it could have helped make a better decision right away.
As for the topic itself of owning your own RSS, while I personally wish to control my own RSS feed, I do recognize that when you have companies like Libsyn and Podbean who have an extensive proven track record of offering a service with a good resume of stability, ease of use, and an “all in one package” that is affordable for most podcasters, I can understand why people elect to go this route instead. I do believe that within podcast circles there is a lot of incorrect information provided about self-hosting your own RSS feed and in these situations I always do my best to educate on why the information is correct. However, ultimately the person receiving the information is the one making the podcast and not me and THEY have to choose what is best for THEIR day to day operations. While I will gladly spend a lot of time educating someone on the various benefits that come with self-hosting your own RSS feed (it’s not just control), just because self-hosting an RSS feed works for me, doesn’t mean it works for everyone, and truthfully I’d be quite naive and quite honestly a little self-centered if I believed that.
I’ve noticed that there’s a trend of negativity when someone asks for podcast hosting advice, and I think as a community us podcasters would benefit from understanding that not everyone will do things the way we personally choose to do it as individuals. There are many proven models of success for podcasting, from a variety of different podcasters across a variety of different levels of podcasting. When someone asks a podcast related question (it doesn’t even have to be about podcast hosting), that person would benefit more if everyone delivered the information from the perspective of education, rather than simply dictating their point of view. Ultimately it’s not the podcast comunnity’s decision being made, it’s the individual podcaster, so we should all try to educate the person asking for advice, and then let them make their own final decision. Yes, ultimately they may choose a path that you would not have taken (heck, it might even be one that you suspect will be a mistake), we all have to learn one way or another and forge our own paths. All podcasters have made mistakes somewhere along the way. We are human and in many aspects of our lives, we all have moments that we wish we had not ignored someone’s advice, but ultimately we grow from these mistakes and podcasting is no different.