OF COURSE, personal clouds should be offered as-a-service

That’s the WHOLE point, really. And the only way out too.

OF COURSE, personal clouds should be offered as-a-service /img/gemma-galdon-on-other-people-data.jpg

A few weeks ago I got involved into a discussion around decentralized, federated social media like Mastodon. Among other things, someone wrote a couple of really important things, that most people caring about these issues seem to overlook:

Paragraph 1: In many situations, moving from centralized silos to federated infrastructure, “end users” are left out in the cold a bit because we’re increasingly moving to a situation where (like mastodon, pleroma, XMPP, …) centralized silos are claimed to be “deprecated” in favor of federating instances.

Paragraph 2: Unfortunately, this doesn’t always make things better. In many cases, choosing centralized silos for end users isn’t mainly about favoring centralized services but actually needing to choose a “service” that someone runs for them and provides them with, rather than running software entirely on their own (which they in most cases are neither capable of nor desire to do).

Paragraph 3: How can we make sure this doesn’t get “worse” for users? Choosing Facebook, Twitter, … of course has drawbacks but also certain advantages, such as:

  1. These are large legal entities, meaning you possibly can meet them on legal ground and try to enforce laws such as GDPR (of course only to some extent, but at least this option is there)
  1. [Only large organizations have enough skills and money] to ensure decent “update/patch management, backup, scaling or handling security incidents… how is a decentralized system consisting of instances run by enthusiasts likely to come up to a common reliable quality here?… How can we make sure this [decentralization and federation] doesn’t get “worse” for users?"

Some sense, at last

Reading those paragraphs was a breath of fresh air. Someone who GETS it, at last.

“Paragraph 1” above is THE crucial issue in every discussion about freeing “people”, ordinary people, from the toxic, addictive, polarizing walled gardens known as “social media”.

Never mind about what technology (protocol, frameworks, programming languages, THAT stuff) would be better. Not at the beginning, that is. If you don’t work from day one to build stuff that REALLY is AVAILABLE-AS-A-SERVICE in the same way a Facebook account is, you aren’t doing anything that will make enough of a difference, soon enough to make it.

Years over years of irrelevance of Diaspora and friends, the same years in which Facebook went from 1 to 2 billions users, are there to prove it.

My answers to the final questions in section 3.2 above are the same I have been sharing for ten years now:

“How can we make sure this doesn’t get “worse” for users?"

  • By providing as a service personal clouds that can be transparently moved from any hosting provider to any other. See here, and also in this whole series of posts
  • what matters is that the whole thing is packaged and provisioned to be moveable from provider to provider without loss or interruption of service, except a few minutes, or even hours offline when the transfer happens. But for this to happen, since it includes “links to posts, pictures etc… remain valid” the whole thing must include provisioning and DNS handling of a unique domain name chosen by the user.

  • and yes, organizations like IndieHosters would be ideal providers of personal clouds as I propose them

Personal phones as SERVERS? Are you kidding?

During that discussion, someone else stepped in to say that “another solution architecture is to let people host everything they need on their phones, which is getting more and more viable every day as smartphones get more capable."

Er… No. Thanks, but NO, thanks.

I am firmly convinced that “let people host everything they need on their phones” is a terrible, terrible idea. Hosting on your phone the VERY, VERY FEW data and software you actually need to be surely accessible non-stop, even when you are offline (be it a picture of your fiancee, the draft of your next novel, or a GPS application)… sure, OK. Ditto if you propose “this thing should be able to run also on a smartphone”.

But running my blogging or email server, or just hosting all my decades of photographs, text documents, tax returns, whatever… on something that may be stolen, fried by coffee spills or run out of battery every moment? No way.

We are talking of something that should quickly scale to billions of users (otherwise is as useless as a cellphone working on non-standard frequencies). Including minors, rural people with very unreliable electricity, people living off ~300 USD/month…

Having this kind of stuff run on smartphones as the default way is very, very bad at at least three fundamental levels:

  • security and service availability, see above
  • costs. Server-hosted software means everyone can buy the cheapest phone they can afford, and keep it as long as possible
  • environmental impact. Everyone running their cloud on their phone, instead of one real, highly optimized data center rack(s) every 10K users me global consumption of energy and raw materials orders of magnitude bigger than it can and must be. We already made that mistake with bitcoin. No, thanks