Over the weekend, I was messing around with Wallabag. It's a self-hosted read-it-later service, like Pocket or Instapaper, but it runs on your own server. Growing tired of Pocket sticking "Best of" and other unwanted recommendations in my face, I had switched back to Instapaper, but I got to wondering if there was an open-source alternative. Sure enough, a bit of searching turned one up, so I installed it.
It worked well enough, and got me thinking about RSS readers. Following the demise of Google Reader, I used Feedly for a while, then switched to Feedbin when news broke of Feedly's questionable ethics. Feedbin has fit my needs quite well for some months now, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good web-based RSS reader service.
Still, I'm a tinkerer, so I set up TinyTinyRSS on a server. After playing with it for a while, I found myself wondering why I was bothering. While it works, it's kind of clunky, and I can't hook it up Unread, the mobile RSS app I use (and really like quite a bit). Beyond that, there is the ever-present question of any mid- or lower-tier open-source app: What happens when the person who wrote it moves on?
I tend to go back and forth on the question of to what degree it makes sense for me to host my own online stuff, versus putting my content on someone else's service.
Generally speaking, there are two factors that I consider when deciding whether to go the DIY route, or let someone else host it:
- How important is the content to me, and how much would I care if I suddenly lost access to it?
- How do I feel about someone else leveraging that content for their own purposes?
When it comes to my blog, it is a pretty clear-cut case for me on both counts.
I have hosted my own blog for going on ten years now, either on my own server, or on a general-use hosting service that I pay for (originally NearlyFreeSpeech.net, now an Amazon EC2 instance). While I may not own the underlying hardware (or in the case of web hosting, the OS), I control everything above that. It is important to me that I have full access to the platform that serves up the stuff that I write on my blog–not because it is groundbreaking or particularly brilliant writing, but rather because it is mine and I want to be able to do with it what I want. If I get tired of the CMS I'm using, I want to be able to pull everything out of it and put it somewhere else.
Besides–hosting a blog is pretty easy, as these sorts of things go. A basic LAMP-stack server is a breeze to set up, so the barrier to entry is pretty low. Keeping WordPress updated used to be a pain in the ass, but that's not an issue since I stopped using WordPress.
Contrast that with email. While I would like to host my own mail, building and maintaining a mail server is no joke. It's something best left to the professionals, and I am perfectly happy to pay Fastmail a modest fee on an annual basis to do that for me.
Returning to the two services that started this line of thought (read-it-later and RSS), I can't really justify the time and effort of building and maintaining them myself. I don't really care about any of the stuff I'm storing on Instapaper or Feedbin–I didn't create it, and it's of little use to me after I have read it once.
Those calculations are going to be different for everyone. If I had more time and energy, I might be more willing to go the DIY route for more of this stuff. If I were less technically inclined, even maintaining my own blog would be problematic. I think this is a point that gets lost in the debate over the degree to which Facebook, Twitter, etc. control public discourse and personal publishing. It would be great if a) everyone could set up their own publishing platform, or b) there were some kind of open-access publishing system.
Unfortunately, while the technology and tools exist for Option A, the subset of people who can actually do that is vanishingly small. As for Option B, the internets cost money, especially at scale, and that money has to come from somewhere, and people seem to disinclined to pay for online services.