How depending on a platform is a ticket to financial ruin, and what to do about it

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Let this stand as a warning to all those who use (for example) Gmail as their sole work related email. If you rely on a technology for your living, you need to be in control of it. That doesnt have to mean running your own email server, but it does mean buying it with money from a company that has real human-human customer support for when something goes wrong.


I think it rather does.

That makes the money the platform you rely upon instead some other free service. Unless you have a say in how that money works, you are still relying upon somebody else to be in control of it for you.

The real deal is what terms you negotiate with a given service provider, not the amount or form of the compensation.

A huge part of the problem is caused when cost-cutting goes too far. People and companies now get services for free and stop valuing them (until those systems crash). Now that so many firms dumped customer support, getting it costs a lot more but involves fewer workers.

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I used to run my own mail server; it was pretty easy when you use mh/pine/etc. and SSH in to check email. Lately we have started setting up all sorts of services on our home machine, including webmail, which is a little more work but not much. I am using exim+dovecot+rainloop, a nice webmail server. Everyone reading this has the savvy to do the same, and I highly encourage you to do so (we will publish docs of our process).

Other services you can set up this way include video chat (jitsi), text chat (let’s chat), group text editing (etherpad). I would like to add photo/video gallery capabilities but haven’t found a good application yet, so I might write one - streaming video of my private movie collection to any device seems fun. Later I would like to add a map/location service so our family can privately share location info and so on.

You should, nay must, do the same!


I still miss the one-bit MacPaint.


Where will you be posting docs?


Don’t most ISP’s now block attempts to SMTP into a home machine? I know mine does. The best I seem to be able to do is use fetchmail or something to bring the mail onto the home server from an ISP’s mail agent (or gmail, or whatever).


Zeynep Tufekci teaches at the University of North Carolina, not Duke.

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Case in point: WhAmazon is turning the monopolist screws on small suppliers.

“Whole Foods Markets is placing new limits on how products are sold in its stores and asking suppliers to help pay for the changes, riling some mom-and-pop vendors that have long depended on the grocer for visibility and shelf space.”

Whole Foods used to be genuinely supportive of small-scale food product makers. WF gave low-interest loans to food startups to enable them to increase production and place product on WF shelves regionally. But one of the first things Amazon did was to eliminate regional purchasing.

"In an email obtained by The Washington Post, Clark advised suppliers that they would be required to help fund the effort.

“Suppliers that sell more than $300,000 of goods annually to Whole Foods will be required to discount their products by 3 percent (for groceries) or 5 percent (for health and beauty products) to fund the new program. Local suppliers will also have to pay $110 for each four-hour product demonstration by Daymon, while national suppliers will have to pay $165. (Vendors can also continue to host demonstrations themselves, as long as they pay a scheduling fee of between $10 and $30.)”

I’d disagree: The question is how dependent you are, not just how much you do yourself; and it is possible both to retain greater independence while having a 3rd party do it or to become more dependent while still doing it in-house.

If, say, you could swap out one service provider and drop in another one with minimal fuss you aren’t doing it yourself but are not exactly at the mercy of whatever service provider you are using at the moment. If you are running it in house; but so tightly intertwined with your chosen software that it would be a ugly business moving to something else you are substantially at the mercy of the direction of that software project, even if you are running it yourself(as anyone who has had the pleasure of a nice hairy legacy system can attest, this isn’t exactly theoretical: it’s actually a pretty common outcome, a nominally independent system; but one sufficiently ideosyncratic that it is hard to switch away from and sufficiently private that it no longer shares the burden of ongoing development with anybody else and either has to pay increasingly large bribes to the vendor if it includes proprietary software or essentially fund their own security-backports-to-kernels-time-forgot effort if it’s OSS; or more likely just whistle innocently and pretend that there isn’t a problem because those options aren’t financially viable for most).

Someone who depends on Gmail in an ‘’ sense is, indeed, beholden to Mountain View because they can’t switch without losing their address, if nothing else. Someone who farms out managing the mailbox; but could switch basically by updating their MX records and pointing their imap client at a new address is arguably not.

This is, I suspect, why the really scary ‘platform’ types are the ones that are very, very, hard to force into nice modular boxes that can be swapped out at clean interfaces. Email is hardly a perfect example(aside from being a nuisance to safely administer, getting other servers to reliably accept traffic from DIY mailservers can be a bit of a toss-up); but it’s a whole lot closer than most messaging systems newer than it is; which tend to not even pretend to play nice with outsiders(you know it’s a bad thing when more or less the only mobile text messaging system with interoperability is SMS, the one sold by the demonic telco hegemons; and everything else is a walled garden with hungry shareholders(even cool kids like Signal, whatever its cryptographic virtues, do not like playing nicely with others and don’t even feel the need to pretend otherwise); or which are architecturally optional; but command such a share of traffic that you are welcome to go be compatible in obscurity if you don’t like their terms; as in the case of Google vs. All The Newspapers Ever).


I code in python for a living. I don’t pay for it and its not going to just go away.

I have consumer grade ADSL on a static IP address and incoming SMTP works fine. For outgoing I set an SMTP route to my ISP’s SMTP server. They don’t care about the return address.

My hummus has a first name, it’s a 400-byte unique string. My hummus has a second name I must never sing…something something R-e-a-c-t-N-G.f-e-l that’s it.

Not really. Unless you are willing to run not only your servers at home and negotiate with other ISPs for transportation, you’ll be dependent on bought services anyway. Because even renting your own server or server rack at an ISP makes you vulnerable to disruption. But that would also be true for the electricity you buy or the gas you need for your cars.

As long as you own your domain and use services that are easily reproducible by a variety of providers, you are usually good to go. Even with “cloud” technology, as long as you remember to keep a copy of all your data in house plus another backup in another place.

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