Private Social Network

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Some benefits of a private social network


So I set up a private instance of Gnu Social, which is open source software for self-hosting your own social network, micro-blogging, and communications platform. What follows are a few reasons for my wanting to pursue running my own private, digital social island as opposed to only living on proprietary networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like.

What I want, when I want it

I am not a recluse; I do participate in conversations using - and have plenty of relationships via - social networks. I don't believe the companies who start and maintain proprietary social networks are inherently evil. They're businesses with business goals, have stakeholders that need to be pleased, and human workers that need to be paid, etc. Do I believe their goals align with my goals? Highly unlikely; and I get that. Hey, someone had to pay for all those free services; because I wasn't pay for them.

I'll be honest in stating that in the last few years, I've become concerned about monolithic companies having so much absolute control over my online/internet presence. I understand the value they might bring, but it is less and less valuable to me specifically. If my friends, acquaintances, colleagues and I really want to stay in touch (beyond the hilarious, shareable but ultimately non-essential internet meme), there are other methods like email/text/SMS/phone and of course the classic flesh-space. So there's a bit of the digital homesteading feeling manifesting itself in me more and more, as time goes by. It's less about the tinfoil-hat-type of fear and more simply about having freedom of choice and being self-sufficient. I know this freedom inherently comes with more opportunities to distract one's life with often too many choices and - add to that - any associated maintenance responsibilities. It just feels freer, and for all its extra work feels like a worthwhile initiative. To a degree, I can do pretty much what I want, how I want, and am not beholden to a platform's terms of use, privacy policy. So yeah, if any of these so-called free services goes away, changes their level of service, alters their respect to my privacy, or whatever, I'd be living in my own private Idaho.

Sure many of the public, free social networks have many brilliant engineers building their systems to avoid data loss, and develop quite ingenious measures of redundancy. But unless I'm paying for a service, there is little incentive to provide exceptional service to me personally, and specifically. If enough things go wrong with these services, users en masse can migrate away, so there is some incentive to provide at least a half-way decent platform. But I'm under no illusions that I'm not the main customer for these providers. If while administering my system, I lose some important data - like a photo of my daughter's birth - then it's on me. No social network would work over-time to bring back that unique lost photo; or worse they could cruelly reply with a "we'll give you your money back sir"! Are you the family I.T. guy? Do you run your own servers - mail, file, or even small web servers? Then, I'll assume you know what I mean when I state that all this independence comes with a price of time, stress, and often money. I have a family, a home (read: mortgage), a day job; so plenty of responsibilities. The last thing one might think that I need is an additional set of chores - even in computing which is both a career and recreation - for me. But much like someone who grows their own herbs or vegetables in their back yard, I feel going it on my own is better maybe because I can instil my own kind of wholesomeness - knowing all the while that it requires ever more work and attention. No doubt, as I undertake this endeavor, I do so with eyes wide open, knowing I have to work a little smarter and harder because I don't have the backing of a team or any company. But because of that, I can plan the destiny of my data redundancy, and am not a slave to whims of what another company believes is sufficient technical support. Similar to the closing sequence in the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark, since I'll be the guy shuffling off the treasure - in the film it's the Ark of the Covenant, in my case my family's data and social posts - I'll have a better idea where it will live.

Learn to swim before getting thrown into the ocean

Then there's the educational opportunity; not for me mind you, but for my kid. This is actually the vastly more important reason. You see, I have a daughter who while I believe is too young for using public social networks, has friends whose parents are letting them begin to experiment - supposedly under close parental guard - with social media. So, good for those parents who feel that level of confidence in the public at large. But not me; call me paranoid but I want to teach my daughter to be prepared ahead of time...Much like my wife taught our daughter how to swim well before we let her anywhere (even half-supervised) near a large body of water. So I set up a private social network to teach her the good and the bad that can crop up when humans can digitally post nearly anything they want. A private network will be her backyard playground to make mistakes without everlasting consequences, and to learn without being shy what can be done, what is possible, and - better still - what should not be done on public social/digital arenas. As questions come up - either of the "how to post" nature, or the "what is appropriate" aspect - my daughter will be in a safe bubble where we can work with her, teach her. Like many kids growing up, there will come a time where my daughter will feel my wife and I are cramping her style; she'll inevitably grow tired of our little private island. She'll hear of her friends posting this or that on whatever proprietary social network is trendy at that time. My hope is that our private little digital world will have prepared her even a little bit to better enjoy the public digital world in a safer way.


- mxu