Lightweight Internet Service Stacks

? This research page is being made in public. You will find editing notes and placeholder content. I like making in public, more liberating than an eternity of hiding in a Google Doc.

This is an ongoing research page that documents lightweight internet publishing / ecom / social / communications services. The rough goal is to combine low cost or free services to build a ‘stack’ that allows you to be followed, found, sell and easily publish. The stimulus for this came from chatting to my mum about her website, art sales, social accounts, running costs and her audience. More detail on that in the Back Story section below.

I guess the big driver for me is to document a few stack options that people I know or meet could easily use. The trick is finding the perfect balance between ease of use, cost and impact. For example, eBay is easy to use and fees only apply on sales, but it might not be the best network to be found on. Shopify is also easy to use, but will cost a lot to run and isn’t a network. Squarespace allows a huge amount of customisation and flexibility but can be a chore to setup, maintain and will cost at least £144 a year. Some of the free or low cost services have a terrible experience for everyone, be it irritating pop-ups asking visitors to join, subscribe, convert to paid or locking owners into walled databases. And the visual design no code services require a bit of a design eye to make them look as good as the marketing examples. So it really is a balancing act to find the right stack. A goldilocks problem.

Right now it makes sense to publish this initial page and as the research and testing progresses I’m betting a series of focused sub pages and chapters will be written up that focus in on a stack recipe and how to it works.

The bottom line is – you want to put stuff online, how do you combine what is out there without having a massive bill and headache.


Services

This list could be endless, theres a lot of services out there. I’m going to see what I find, evaluate service offers, road test them and see how they can be of value in their most affordable pricing plan. Please do email me suggestions

We might steer towards complexity of setup and usage here and there. And also quickly away from it if the service gets too gnarly for most.

One page build services

Social services

  • Instagram
  • TikTok
  • Pinterest
  • YouTube

Newsletters

  • Substack

Blogs / Articles

  • Medium

Music

  • Soundcloud
  • Mixcloud

Shops

  • Etsy
  • Shopify
  • Depop
  • Ebay

Payment Services

  • Gumroad
  • Stripe

Portfolio Services

  • Cargo collective

No Code Visual Web Builders

Business Listing Services

  • Google Maps

Blogs

Reference Landing Page Services

  • Linktree

Others


Use cases

  • You want to upload and sort collections of images with text data attributes
  • You want to upload text notes
  • Occasionally you want to sell digital or physical items

Inbox & Questions

  • Can I make something that is really easy to publish a one page website?
  • If you want photo galleries, can you use a cloud service like Dropbox to host and another service to render out folders as pages?
  • How “easy” is it to use GitHub pages to host a Linktree style page?
  • Its not about the “correct stack”, its about the intention of each layer
  • Quality instagram images are needed in the first place to get click through

Creating, running and hosting a website isn’t for everyone. On its own it might not be the most effective service to reach an audience as most people spend their internet time inside networks these days.

The common pattern today is to use Linktree on your social profile url and bounce visitors to bunch of other places: more networks, forms, shops, websites, donations, newsletters and such.

Linktree seems to be a good service, at around ~£48 a year I started to wonder – what else is out there and what other publishing needs can be met on a budget?


Backstory

My mum is a painter. Last year she asked me to redesign her website. It would have been a bit of a chore to go through a redesign and rebuild because her website was running on an old custom build of WordPress. I wanted to find something she could easily update herself.

It got me thinking about if her website is the most useful thing to spend effort on when most of her views and engagement are going to come through a social network of some sort. Should she be encouraging people to follow her on social networks when they meet her? If they do, then they are more likely to see her new work than if they were to bookmark her website.

I wondered if using Linktree to bounce people to all her social accounts and exhibition websites would be a good fit. This then led me to think about what would be a suitable lightweight stack that an artist or a small business can use that isn’t going to cost an arm and a leg.

These days a lot of the small services do come with fees, but there’s loads of free stuff out there or potentially stuff you can re-purpose that’s free.

So I thought it be interesting to document lightweight stacks – combinations of web services – that allow you to have visual presence and more feature options that just using Instagram alone.

I’ve also been on at my friend Caroline, she’s a Gardner. I believe that she should build up a little portfolio of her amazing work and a library of her plant knowledge. Finally, I’m a little bit stumped when I find small businesses exclusively use Instagram. What could they add that would help customers out? These three scenarios were the starting point for the research and have given me some interesting use cases to consider when auditing what is out there and how to combine them.


 

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 15th January 2023


Photos Feature - Part 1 - Goodbye Instagram

This month I hit an exciting milestone, 11 years of my Instagram photos are now uploaded to this website and my account at Instagram Facebook Meta is closed. After I downloaded all my data from Meta the photos sat on my hard drive gathering dust for a while and I dreaded the hours of manually uploading each one. But, I’m now done with the archive upload phases of the project.

The last photos I published to Instagram were a batch when I was in Milan on holiday in November 2018. Today, one of the next phases of the project is to fill in the gaps between then and now. After stopping using Instagram I started missing the feeling of processing and posting images online. That feeling is one of the driving forces behind working on this project. It is bonkers how quickly time has passed in front of me. I went from my first slow and clunky manual film camera, to low quality, expensive, bulky digital cameras, to publishing at any time just from a phone. Sadly, the story ends in the chasm of despair – attention addiction on mass to a shopping, tracking and advertising platform. Yikes.

I’m interested in the bit where I got to take, edit and publish photos (2009 – 2014). So I made that.

This project isn’t without its faults. I have completed some very basic styling using outdated CSS techniques, there are no responsive variants on the photo assets and worst of all, I probably shouldn’t have used Advanced Custom Fields to store the photos. It will need rebuilding, I’m okay with that. I’ve committed to this for the long run, I’d love to have this running for as long as I live. So, yeah, it’s on the long list to address these mistakes. I’d argue that the psychological power of getting off my arse and making the first version is more rewarding than gazing out the window wondering when my skills will be just right to achieve the standards I see in others.

One thing that really stood out through the upload phase was how pleasing it is to reflect back over time using photos. By contrast, if I open up Google Photos or my camera roll on my phone it’s too much. There is just too much data for me to take in. Curation really helps. A few old Instagram photos were selected for deletion while doing the upload. I used to post way too much. Terrible photos that I can only assume at the time I was using it more like Twitter. If it was a bad photo and I couldn’t really see a point in it, it got deleted. That isn’t to say all the photos are works of art.

If you’re looking through the photos wondering why some of those that made it were really all _that_ worthy? I’d probably chalk it up to keeping a visual memory. I ended up using Instagram in this way, not everything was a balanced, interesting and well composed snap – sometimes it was just some basic bitch insta snap of a cheesecake. And that’s fine with my basic self.

In writing down this entry on the /photo project, I’m scratching my head on what’s next. Also, I’m wondering how I keep on top of new snaps. I think it makes sense to batch download month by month the gap from November 2018 to now and pick my favourites, post-process them on my phone and go from there. When I’m up to the present day – who knows, I do wonder about the value of posting in the moment vs batching them weekly or monthly. Perhaps it’s a good ambient time kill activity to post the recent snaps when standing in a line waiting or on the tube. Perhaps it’s better just to be bored, let my thoughts wash over me. I guess I’ll find out when I try it.

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 5th July 2022