Category Archives: Computers/Internet

Random Thoughts on Self-Hosting

I’ve been thinking about what it means to self-host a service, and that there are degrees even within that.

I have a self-hosted WordPress blog in the sense that I manage an installation of WordPress, but I run it on a VPS at a web host. It’s not as self-hosted as someone running a server on a Lollipop Cloud or FreedomBox, but it’s more self-hosted than someone using WordPress.com. It’s also more self-hosted than someone using the managed WordPress hosting at the same web host.

The key advantages of self-hosting are privacy and control. Unless a service uses end-to-end encryption, the admins at each level can probably read your stuff – you have to trust that they won’t do it unless they have to.

And of course when you run your own service, you don’t have to fear losing control when Google Plus shuts down, or Flickr changes their pricing structure, or Tumblr changes their TOS, or MySpace botches a server migration.

The obvious disadvantage of self-hosting, of course, is that you’re on the hook for all the maintenance. Spam filtering, moderation, security updates, server migrations – those are all on you.

And unless you’re using your own software, even on your own box there’s still the risk that a project is going to shut down & leave you without security fixes, or pivot to a new direction that no longer fits what you want. (So glad WP’s block editor is still optional!)

I’ve settled on a balance where I manage the top-level web apps, but my webhost handles the hardware, the virtualization and the LAMP stack. (And email. Ugh, I’d forgotten how much of a pain a mailserver can be to handle until I tried to set one up on a Raspberry Pi a couple of months ago.)

I guess I’m kind of splitting the difference. 🤷

Verizon is Already Trying to Sell Tumblr

Wow, that shoe dropped sooner than I expected. Verizon is already shopping around to sell Tumblr. I figured it would be toward the end of the year, not the middle.

After Tumblr’s ham-handed ban on adult content last fall purged a bunch of accounts, sparked a lack of confidence, and triggered an wave of users leaving in digust, it became clear that Verizon had no idea what to do with Tumblr (not that Yahoo! had much more). If they hadn’t already started the death spiral, they’d at least knocked it out of orbit.

I’ve never been super-active on Tumblr, but I interact with a few people, and I used to occasionally post things there that weren’t reposts from my blog, or Flickr, or Instagram, or wherever. So, just in case, I backed up a full archive, imported some of the original posts, and pared down all the old duplicates and outdated signal boosts so that when Verizon inevitably gave up monetizing the site, it would be easier to find the pieces I wanted to keep.

Honestly, I’d rather Verizon sell it than shutter it and sell off the data (you think Verizon wouldn’t?). But it depends on who buys it. If anyone wants it.

Here’s hoping Tumblr finds a suitable buyer who understands what they’re getting and is willing to invest in the community, not someone who just wants to squeeze out the last few drops of cash before sending it to join GeoCities in the great Internet Archive in the Sky.

The Best Backups are Scheduled Backups

I’m thinking about social media backups again after Prismo’s database loss and one of my own test blogs crashing.

I can and do automate backups on the VPS where I host my main blogs.

I can manually backup my social media accounts, but IIRC none of them offer automatic scheduling. I have to remember to run a backup, log into the site, find the right control panel (which sometimes changes!) and request a backup.

I’d like to be able to schedule recurring backups on Mastodon, Twitter, etc. Send me an email each month with a link when it’s ready.

OK, you don’t want to keep generating backups for abandoned accounts. Here are some ideas:

  • Skip the process if I haven’t posted since the last archive.
  • Instead of scheduling a recurring job, schedule a new one 30 days out each time I download an archive.

Refine as needed.

Now, those of us with a little more tech savvy can automate some things with IFTTT. Not the native backup process, but we can set up rules to listen for new posts and automatically save the content somewhere else. But while I can reliably save the text of every post from Twitter, Mastodon, etc., saving media depends on what I’m saving it to. Often the best you can do with IFTTT is embed, not copy. (And that’s if the media is even available in the source feed. Pixelfed’s RSS doesn’t include image URLs, and Mastodon’s RSS/Atom includes them in a way IFTTT doesn’t recognize.)

Eh, maybe I should just read up on ActivityPub and see if I can make a subscribe-to-archive bot.

Shouting Into the Less Exploitative Void

Sometimes you choose which social app to open based on

  • who you want to talk to
  • who you want to hear
  • what you want to talk about

Sometimes you’re just shouting into the void. At those times, I figure I’ll choose the void that feels less exploitative.

That’s part of why I still have a blog. And why I post more on Mastodon, while Twitter is mostly auto-shares from my other networks, retweets, and occasional cross-posts.

(And politics, because I’d rather keep that on Twitter, where it’s sort of the main topic anyway, than on the network that’s still fun. Not that Mastodon is apolitical. Far from it! But it’s a lot more varied than the overwhelming focus on US partisan politics I see on Twitter. And the culture and structure make the discussions at least somewhat less train-wrecky. Most of the time.)

I made my final post on Google+ yesterday

“Babylon 5 was the last of the Babylon stations. There would never be another. It changed the future .. and it changed us. It taught us that we have to create the future .. or others will do it for us. It showed us that we have to care for one another, because if we don’t, who will? And that true strength sometimes comes from the most unlikely places. Mostly, though, I think it gave us hope .. that there can always be new beginnings .. even for people like us.”

— General Ivanova in Babylon 5: “Sleeping in Light”

It seemed fitting.

While Google+ was never a shining beacon in cyberspace, it spanned the period from when social media was still new(ish) and exciting and hopeful, to when we started realizing that the big tech silos — Google, Facebook and Twitter especially — have been creating the future for us, one recommendation algorithm at a time…and it’s a train wreck.

We need to create our own online future.

We need to care about the people at the other end of the connection.

We can find our strengths, and build up others’.

And there can still be new beginnings.