Self-hosted email MUST remain "practical"
You want your very own email server. Trust me on this.
C. Siebenmann argues here that “Running your own email is increasingly NOT a practical choice”. This is my answer, keep reading to understand why it should be yours too:
In 2021, you can still run your own email server
Says Siebenmann that, while you can still run your full email infrastructure by yourself in 2021, and do it using only Free/Open Source Software:
- Years ago, the email offerings of big providers were worst that one could achieve at home, “except in limited areas like GMail’s webmail interface”
- Today it’s the opposite, with the big providers crushing the field in usability, features, performance and even more in areas that “matter to users, like security and spam filtering”. (And let’s not even talk about additional services like organizational calendaring)
- The really bad part: you cannot fix this by trying harder, nor with the magical right choice of open source software, nor with the magical right choice of commercial software. Entirely “on premise” email is now an inferior thing for almost everyone.
Yes… and no
I run my own email infrastructure since 2007, so I am in a good position to comment on Siebenmann’s thesis.
The main argument is, sadly, true and becomes truer every year more: if you only look and time and money, outsourced email has a better cost/benefits ratio than “artisanal email”, for the overwhelming majority of both end users and small email administrators.
This said, allow me a couple of comments. First of all, whatever anybody says, I will insist that, if one has experienced real email clients, Gmail sucks for many reasons.
But that may be just me. The really bad thing that, as Siebenmann puts it, you cannot really fix by just trying harder or changing software is email deliverability.
If you run your own email server, sooner or later the email server of some organization (even BIG, theoretically professionally managed organizations!) will refuse to accept email messages from you, simply because its administrators are too dumb or lazy to use anti-spam tools in the right way. And trust me, crap like this, from 2010 can still happen a few times a year, unless you regularly spend both some money (not much) and, more importantly, some time that you may not have at all.
Why is this bad?
Well, that is by far the easiest part to explain. You should really demand that self-hosted email doesn’t just stay, but becomes REALLY accessible to everybody because, to name just the main reasons:
- unlike embarrassments like WhatsApp, email is an open, cross-platform, fully interoperable protocol
- Few, centralized providers are fragile. When they break, everybody’s email breaks, as Yahoo proudly showed us in
- even if you never use it yourself, until Gmail exists Google has most of your email anyway
- none of the problems Siebenmann denounces are new. I first saw them in 2010 (here and here), and I certainly was the first. It’s high time we solve them, before it’s really too late
Conclusion: Me, I agree with D. Lane
(this part was rewritten in 2022)
In February 2022, reader D. Lane replied to that post by Siebenmann as follows (emphasis mine):
“The more we give up on hosting our own email (those of us ready and willing to do it, at least) the more we cost everyone else the ability to do so. I’ve been running my own email services for a few decades. I’m not willing to be flotsam and jetsam within a global monopolists’ systems - I want to control my own email destiny and demonstrate that it’s possible for others, too.
Me, I agree with D. Lane, and will continue to do so until it becomes really impossible to do it. And then, I will put up a fight.