Are Online Services EVIL?

Edit - October 14, 2018 - Since the 2016 elections, the revelations about Cambridge Analytica, and more stories about Facebook trying to overstep the privacy bounds I am no longer convinced that there aren’t bad intentions. At best they’re negligent.


I’ll be giving at talk at WordCamp NYC this month, so I thought I’d explore some of the ideas I’ll be touching on in blog form. I’d love your feedback below to further my research.

The topic of my talk is: “WORDPRESS, YOUR WORLD, YOUR DATA”

Too many companies provide social services for “free,” quite literally banking on your data. WordPress is unique in that it charges (quite minimally) for the services it provides, and YOU own YOUR data. I will explore various tools and paradigms — existing, and in the works — to develop and leverage your WordPress site as a central hub for your social data.

I have nothing against online services. But let’s let them remain services, and not give them sole propriety over all our data just because it’s our default way of sharing…

You should trust no one with your business success. You should build your business around the most open platform in the world: the open Internet.

- Jason Calacanis

This is as true for your business as it’s true for your life.

I like being able to control how and what I share, I like remixing data and sharing it in different ways. Google is notorious for closing down projects that aren’t doing well. Why would I invest giving a product all my data when it will be closed down, then I have to worry about whether I’ll ever get that back again… Remember when Yahoo closed down Geocities?

How much would it hurt your social life if you got locked out of your Facebook account?

I’m not being paranoid, just realistic. These things really do happen.

On the other hand, WordPress isn’t going anywhere. The WordPress foundation, responsible for the core code, is an open source foundation. Since its infrastructure powers ~25% of the internet, even if it _did dissolve, _your site wouldn’t be effected, and within days someone else would have a way to import your site to a new technology.

Hell, there already are ways to migrate your site. You can export your data TODAY, and create an exact replica of your WordPress.com site on your own host and do whatever you want with the code.

Sure I use Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and Instagram. I try out pretty much every service that sounds interesting that comes out, and I keep using the ones I like.

But let’s be honest, it’s a give and take: we get free services, and receive benefit. The services gain customers, which they leverage with some business model. If it’s a free service, then the business model is your data… and sometimes the government forces their hand, or they just cooperate, or maybe they just believe in radical transparency…

Is that evil? I don’t think so, and you do like free things, right?

But know, you should NEVER EVER EVER share ANYTHING you deem too private to be public. Period. But you knew that already.

A paradigm I’d like to explore, is what you can do, on top of your own personal site.

Who says your blog needs to be solely a blog?

Who says you can’t have private notes, for yourself, or between you and a few other people?

Why not save ideas, links, files and locations for later, on your site? It’s yours. It won’t be mined, profiled or resold. If you care for it, it won’t be lost.