The web is a cool place. We have many platforms, social networks, never-ending content, independent websites; and most of it was built on technology intended to be decentralized and democratic, which greatly contributed to the diversity of services and organizations participating.
Alas, commit long enough to a booming ecosystem and it's inevitable to witness frustrating limitations and wasted potential. It's possible to share a Goodreads book review on social media, but comments/replies there won't be visible in the original post. Facebook's algorithmic feed penalizes links to external websites. Instagram outright disallowed links in posts. Twitter closed off its API. Spotify tried podcast exclusives. Each service welcomes more content but is resistant to letting users get it elsewhere.
That's because recent developments on the web haven't always followed the same principles of openness and user empowerment. Corporations behind big platforms are financially incentivized to silo themselves, cut off the competition and constrain the users who supposedly own the content they produce. Hoarding and monopolizing data is how these companies are able to grow engagement for their ads and services businesses, so strong regulation is generally the only reason why a silo would open up.
But policymaking is slow and overloaded with tough decisions, having to react to an ever changing technology landscape and fight against the interests of the biggest corporations in the world. Fortunately there's no need to wait. The independent web is a grassroots movement to nudge the web back into a more decentralized but interconnected place.
Having an personal Internet Domain Name is the first step towards taking ownership of one's online identity and taking control over an own corner of the Web. Because the domain serves as bedrock to that identity, it should be chosen carefully and considered permanent as much as possible. A domain costs money, but a cheap one costs less than a telephone landline.
There are a few tools like CunningBot that can help choosing a domain name and others like Instant Domain Search that can quickly search under which TLDs a name is available. There are also tools like Namechk that probe if common platforms and social networks will have that name as an available handles, which is nice for consistency.
If a purchasing a domain name is like buying a virtual plot of land, configuring an email would be the equivalent of installing a mail box able to receive the usual proofs of residency.
Most e-mail providers support adding a custom email address to an existing account, requiring minimal work to start using the new address and keeping all the old mail. If the current provider doesn't support it, it's likely the Domain Registrar that sells the domain also offers an inbox or forwarding service.
Having all e-mail coming through an own address allows changing providers in the future without having to change email address, thus avoiding the hassle of notifying contacts and updating sign-ups everywhere. Just point the address to a different mailbox and start receiving new mail there. This freedom reduces lock-in to specific platforms and is a simple yet effective way to diminish corporations' hold on the ecosystem.
Owning a domain and being reachable through it (e.g. with a custom email) is the foundation for an independent presence on the Web, but the biggest potential lies in using that property to build up a haven for what matters. That's possible going back to the open technologies behind the success of the Internet: the web.
Static website hosting is cheap - often free - and powerful enough for the vast majority of use cases.