Your FOSS Project Deserves its Own Domain
Where does your project live? Where do people find it? Who controls how people access your project's resources on the Internet?
Github the Mega-Mall
In practice, what do ninety-something percent of small FOSS projects do? They sign up on Microsoft Github. If we are one of these, then we feel our little project has a home on the Internet, its own address:
https://github.com/our-name/our-repo. Oops, but did I say an address of its own? Well, there's the catch. I meant an address of Microsoft's own.
Github is a Gatekeeper. Every link to our project now takes the reader through a virtual gateway owned and ruled by Github's owner, Microsoft. The domain name is the gate, and its owner holds the key. Want to visit the source code? Before we reach
our-name/our-repo we must walk through their gate at
github.com. We must pass through whatever they put in the gateway. Ads? Nagging to sign up? Then they will let us visit the source code that we feel is “ours”.
Of course they make it appealing: if we're signed up and logged in already, we don't see the nagging, the self-advertisement to log in or sign up. But other visitors do.
Github operates on the model of free-as-in-free-beer, convenient-to-start, you-are-the-product, pay-with-your-data-and-your-attention, we-got-you-cornered, now-we-got-your-users-too.
Beyond source code...
Want to distribute the builds from your project? Github provides easy ways to automate the builds of your software using generous amounts of compute time and storage “for free”, and ways to publish the results.
Want to publish documentation? Easy. Remember, Github provides features that are convenient to start with. Github helps your users read the docs, conveniently hosted at
our-project.readthedocs.io/. That's a Github domain name too. Microsoft now controls everybody's access to “our” docs. They can add things — such as adverts — and prevent us doing certain things with our docs. They can redirect readers' attention to their own business. They do this to millions of projects at once, manipulating the users of these millions of projects, all to drive their business goals.
Feeding The Corporate Interest
It's the network effect, as in social media, combined with the ease of use that comes from letting somebody else do the administration. People and small projects feel they are getting value, individually, out of this system, and in an individual and short-term sense indeed they are; but all the while being coerced into feeding the corporate interest, and all the while putting bigger obstacles in the way of other people's freedom to choose a different path.
There is no technical reason why a big company should not offer services that it provides on your own domain, so that you retain the addressability if you should decide to move to a different service provider. Services that we pay for, such as many email providers, offer bring-your-own-domain service. But the big “free” ones? They need to monetise you some other way, and they get a huge lock-in factor by putting your stuff behind the gate of their domain.
What To Do?
Get your own domain name. Host your code, docs, forums there.
You don't have to self-host it: look for a bring-your-own-domain provider for your services.
The federated music server “funkwhale” is a good example. The project's home is
https://funkwhale.audio with many of its resources at subdomains like
Owning the address of our project is key to owning our project.
“Millions of Free Software developers forgot why it matters to own their tools.” — ForgeFriends
Postscript: Non-DNS Naming Systems
With DNS, access to a domain is controlled some person or company who we can loosely call the “owner”. Technically that is the “registrant”, somebody who registers and pays for the domain name. The registrant (“owner”) of
our-project.org has ultimate control over access to all resources under that domain name and all its subdomains.
In the near future, DNS is set to remain the dominant naming system. However, DNS is not perfect. In fact it has serious problems. You may have heard of several other systems for naming things on the Internet. A lot of work is going into these, and I am hopeful that we will see widespread use of one or more alternative naming systems. If you are involved with any of those, you might want to consider how we can apply the principle that people and projects deserve to own their own name space.
- email me:
- matrix me:
Donations gratefully accepted