I’ve been thinking a lot about “cloud” services I’m at least partially dependent on. And they fall into three general categories:
- Services I use to make my own personal computing easier (Evernote, Dropbox, Newsblur, Google calendar).
- Services I use to share things publicly or with a set of contacts (Flickr)
- Services I use generally for communication (Google+, Facebook, Twitter, various IM services.)
- A possible fourth category: virtualized linux hosts that I pay for.
If you know me, it wouldn’t surprise you that this bothers me. It bothers me a bit to not own my own tools — it bothers me a little to use the ones where I have a clearly defined business relationship with the service provider where I pay for what I’m getting; but it bothers even more when I’m getting something for “free”, because they’re typically getting something of even greater value out of me than a few bucks a month: marketing data, patterns of who I associate with, etc. In some sense, the users of these social networking services are merely a means of crowdsourcing content to be used by the provider.
I prefer the old vision of personal computing: once you’ve bought the hardware and software, you can do things indefinitely with it, no one has the power to take it away from you, you are independent of outside interests. With that perspective in mind, I’m attempting to untangle myself from some of these services. For the moment, short of devoting a lot of time to trying to get distributed social networking off the ground, I’m not even going to try to seriously touch #3. Also, #4 is mostly unoffensive to me, though it’s not clear that even today that virtual hosts offer the same legal rights (fourth Amendment) as hardware which you own.
So some plans: Flickr is slowly dying, I’d like to go back to some kind of self-hosted photo gallery software. I don’t really like a lot of the options out there, I may roll my own. Dynamically-generated content is dumb for everything but commenting, everything else should be static HTML, thumbnails.
I only use Google calendar because it’s an easy way to sync my iPhone to a calendar server, and it is an easy way to share my calendar with Tien. On the first part, I think I could solve my problems by running a CalDAV server. Not sure about whether it would accomplish the sharing too.
Dropbox, while I just use the free 2GB account, is darned convenient — I use it for 1password syncing, and I use it as a place to put low-security documents so I can easily share them between computers. It is amazing how long it took to give people what they want in a network filesystem — even though it would have cost more years ago, none of it was impossible (though the market was probably much smaller.) Most of the self-hosted open source alternatives to this are pretty fiddly.
Evernote is the one I’m least likely to want to give up. It’s been so useful, and this is why I’m more dependent on it than almost anything else I listed. I frequently shoot photos of small pieces of text with my iPhone and add them to my Evernote account. I use it to remind me of food or drink I enjoyed. I use the desktop version to replace my former use of things like Eaglefiler (and before that, a directory full of text files.)
For the photo gallery (and an eventual move away from WordPress), I want to cook up my own open-source, self-hosted equivalent of Disqus. I just need to find a little more free time…