Indieweb and self-hosting my own space

  • Lessening my dependency on big tech for my online presence, conversations and collaboration.
  • Avoiding proprietary algorithms and their determination of what receives attention.
  • Supporting small tech, a concept best described by Small Technology Foundation.
  • Learning enough to help others. And to feel more confident I know what I’m talking about when speaking and writing about independence on the web.

First step: A VPS

A server is a computer connected to a network that can “serve” content, often for the web. A website is always hosted on a server. It can be private in the sense that I as the owner and administrator do not share it with others. On a shared server (which is the most common way for small entitities to host a website on a web hotel) your assets, and availability, are more vulnerable. You have to abide by more rules, you do not have access to all the settings of the server and can not install what you want on it. The shared environment means security issues, limited resources and the fact that your website could slow down becuse there are other popular websites on the same server.

Choosing a VPS

I did a fair bit of research with regards to suppliers in Sweden and landed on Hostup as the option that appealed to me the most. Beyond price I looked at response times and uptimes, and also geographical proximity. I think if you ask online you can get many different recommendations. If you are in the EU you likely want an EU-based host.

Specifications

Specifications is about what your server has in terms of memory and computing power. This will depend on how you plan to use it, how much traffic you expect and how many applications you intend to host.

  • 2 Cores @ 3 GHz
  • 2 GB ECC RAM
  • 2 TB traffic
  • 3 Cores @ 3 GHz
  • 4 GB ECC RAM
  • 4 TB traffic

Cloudron to the rescue

What originally had me hesitant about even starting down this route is the fact that I really do not have the time and skills to regularly maintain, update and keep a server secure. Sure, my skills are good enough to get by and find my way through help documentation. But my fear was that I would soon realise I had bitten off more than I can chew. I can enjoy midnight problem solving as much as the next geek, but there certainly is a limit. Especially when all my online publications are affected.

  • Scheduled, encrypted backups to external storage.
  • An email solution with automated DKIM, SPF, DMARC setup for reliable mail delivery.
  • Portability. If I want to move my whole Cloudron setup to another cloud/VPS provider I can do that. No more exporting and importing blogs from one install to another.
  • Automated SSL-certificate management with Let’s Encrypt. This is all managed behind the scenes by Cloudron for any domain I add.

The apps I’m running

To minimise concern I am sticking with the apps offered out of the box with Cloudron. They are plentiful.

Social media

  • Mastodon. I’m running my own instance of this open source social media platform.
  • Pixelfed. Also part of the Fediverse this is an Instagram alternative that I’m trying out for my cartoon. I may end up not using it and just sticking with the cartoon as a blog.

Blogs

I’ve closed my Ghost(Pro) accounts where I had my two main blogs at a hefty price. Just one of those was almost priced the same as what I’m now paying for my entire setup.

Newsletter

The blogs are obvious. The newsletter perhaps was not. I looked at Mailtrain first, which sounds like the logical choice because it’s described as a newsletter application. But it felt too complex. Again: I just want to write and push publish. So I realised that a big part of Ghost is the ability to send out newsletters to “members”. It is a newsletter platform as well.

Cartoon

On a whim I started drawing a comic strip called Wild Exploits in May, which is something I’ve wanted to do for years. Given how I’d just realised the simplicity of setting up my newsletter on Ghost it was a no-brainer to do the same for the cartoon. So each cartoon is just a blog post and anyone can read the cartoon by subscribing via straight-up email or RSS.

Wild Exploits #5: Autonomous drone. Image description.

Document sharing and collaboration

I’ve always been a big fan of wikis, but also the power of live collaboration in documents. I’ve been trying out a couple of the wikis in the Cloudron library, but haven’t decided finally yet on which one I’ll finally use, but I have found something else: Hedgedoc.

Performance

As you will have realised, what I am self-hosting is probably a bit more than what an average blogger for example would want to host. I’d say that running one or two blogs you can easily do on the server specification I had at first.

Backups

We are always reliant on backups to truly feel safe. Included with my VPS host are weekly backups of my server. I can pay a few kronor more per month for daily backups.

  1. If you need the backup because of a server issue how will you reach it?

Is all this worth it?

It’s a resounding yes from me. I do realise the costs of what I’m describing will appear rather expensive for many. My costs are also run through my own company, allowing me to deduct VAT.

  1. What service costs do I have today that I’m not thinking of? i.e. Are there services I am paying for that I perhaps had not realised I could instead self-host?
  2. My values. Am I perhaps willing to pay a little extra (if that truly turns out to be the case) to not support big tech and surveillance capitalism?
  3. To what extent am I okay with losing content or letting others share my content for their own gains, given that it’s stored with companies with growth as their primary goal and where I am a tiny, tiny voice often signing off my content to be used by algorithms?

More to come

I still haven’t addressed email. This is perhaps my own biggest challenge. I have decades worth of email stored in my Google Workspace account and being able to search that treasure trove is a significant tool in many everyday workflows. I’m afraid replacing it will have an impact on my efficiency through a poorer search experience but also things like the lack of calendar integrations (yes, I use Calendly as well) and questionable spam filters.

Stay tuned

As mentioned I intend to update this post with significant developments, and if you want to make sure you don’t miss anything there is always the newsletter.

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Per Axbom

Per Axbom

Making tech safe and compassionate through design, coaching and teaching. Independent consultant. Co-host of UX Podcast. Primary publication: axbom.com