I host my websites through Reclaim Hosting. I’ve been with them for a few years now, ever since they were known as ‘Hippie Hosting’ and an offshoot of the amazing work done by Jim Groom and team at the University of Mary Washington’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies.
Companies often talk about their commitment to customer service, but I’ve never known anything like that which receive from Reclaim Hosting. It’s insane. For example, in the last six months, amongst other things, they’ve:
Responded within a minute to a query about my wiki being down, and had fixed it for me within five minutes.
Worked with me to rectify a persistent spamming problem on my sites (that was my fault, not there’s)
Migrated my sites from US servers to ones based in the EU within 24 hours of me tweeting that I’d like them to do so.
On top of that, they charge me a very low price. I’m a huge fan, as you can tell.
The last of the bullet points is an important one as President Trump continues to rip up the good work carried out by his predecessors. For example, earlier this month, The Register reported on a joint letter sent by Human Rights watch and the ACLU which outlines in detail how Trump’s executive orders are underming the US-EU Privacy Shield. Bloomberg reckons that the EU are ready to pull out of it.
It’s 2017, so it seems strange to be talking about things that seemed more important in the early days of the web, such as where your server is located. But, of course, given the nationalist turn we’ve taken in the west, these things matter.
They matter because he location of your server is still of vital importance, despite recent protestations, that data in transit through the US makes it subject to US law. What you put on your own web space isn’t just the front end stuff that everyone sees, it’s the backend stuff as well — family photos, private emails, and the like.
Some people have asked why I’ve chosen to host my data in Germany, rather than in the UK. Well, for a start, I still consider myself as more European than British, despite ‘Brexit’. Second, Germany has stronger privacy laws than the UK (and certainly the US). Finally, and more pragmatically, it’s the EU option offered by Reclaim Hosting (mainly, I believe, because Digital Ocean offer block storage in that zone)
I perhaps spend more time thinking about these things than most, but that’s because it’s something I deem important. Ironically, most of my readers are in the US, so this move actually adds a few milliseconds to their page load times. Sorry about that…
TL;DR version: Register your own domain name, find some server space and install Open Source software. It’s harder than using someone else’s shiny service, but you’re in control. It’s worth it.
I found out today (via Drew Buddie) that Posterous is shutting down at the end of April. While this is a sad state of affairs – I used it with students in the classroom and found it a great email-based blogging platform – it was hardly unexpected. The co-founders moved to Twitter last year and the assumption was that they would close Posterous at some point.
John Johnston, who used Posterous extensively (not least for podcasting) has written about why it was such a great platform. In an update to that post he points towards Posthaven, effectively a subscription-based clone of Posterous started by a couple of other co-founders. It promises to be the ‘safe place for all your posts forever’. Yeah, right.
The only way you can ensure that the stuff you produce online stays online is by owning your own data. It’s as simple as that. So when you’re looking for a blogging platform, by all means have a look at the sexy options like Tumblr and the like, but the most important thing is how easy it is to get your data in and out of the platform. That’s why I like WordPress (both the hosted and self-hosted versions) so much.
Knowing how to own your own data and keep it available online fits right onto the Web Literacies framework I’ve been developing at Mozilla. But it’s not rocket science. It takes effectively three steps:
Install an Open Source platform (I use WordPress via a one-click CPanel installation process)
The reason the last of these is important is that it’s extremely difficult – if not impossible – to completely shut down an Open Source project. Once the code is out there, it’s out there and anyone can contribute or ‘fork’ the project.
Thankfully, like many people, I could see the writing on the wall with Posterous and moved the blogs I had there (a now-defunct ‘Ideas Garden’, my conference blog, and my FAQ) to WordPress blogs hosted on subfolders of dougbelshaw.com.
This stuff isn’t hard. Trust me. And you’re always better off in control of your own data.
So, be in control of your own domain. Find out how to control the blogging platform you use. And use Open Source software. You’ll thank me for it in the long term! 🙂
There are, however, at least FIVE services that I’m not planning to move away from at the moment.
The first, and probably most obvious of these, is Twitter. At the moment it’s pretty much impossible to export my tweets in a meaningful way from the service. But a social network is nothing without community, so I’ll be there until something better comes along. (I don’t, however, use Facebook apart from a place to link to my newsletter or blog posts)
Next we have Dropbox. I really do love this service as it means I’ve got all of my stuff everywhere I am. We’ve also started using it within the Learning team at the Mozilla Foundation. I could try ownCloud or similar but when it comes to having my documents and sharing them easily with others, I want as little friction as possible.
Third is mobile-only social network called Path. All of my family now use this to post photos, videos and updates. It keeps us all in touch. Whilst it would be really nice to be able to get my data out of here quickly and easily the beautiful interface and benefits outweigh anything else at the moment.
Fourth we have Google’s services. With the proviso of switching off my search history and encrypting my searches, I’m fairly happy to use GMail, Google Drive and Google Calendar at the moment. Actually, that’s a bit disingenuous – they’re central to my workflow. I also use Google+ occasionally. Whilst I’m slightly uneasy with the situation, at least I can export my data quickly and easily using Google Takeout.
And finally comes Slideshare. I’ve experimented with using HTML5 slides but (a) they take while to put together, (b) I recently went over 100,000 views on Slideshare (one-hundred thousand!), and (c) I haven’t (currently) got the skills to make HTML5 slides as aesthetically pleasing as a a Keynote/Slideshare combo.
I’m going to continue with Project Reclaim as I think it gives me a steer in choosing the technology I use on a day-to-day basis. However, I’m going to be pragmatic about it. I could decide to use identi.ca instead of Twitter but, whilst that would give me a warm smug glowing feeling of openness, it would cut me off from contacts I find extremely useful and valuable.
