Friday, 30 August 2013

An experiment: How much do we need Google, Facebook, Microsoft...?

It's time for a project. The house is decorated, the motorbike is running sweetly, my football data sources have dried up (for the moment, anyway) and the British weather isn't playing ball with paragliding conditions.

Spare time alert. I need a new project.

A few different things have consolidated together into Wallpapering Fog's next occasional series of articles.

Plus a family member asked how to avoid all this online tracking and I said that beyond a few anonymising and blocking tools like Adblock, Disconnect and Ghostery, I didn't really know.

What kind of a data monkey gets asked a question like that and doesn't really know? Poor form, that. Very poor form.

Today, @Wired flagged up a new website which lists some open source tools and services that can be trusted. You can take a look at

So how easy is it to run your own tools, instead of taking the commercial software and social network routes, in return for being tracked and advertised at?

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Gmail's interface and I like Google+ for its photo galleries. I don't really like Facebook but the paragliding community has started to organise itself on it, so my account needs to stay. This isn't going to be a toys-out-the-pram abandonment of the corporate web, but I want to know how easy it is to get along without the big boys' toys. Can a fairly techy analyst do it, or is it hardcore geekery, reserved for the people who wear Linux t-shirts and code their own printer drivers? How far can you stretch a £35 Raspberry Pi? Do we really need Facebook as a platform for sharing, or are we just lazy?

A few things I know I want to do are...

  • Set up a Raspberry Pi to run my own cloud storage (replacing Google Drive)
  • Stick Linux (which one? So much to learn...) on our old laptop at home, replacing Windows
  • See if I can run my own email (replacing Gmail)
  • Build a photo gallery website (replacing Google+ photos)
And there are bound to be more projects that start to reveal themselves along the way.

I've got an idea that centralising web services is, in many cases, stupid. One Facebook data centre has got so big, it generates its own indoor rain clouds... Why not take back your data, onto your own small-scale system that you control? The only reasons I can see why not, would be if it's hard, unstable, or expensive. Let's find out if it's hard, unstable, or expensive. If nothing else, it will be a fun journey!

Raspberry Pi ordered and when it arrives we'll set about finding out and documenting what can be achieved by an enthusiastic amateur with a few hours to kill.

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