We are the Product: the Path to Self Hosting
Gmail was founded on the premise of free email for users in exchange for Google reading user emails to show relevant ads. It seemed like a fair trade and a new way of paying for services. But over time, as business optimized the model for revenue, it started to get in the way of using those services.
What we watch — My Roku TV started showing popups and inviting us to watch the same show on the Roku when watching something on our Apple TV. This confirmed stories I have heard that TVs are becoming cheaper, less than parts and labor, because they are using embedding image recognition to monitor and sell data on what we are watching.
What we write — Following the fall of RSS, I've used Medium to host various blogs for years. It seemed like a good way to get an audience and see stats on readership. But over the course of those years, Medium started showing popups to readers to buy a Medium membership. Medium also started showing notices to me, as a writer, to publish my works behind a paywall.
What we say — More and more Twitter, my main social network, has started feeling like LinkedIn. A professional work network. It felt less like a community and more like a self indulgent place for people to flaunt their witticisms and sick burns. On top of this, the platform is increasingly struggling to balance moderation with overreaching censorship. To be fair, at their scale, a daunting and maybe impossible task.
Over time, these free services turned from users being the customer to the data brokers and advertisers being the customer. We're the product. But we can opt out.
Self hosting services isn't new and is, in fact, how the internet was built. Society moved to hosted services because self hosting makes it hard to discover people and content and to be discovered ourselves. Federation was, and is, the answer to the discoverability problem but now we have new federation technologies available to us.
With the success of Mastodon, federated social networks and services have achieved critical mass. Self hosting doesn't mean isolation anymore so opting out by leaving centralized networks is a newly refreshed viable choice.