Owning the platform — revisited

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I wrote about buying a product, not being one, with the idea that I didn’t want to use services that I couldn’t control (and pay for), but in the last year, my thinking has changed.

Part of this change has come as part of the increasing speed and nature of hacks and compromises across the internet. James Cox writing for Motherboard:

When it comes to website security, users are largely at the whim of site administrators, especially when it comes to the constant updating of software.

In the last year, many work discussions have been around the use of a self-hosted service versus a hosted service. A self-hosted service with five people devoting one percent of their working time to the security of the system is not uncommon. A hosted service has five people dedicating 50+ percent of their time to security. Which system would I trust?

In the last year, an internal dialog similar to the work-related security and focus discussion has been bubbling in my head. I have used “self-hosted” Wordpress, file transfer and storage, contacts and calendars. I am putting information valuable to me on a server on the Internet. I am not hosting them on a dedicated server or a server in my home. I’m on a shared server, managed by Dreamhost, which has worked well. They have security staff and systems in place to find and stop most of the compromises. The issue comes when Wordpress plugins have security holes allowing comprise, or poorly written PHP that exposes personal information.

Erik Hess:

It’s safe to say that static, self-hosted blogs tend to attract the nerdier slice of the vast writing public. I am a proud member of that slice.

Having said that, even nerds get tired of dealing with the day-to-day demands of managing yet-another-web-application, especially if that’s what they do all day long, day-in and day-out.

Changing the hosting of my blog to Medium was an easy choice. In addition to the security benefits, Drew Coffman explains:

There are several benefits to using Medium as Extratextuals’ host, but the main reason that I made a move was this — the time I have to write, I want to write. I have very little interest in fiddling with a website, and even though I streamlined every possible aspect of my Wordpress build, I was still finding myself, every day, fixing settings and making things work.

Marius Masalar expands on Drew’s thoughts, saying:

Here on Medium, I relinquish control over those details.

In exchange, I gain the peace of mind that comes from knowing that instead of me there’s now an entire staff of people whose only job it is to keep everything looking and functioning perfectly, on any platform, under any circumstance.

They’re experts. It’s liberating.

Meanwhile, my content remains mine, I get to keep my URL, my old links redirect seamlessly, and my SEO performance can only get better.

(Emphasis mine)

Moving my blog to medium still conforms with Marco Arment’s thoughts on owning the platform:

You can use someone else’s software, but still have your own “platform”, if you’re hosting it from a domain name you control and are able to easily take your content and traffic with you to another tool or host at any time. You don’t need to go full-Stallman and build your own blogging engine from scratch on a Linux box in your closet — a Tumblr, Squarespace, or WordPress blog is perfectly fine if you use your own domain name and can export your data easily.

So. Owning the platform. What does that mean? How does it conflict with buying a product instead of being one? I am of two minds about this tension. Firstly, I am willing to pay for products that make my life better, like Dropbox, and the products that I can’t pay for, I will work to own the associated domain.

I am replacing almost everything that I have done on my slice of the shared server.

I am using Medium to host my blog now. Partly to increase my “exposure”, partly to stop worry about the constant security issues. I am posting under my own domain, key to Marco’s argument. In addition, I have migrated my email from Dreamhost to Fastmail, which has worked very well. I have mostly given up on RSS, so hosting feed reading software isn’t necessary, also because I am following only a few dedicated site instead of the firehose of the Internet. Calendars and contacts are hosted with Fastmail and iCloud and the mix allows me to share calendars when appropriate. For one-off podcast listening, Overcast’s new upload feature makes my self-hosted service redundant. I am using a paid Dropbox account which allows me to share data from my devices.

I am quickly moving my services from Dreamhost, not because anything bad has happened, but because of what Erik Hess said:

[E]ven nerds get tired of dealing with the day-to-day demands of managing yet-another-web-application, especially if that’s what they do all day long, day-in and day-out.

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