What image do you see when you hear the term "sharecropper?" Most of us picture a ragged farmer toiling under the hot sun on the acreage of some mustache-twisting landowner. As the term suggests, sharecroppers shared a portion of their crop with the landowner who retained possession of the land being farmed.
In the post-Civil War South, cash-poor landowners still controlled the land, but they no longer had workers to cultivate it. Hired hands required wages even if the crop failed, so potential income remained out of reach. Landowners needed the sharecropping arrangement in order to produce a prosperous harvest.
So what does this have to do with the Internet?
Some folks see platforms like Facebook or blogging websites as landowners controlling much of the Internet's vast and fertile ground. In order to reap the Internet's riches they need workers and it makes good business sense to get someone else to share their labor in return for a promised share of the rewards.
That means small business people like us toil under hot fluorescent office lights on websites owned by someone else. We provide the content, the links and the traffic to make someone else’s website grow and flourish. In return, we get a share of the crop as marketing exposure for our own businesses or as affiliate ad revenue.
Our contributions are essential to their business model, but those powerful platforms set the share proportions for their own advantage and could change the rules or kick us out completely if they choose, much like an 1860's landowner. You can make a strong case against digital sharecropping.
On the other hand, digital sharecropping grants the smallest businesses access to some incredibly powerful internet platforms. We should definitely take advantage of them, but spending all our effort on someone else's farm just isn't logical. Experts recommend investing in a good website of your own in addition to pages on someone else’s website. You retain greater control of your content as you launch your online empire.
After all, why do you think they call them "domain" names? Go ahead and make use of the free tools available, but make sure you are the ruler of your own domain!