You’ve got to balance these things out.
One thing that has been launched recently which is a huge boon to those looking to be more in control of their own data is ToS;DR. As TechCrunch pointed out, the biggest lie on the internet is that people read and agree to tortuously-long Terms of Service agreements. Instead, they’re more like “too long; didn’t read” (TL;DR). The Unhosted venture reviews Terms of Service agreements and rates them on various factors.
As, seemingly, most of the rest of the world, I’ve got a (50GB subscription to) Dropbox. I use it in place of the ‘Documents’ folder on my MacBook Pro and, at work, instead of the ‘My Documents’ folder in Windows. Everything is kept in sync between the machines and it’s all backed-up in the cloud.
That’s all well-and-good, and three places to store data is obviously a good situation to be in. However, given the recent Amazon EC2 outage (Dropbox uses EC2) I’d like to have a local backup solution. Until 2009 my wife and I used to do this with the use of an Apple Time Capsule, but the incremental backups used to slowdown our laptops so much that we eventually sold it. Every now and again I’ll backup to a 2TB external hard disk, but that’s only when I remember.
I wanted something better.
After looking at our needs and the options, I settled on a Netgear Stora* and two 2TB hard disks in RAID1 configuration**. This means that data is written to both disks simultaneously – i.e. a Redundant Array of Independent Disks. It came in at about £170 all-told, which isn’t bad at all – especially when you consider that it’s got secure web access to the files it contains and is extremely easy-to-use.
Once you’ve spent 10 minutes getting the Stora up-and-running, you need a way to get files onto it. That’s as easy as drag-and-drop if you want it to be, but I want a more robust solution. As with Dropbox, after the initial backup I only want to transfer the files that have changed. Enter rsync – or, more accurately, arRsync (Mac only). The graphical front-end is simple and effective. I refused to pay $40 for the privilege of the (admittedly widely-acclaimed) ChronoSync.
*Other NAS drives I looked at have bittorrent functionality. This can be enabled on the Stora by looking here or here.
A few days ago, via Stephen Downes, I came across Project Reclaim, an attempt by Boone Gorges to ‘reclaim’ his data from the multiple silos he’s been putting them in. He’s talking about those places where it’s easy to get data into but not so easy to get them out of: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter… the list goes on. I was in the right frame of mind to take action after listening to Jason Scott be interviewed recently about the importance of digital heritage.
To be clear: none of what follows is about getting a warm fuzzy feeling from being more ‘open’. It’s everything to do with having access to my data when I’m the same age as my parents. This stuff is important.
Eventually, I’d like to be running open everything, but the first step is to have control of my data. I certainly can’t trust Facebook to host my data, but that’s not to say it can’t be an output – a place where data from other places is mirrored.
The first thing I decided to do was to map as many places where I store things online. I highlighted those services in green that are based on Open Source technologies. Those in orange are services where it’s reasonably straightforward to get your data out. Those in red are those where it’s difficult to download and export your data.
Over the rest of 2011 I’m going to be trying to make that mindmap greener. You can see that I’ve started to add (in pink) alternative services. I may have mis-coloured some elements (Dropbox should be orange, for example) – but the idea is sound.
Where am I going to start? I’m going to invest in Linode which means I’ll be able to host things like Sparkleshare (to replace Dropbox) and FlexPaper to replace SlideShare and Issuu. I’m not so concerned with the Google-based stuff at the moment as their committed (at the moment) to making exporting your data fairly painless – but I wish I could bulk-download my YouTube videos…
Please note that this will be last of these posts for this year. I’ll be back in 2011 [why?]
Offline this week I learned that there’s literally two types of people in the world (Dweck was correct!), that ‘female festive frenzy’ is now a term in general use, and that brandy hot chocolate is almost always better without the chocolate… :-p
Dropbox is now available for Teams. Looks like a good deal for small businesses, although I think they’ve missed a trick by not also targetting education. This would be awesome for educational institutions!
[T]here is a class of random walks called Lévy flights, which include occasional long-distance jumps. The distribution of step sizes is described by a power law, which means that there are steps of all sizes and no well-defined “average” step size, at least for one class of Lévy flights. They have been observed in various natural settings, most famously in the search strategy of certain animals when food is scarce. For example, hungry sharks will typically scour back and forth over small areas, but if the search is fruitless, they will intermittently “jump” to new, far-off areas . “People have also [studied] Lévy flights in stock prices, epidemics, and small world networks,” says Ajay Gopinathan, from the University of California, Merced.
Check out the Top 10 Weird New Animals according to National Geographic. These have all been discovered in 2010. The Sneezing Snub-nosed Monkey looks interesting. Shame the only known example was shot and eaten…
In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. (George Orwell)
In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. (Albert Camus)
The people who matter will recognise who you are. (Alan Cohen)
Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun. (Mary Lou Cook)
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Offline this week I learned to fly direct and take only carry-on luggage where possible, that the UK is ridiculously underprepared for snow compared to other European countries, and that thrash metal isn’t as bad as you’d think… :-p
Offline this week I learned to buy more bags of winter grit than I think I need, to do exercise even when it’s too slippery to go running outside, and that a bad seated posture can give you headaches. 😮
Offline this week I learned that large beanbags offer the most comfortable typing position ever, not to drink cheap red wine, and that the seats by the Chinese books in Newcastle City Library are almost always vacant… 😉
Offline this week I learned that Twitter is often a quicker and easier place to sell things than eBay, that eagerly pulling decals off a car will can also remove the paintwork, and more than I could ever summarize in one blog post (or indeed the introduction to one) at Interesting North… 🙂