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.