Redefining Reclaim Efforts
Over the past 2 years I've watched and later participated in the rhetoric of "reclaiming our digital identities in the web spaces we inhabit. Reclaim means a lot of things to a lot of people. At the end of last year I decided I wanted to start bringing more of the artifacts I put out on the web back in house with this blog. By February I had dropped Dropbox for a self-hosted file sharing program called ownCloud, taking a page out of D'Arcy's playbook. In March when Google announced the impending doom of Google Reader I decided to jump in headfirst and get out from under the wing of as many Google products as possible. Since then I've hosted my own email, attempted to use Etherpad as a Google Docs replacement, and ran Fever on my server for RSS. Indeed it seemed like the perfect timing as we started ramping up our Domain of One's Own pilot and preaching the beauty of controlling your own space. I may not have gone full Richard Stallman but I definitely abandoned quite a bit in the name of ownership and control. It sucks and I'm done. For several months now I have punished myself by using subpar products whose only clear advantage was that I could see their source code. I let the rhetoric of ownership cloud the real nut of what's important: data portability. While everyone experimented with fancy new RSS Readers like Feedly in Google's wake, I stuck to my guns with Fever on the idea that it was "good enough" and was somehow better by being hosted on my web space. "Good enough." I've said that so many times, and yet data portability with RSS Readers already existed in the form of the open OPML format that most of these programs supported. While everyone else benefited from a host of great features from the variety of readers out there, I stopped reading feeds entirely on my iPad because it didn't support Fever, and stopped sharing as widely due to the lack of social network integration. I watched D'Arcy give up on ownCloud for now citing some deal breaker bugs and while those didn't affect me directly, the fact of the matter was that every time I used a service that would happily back up my data to Dropbox or integrate with Dropbox in some other way it caused me to wince. Etherpad was a complete failure due to requiring a constant running Node.js process and even after loading a variety of third-party plugins the collaboration wasn't even close and I found myself running back to Google Docs where everyone was. Google is no saint and sure, the closure of a service like Reader that was widely used by a large audience, was problematic. But they also support data portability in a huge way with Takeout and the fact that I found it fairly easy to get my stuff off of their servers is testament to that. The fear that if I don't own and control every piece of software I interact with it could disappear with no notice is not based in reality. Sure the overnight pop-up startups with no business model should be avoided if possible (or at the very least get regular backups if it's stuff you rely on), but the majority of these services give plenty of notice before closing their doors, offer tools to export your data cleanly, and for every door that closes it seems like 10 more open in this vibrant age of web programming. So I'm going to stop living in fear and start letting the web work for me. I'm still keenly aware of my digital identity and want to use my domain in a way that makes sense (likely as a form of backup whenever possible). But ultimately I want to be productive, social, and connected in a way that I've found very difficult these past few months by writing off a majority of the spaces that my network inhabits. I'm lowering my bar so I can start participating to a greater extent with the best of what's out there without getting bogged down with political and ethical dilemmas that will paralyze you to the greatness of the web.