Bigtech

Mastodon - the open social network

Mastodon is a federated social network, an alternative to Facebook and Twitter that gives users more control over their data. As with other social networks, you can send pictures, video, links or text. But unlike other services, you are in complete control of what you see; there’s no algorithm running in the background with control over your feed.

Rather than being a single service, there are many independent communities that users can belong to (or start their own); users can send messages within or between communities. The default community is at https://mstdn.social/, but you can choose which community to use for your primary identity. You can later change communities without losing your followers.

On top of that, Mastodon doesn’t serve any ads, is built on top of open-source software, and is funded through donations rather than venture capital or selling user data. The donation-funded model certainly has its risks, but hopefully it remains viable for a long time!

Mozilla - supporting a human-centered Internet

Mozilla is of course best known as the company behind the Firefox browser, but their contributions to an open and sustainable internet go far beyond that. Here are some of the other things they’re behind:

  • Firefox Monitor, which I mentioned yesterday, alerts you when your email address or other personal information is included in a data breach.
  • Pocket, a service that saves articles for you to read later, is focused on user privacy.
  • Holiday gift guides that research how various tech products handle users’ data and to what extent they track you.
  • MDN, one of the best resources for web development documentation, guides, and tutorials.

I’d encourage you to check out any or all of the above!

Solid - Giving users control of their data

Solid is a family of standards and protocols, along with software implementing them. It was designed to give users control over their data, while creating a decentralized network of computing resources known as pods. Co-founded by Tim Berners-Lee, it is a great example of rethinking our reliance on big monopolistic social networks and data silos. There are several existing providers that allow users to register their own pods, or you can run the software yourself.

I don’t have any hands-on experience with Solid, but I do remember running across it last year. I’m glad to see it’s still going strong and seems to be doing well. I’ll be interested to dig in a bit more and learn about it.

(h/t Cal Newport’s blog) If you don’t already follow Cal’s work, you should!

Fastmail - Email, Improved

Fastmail is an email service offering a privacy-focused, user-centric alternative to free email providers like Gmail.

It has everything you would want from an email service: web and mobile apps, contacts and calendar support, integration with other clients using IMAP and CalDAV/CardDAV protocols. And it has nothing that you don’t want, like ads or being tracked along with the rest of your web activity. It even has a streamlined feature to import all your email, calendars, and contacts from Google and many other email providers.

Although it’s not free, you pay per user account, not per address or domain. Because Fastmail supports custom domains, all of my domains forward to the same account, using wildcard, so I have effectively infinite email addresses but only pay for one account. I even have my Gmail account set up to forward to Fastmail, as I transition the email address on all of my online accounts to use Fastmail address(es).

Because email is a core feature and product for Fastmail, they care a lot about email standards, and even helped develop a new protocol, JMAP, which has been accepted by the IETF as an Internet Standard (RFCs 8620 and 8621.

I’ve talked before about Hey, which seems promising for me once it supports custom domains and some other features. But for now, Fastmail is the email service I use every day.

DuckDuckGo - Search without being tracked

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that Google is not the only way to search the Internet, despite their massive dominance. There are other search engines out there.

DuckDuckGo is one such search engine, and happens to be the one I use every day. Its focus is on user’s privacy. Just like Google, it still makes money primarily by selling ads that show up in search results. But unlike Google, it only sells ads against the terms you search for, not anything about you or your browsing behavior. In fact, they don’t store or track any information about you at all.

I’ve set my default search engine in Firefox to be DuckDuckGo, and also installed their Privacy Essentials Firefox extension. Maybe 1% of the time, DuckDuck go doesn’t find what I need, in which case I can still go back to the big G.

Micro.blog - The way the social internet should work

Micro.blog (the site this blog is hosted on) is a blogging platform and social networking site designed for human-driven (rather than machine-driven) interaction.

On Micro.blog, you can write short “micro” posts or longer content. You can comment or reply to other blogs. You can host a blog with your own domain name, or it can connect to an existing blog hosted on Wordpress or elsewhere. You can add “bookmarks”, which are essentially private “likes” (no one else can see them). You can see who other accounts are following, to learn about other blogs you might want to follow. You own your content and can export it at any time.

You can’t see a list of everyone who follows a specific user, or know how many people do. You can’t amplify other content except by adding your own reply. You can’t use “likes” as a measure of popularity. All of these prevent the worst sides of human nature that other social networks try to exploit.

I cautiously hooked this Micro.blog up to a new Twitter account, to hopefully make more people aware of Micro.blog and the rest of the things I’ll be sharing on here.

To me, it seems like Micro.blog has tried to take the best parts of Twitter and leaving the rest, not to duplicate or replace it. But maybe we’ll all get lucky and it will replace Twitter (and Facebook and Instagram and…) anyway.

Fathom - Privacy-focused Website Analytics

Fathom is an alternative to Google Analytics and similar web analytics software. It provides information about top pages, referrers, devices, browsers, and country of origin, without using cookies or otherwise violating users’ privacy.

On top of that, Fathom is an independent, bootstrapped company. It’s not free, which means they don’t have to compromise on the things needed to run a “free” service.

Google Analytics was the very first thing I blocked using uBlock Origin (which I’ll talk about soon, I’m sure), but I’m going to add a blanket whitelist for Fathom’s servers, out of respect for site owners who choose to use it instead of Google Analytics.

Web analytics without user tracking is possible!