Take back the data – Part 2

I’ve decided to stop using cloud services and move all my data back to my own computers. In Take back the data – Part 1, I listed all the services that I use. The next step is to figure out how to replace them and move my data back. To replace the services that the cloud provides, I need to:

  1. Store my data locally
  2. Backup my data (ideally an offsite backup)
  3. Provide remote access to my data

The first part is easy. The second two are much harder because of how home internet service works.

Internet providers use dynamic IP addresses. Each customer gets a new address every few days/weeks. This is like having a phone but getting a new phone number every week. You could make phone calls to other people, but couldn’t really receive phone calls back because no one knows your number. With dynamic IP addresses, you can talk to other computers, but you have to start the conversation. The consequence of this arrangement is that you can’t really run a website from your home computer.

Broadband companies will sell you a static IP (like a permanent phone number) for a small monthly fee, but since very few people have a static IP addresses, software companies haven’t been motivated to make it easy to setup a home website. So, for most people, if you want to share photos or start a blog, you have to involve a third party like wordpress.com or facebook.

This is really too bad. The promise of the internet was that anyone could publish content that could be seen by anyone else. Now we have a few large companies that are in the business of publishing other people’s content and making money off it. Just like record companies and book publishers before them, many internet companies (Facebook, twitter, flickr, youtube, etc) make money by publishing the content created by other people.

But it didn’t need to be that way. There was really no reason that we couldn’t each have our own IP address and our own personal website. Windows could have made it easy to publish your own content to your own site. Finding and connecting to other people could have been as easy as looking up or sharing a phone number. But that isn’t how things turned out, and now it is quite a bit of hassle to setup your own website. I’ll have another post with a lot more detail about hardware and software setup, but here is the quick summary:

  1. Buy a static IP. We have DSL from CenturyLink and they charge $5 per month to have a static IP.
  2. Register your domain name and point it to that IP address. That costs about $10/year.
  3. Setup a machine as the web-server. This machine should be left on all the time. Most any computer will do for a personal website.
  4. Install apache or some other web server software on the machine.
  5. Keep the OS and web server software up to date, do regular backups, make sure the machine stays on and working.

Once you have a website, it is possible to replicate most of the services that are provided by the cloud. I am going to use software called OwnCloud. OwnCloud is a webapp (a program that runs on a web server) that provides a way to store files, contacts, pictures, music and calendars on your website and share them with just the people you want to share them with. Since OwnCloud is running on my own web server, no third party has access to my data.

OwnCloud will replace the following cloud services:

  • Music access: I was using Amazon to hold my music collection and provide access to it when I am away from home.
  • File Sharing: I used Dropbox to distribute touch table games. OwnCloud even has read-only and per user sharing.
  • Notes: I used Evernote to take notes on my phone. I’ll replace that with a text file shared from OwnCloud.
  • RSS reader: I used Feedly as an RSS feed aggregator. There is a feed reader app for OwnCloud that provides most of the features I want.
  • Calendar: I’ve been using Google to hold my calendar. There is a paid app to keep my OwnCloud calendar synced to my phone.
  • Contacts: I have contacts stored in Google mail and Windows mail. There is a free app to keep my OwnCloud contacts synced to my phone.
  • Google Docs: My own files can move to OwnCloud.
  • Passwords: Lastpass stores all my passwords. I will switch to Keepass. It stores all the passwords locally instead of on a server. I’ll keep the encrypted password file in OwnCloud so that I have access when I am not at home. Keypass has a chrome plugin, so it will be similar to Lastpass.

Other services can be replaced with other software on my own web server or computer:

  • Wishlist: I keep a wishlist at Amazon for my family to use. I have moved this wishlist to my own website.
  • Feedly Tags: I tagged a bunch of blog posts with Google Reader and Feedly. I’ll move these tags to bookmarks in my browser.
  • Geneology: I used Geni.com to create a family tree. I use it more to store information about the people who are alive now than to try to piece together the past. There are lots of geneology programs for the PC and none of my family ended up joining Geni to help me maintain the tree, so I can move this data out of the cloud once I find a good program.
  • ChadWeisshaar.com: Hostmonster is my web hosting company. I put a lot of my information on chadweisshaar.com and they own the physical hardware that stores that information. This includes my blog, info and download pages for the software that I have written, databases used by some of my programs, public and private photo galleries and an off-site backup. Once my contract expires I will point chadweisshaar.com to my local web server.
  • Embedded videos: I have hosted a couple of private videos at YouTube so that I could embed them into blog posts. I will need to host the videos locally and use Video.js and the associated wordpress plugin to embed the videos.
  • Google mail: I already have an email account at chadweisshaar.com and will use that exclusively.

And there are some things that will have to stay on third party services.

  • Facebook/Twitter/Google+/LinkedIn: I rarely post anything to these sites, and most of my posts are links to something on my website. I don’t see any alternative to these sites since they are my only connection to quite a few people.
  • Google chrome account: I have an account in Google chrome that keeps my bookmarks and plugins synced between chrome installs.
  • Google Docs: Some documents are shared with other people who will no be interested in switching services, so these documents will have to stay on the cloud.
  • Google voice: I have a phone number on Google voice. I use it as my main contact number and receive calls, voice-mail and text messages on this number. There is no way to truly keep any of this information private. I can either trust Google, or I can trust T-Mobile. I am going to keep using Google voice for now. The next time I change plans at T-Mobile, I will try to get text messages included so that I can start dropping Google Voice. It is not that I trust T-Mobile much more than I trust Google. But there is a chance that Google Voice will go away like Reader did.
  • SteamPowered: I have bought quite a few computer games from Steam. In reality these games are rented for the life of my account at Steam. I can make a backup of the game, but it still has to connect to the steam server to run. If Steam actually went out of business, someone would probably come up with a work around. So I will download and keep my own backup of all the games I have on Steam.

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