Many people wish agency and, essentially, freedom in their everyday life and do likewise in their electronic environments. They feel uncomfortable with the vast asymmetry as an individual in the face of billionaire-run mass platforms where they are easily marginalised and subject to
- service shutdowns,
- being sold,
- fine-print and rights resignation,
- data breaches,
- massive energy and resource consumption,
- ubiquitous surveillance or just
The more you have done by others, the less you control what you get and what it takes.
At the same time, “self-hosting” isn’t appealing either. Alien jargon, emergency updates, finickey version changes and fiddling with thorny configurations, bit rot of long forgotten dependencies – an endless list of embarrassing problems come to mind.
Those computer systems tend to feel like a pencil balancing on it’s tip and requiring if not permanent then reoccuring attention and eventual care. The need for action can strike any time and with unforeseeable efforts.
Neither are appealing.
But why is this? One reason may be, the systems created by experts are biased towards also being operated by experts. Designing self-healing properties is more effort than not and simply doesn’t pay, except you happen to fancy them. Permanent care, on the other hand, ensures the job of the caretakers. Market logic.
How would self-hostable systems have to be then?
Ivan Illich spoke of “Tools for Convivality”, meaning being supportive rather than encroaching, serving rather than dominating, promising less but be reliable in that. Being a humble means for a well respected end. There is a big overlap with the Permacomputing Principles.
Translated to technical systems, this may include
- operate unattended but be inspectable and obvious
- be gentle and lazy, don’t put stress on others (humans and machines)
- sleep or hibernate at times (reliably reoccuring, intentional downtimes)
- be self-contained or at least don’t depend on specific externalities (e.g. service X, vendor Y)
- reach saturation or pulsate rather than grow cancerously
#Seppo makes such decisions, e.g.
- choose the memory-safe, strong typed, steady-moving language 🐫 OCaml
- produce a self-contained binary bringing all assets
- be single-user: no malicious users, no parallelism
- few moving parts (no database, no runtime like php, java, python, ruby, erlang, etc.)
- be careful with dependencies, also at compile time
- render in the browser and be customisable
- autonomously roll over logging and limit to 20 MB
- cdb & text files for storage and maildir-like job queue
- a (5-sec) timeout for http requests
- exponentially delayed, finite job retries, in total max. 2 weeks
- provide subscribable Atom feeds
- queued ActivityPub notifications
To compete with said billionaire-run surveillance platforms grassroot volunteer work is brave but not professionally sustainable. I am very grateful that some NGOs and state actors give grants for the public good and complement individual hacktivism.
Paramount, however, are netizens with an attitude of self-esteem and practical will:
The price you pay
Seizing agency requires ownership and a certain frugality. Running a service like #Seppo means renting webspace (or having one in your basement) and a domain name. A simple contract with one of the numerous vendors out there. Security updates are ideally as frequent as qmail’s (none since 25 years), so that may be no big deal.
And then you have your own home in the social web.
 “The books will stop working” https://web.archive.org/web/20190627025003/https://twitter.com/rdonoghue/status/1144011630197522432
 Google Plus, Reader
 Whatsapp, Instagram, Friendfeed, GitHub, del.icio.us
 “To Regulate Tech, Nullify Click-Through Contracts”, Communications of the ACM, September 2023, https://doi.org/10.1145/3609981
 Instagram seizes unlimited usage rights
 Microsoft: “hold my beer!”: https://web.archive.org/web/20231022192057/https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/servicesagreement/
 “Website Obesity Crisis”, 2015, https://web.archive.org/web/20160101000048/https://idlewords.com/talks/website_obesity.htm
 Surveillance Capitalism https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Surveillance_capitalism&oldid=1180308839
 “As Platforms Decay, Let’s Put Users First” https://web.archive.org/web/20231022021215/https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2023/04/platforms-decay-lets-put-users-first
 “Tools for Conviviality”, Ivan Illich, 1973, https://archive.org/details/illich-conviviality
 The Atom Syndication Format, RFC4287, https://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc4287
 ActivityPub, W3C Recommendation 23 January 2018, https://www.w3.org/TR/activitypub/#abstract-0