Goodbye Dreamhost

I finally closed my Dreamhost account yesterday, after nearly 11 years of hosting my websites, email accounts & lists, Jabber, and code repos with them. Over the last couple of years I’ve been migrating things to other providers: the web stuff to Digital Ocean, email to Fastmail, and a few bits and pieces to Google and Github. It’s a nice feeling to shed this old account! And a bit sad.

I now have just three main computers in my life: my phone, laptop, and VPS.

It’s not because Dreamhost is bad that I’m leaving, not at all: it’s just about simplifying things, gaining control, and feeling confident enough to manage a Linux server on my own. If I wanted a shared hosting account, I’d still use them, and I dare say I’ll carry on recommending them to anyone looking for a place to host their own WordPress, MediaWiki, or Piwigo etc.

I get the impression that self-hosting isn’t as popular as it once was, and that people prefer to hand their data off to firms who will dictate structure and offer reliability and ease. I think that’s partly because of the network effect of it being somtimes better to use the same service as everyone else, and partly because self-hosted software isn’t as easy to use as it should be. The former is hard to fix (see Mastadon etc), but the latter is about building quality software that’s easy to install and maintain. That’s something I want to help with.

Self-hosted websites are doomed to die

I keep wanting to be able to recommend the ‘best’ way for people (who don’t like command lines) to get research stuff online. Is it Flickr, Zenodo, Internet Archive, Wikimedia, and Github? Or is it a shared hosting account on Dreamhost, running MediaWiki, WordPress, and Piwigo? I’d rather the latter! Is it really that hard to set up your own website? (I don’t think so, but I probably can’t see what I can’t see.)

Anyway, even if running your own website, one should still be putting stuff on Wikimedia projects. And even if not using it for everything, Flickr is a good place for photos (in Australia) because you can add them to the Australia in Pictures group and they’ll turn up in searches on Trove. The Internet Archive, even if not a primary and cited place for research materials, is a great place to upload wikis’ public page dumps. So it really seems that the remaining trouble with self-hosting websites is that they’re fragile and subject to complete loss if you abandon them (i.e. stop paying the bills).

My current mitigation to my own sites’ reliance on me is to create annual dumps in multiple formats, including uploading public stuff to IA, and printing some things, and burning all to Blu-ray discs that get stored in polypropylene sleeves in the dark in places I can forget to throw them out. (Of course, I deal in tiny amounts of data, and no video.)

What was it Robert Graves said in I, Claudius about the best way to ensure the survival of a document being to just leave it sitting on ones desk and not try at all to do anything special — because it’s all perfectly random anyway as to what persists, and we can not influence the universe in any meaningful way?

On not hosting everything

I’ve been moving all my photos to Flickr lately. It’s been a long process, one complicated by the fact that it seems silly to run my own WordPress installation (and things like ArchivesWiki) if I’m not going to bother hosting everything myself. Of course, that’s not really very logical, and so I’ve decided that it’s perfectly okay to host photos on Flickr, videos on YouTube, and all the text (and miscellaneous) stuff here on my own server.