I'm Unable To Be Me

Self-hosting: it's difficult, inefficient, fragile. So why do I do it?

I self-host, unwillingly, in order to own my own identity. I insist on my online identity being independent. I don't accept being Julian @ some-messaging-co or Julian @ some-video-sharing-co today, and Julian @ some-other-co tomorrow. I'm just Julian @ my-own-domain. Services may come and go, while this remains my identity under my control for as long as I choose.

For many services today, unfortunately, self-hosting is the ugly means to this desired end.

With any proprietary services, I'm unable to be me. So I use open standards.

Without self-hosting, currently, I'm unable to be me. So I self-host.

But self-hosting is not what I want to be doing, and it need not be the case. If we (as a society) were to fund and work on what's required, then everyone would be able to own the “rights” to their own services, their own addresses, their own digital identities, without self-hosting the services, just renting them (cheaply) from providers.

I think about this a lot. There are lots of pieces to the puzzle, lots of problems with the whole situation, such as data portability, privacy, funding and business models.

But the key to unraveling the whole problem is to own one's own identity. More precisely, we need to be able to run/rent/buy services that operate under an identity (domain name, usually) that we bring to them. Not an identity that the service provider controls. Bring Your Own Identity, Bring Your Own Domain. Instead of our instant message service address being some-name @ some-co and our video sharing address being some-name @ other-co and so on, we should be able to request the same identity “me @ my-domain” on every service.

Sounds ridiculous, perhaps? Multiple services at the same address — my matrix address being the same as my email address and my fediverse address? Well, I'm already doing it. It's not impossible or confusing. It's just unfamiliar. And that's because many services aren't cheaply easily available in this mode, some aren't designed to support it, and of course the big tech business model doesn't want to design their services that way because they enjoy their lock-in. And most of all, because nobody is promoting it, it's currently unnecessarily awkward for ordinary people to manage their own domain. But it's already cheap enough and one-click management would be quite straightforward to build. (Most pieces of what's needed already exist and just need putting together and declared as a standard way to do it.)

By bringing our own id to each service, then we gain the ability to switch any service to a different provider without losing continuity of our identity. (For standardised services, not proprietary ones, of course.)

I need to write more but I have been making some attempts:

When I can Bring my Own Identity, then I'm Able To Be Me


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