Tagged: indie web

It’s the 4th of July and I’m Celebrating Independence from Facebook

I just requested that Facebook permanently delete my account.

This change is a long time coming. I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the power Facebook exercises to commodify and influence our social interactions. There’s nothing holding Facebook accountable in the exercise of this power. Aside from all of that, I get very little out of time spent on the site. Yes, it’s a way I can connect with some folks for which I’m not in the habit of calling, emailing or writing. There’s nothing stopping me from doing this, however. I have the phone numbers, emails and addresses of the folks I generally care about keeping in touch with. I do wish more folks had their own blogs, though.

Earlier in the week I posted a message on my timeline telling folks that in a few days I’d be deleting my account. I listed a few other ways to get in touch with me including twitter, my blog, and email. The other thing I did was look at the settings for every Facebook page I’m an admin on and ensure I wasn’t the only one (I wasn’t). I also downloaded a copy of my info.

Today I logged in, ready to delete my account. First I couldn’t find a way to do so. I noticed a “deactivate my account” link under security settings. I figured this was the only way, so I tried it first.

When you try to deactivate your account, Facebook presents you with a page that does everything to try and get you to keep your account active. It shows you pictures of your friends, says they will miss you and prompts you to message them. I found it particularly funny that one of the friends it showed me was Creepius the Bear (and identity created to demonstrate how creepy one can be on Facebook):

Creepius will miss me after I've left Facebook.
Creepius will miss me after I’ve left Facebook.

And then after this you must provide a reason you’re deactivating your account. For any reason you select, you’re given additional information that supposedly resolves the concern:

Facebook wants to know why you're deactivating your account.
Facebook wants to know why you’re deactivating your account.

What caught my attention was the Email opt out option, which states:

Note: Even after you deactivate, your friends can still invite you to events, tag you in photos, or ask you to join groups.

Not what I wanted, so I started figuring out how to work around this. Unfriend everyone first? Sounds tedious. Then someone asks me in IRC, “why don’t you delete instead of deactivate?” I responded saying I didn’t know that was an option. So, I searched Facebook’s help for “deactivate my account” and found this help page: How do I permanently delete my account?

I follow the link in that article, and got this prompt:

Deleting my facebook account.
Deleting my facebook account.

Much nicer, right? No guilt-trips and attempts to invalidate address my concerns. I clicked “Delete My Account”, filled out my password and captcha and got the following confirmation:

Confirmation that my account has been deactivated and will then be deleted
Confirmation that my account has been deactivated and will then be deleted

I also received confirmation via email.

So, that’s it! Assuming I don’t log in to my account during the next 14 days, my account will be deleted. Ah, freedom!

If you like the idea of doing this, but want a more gradual approach, check out de-facing, in which one person talks about their plan to leave Facebook one friend at a time.

Some OpenID Providers

While I don’t hear about it a lot recently these days, there are still some sites that I need OpenID to log in to. I had been using myOpenID from Janrain for this, but that service was retired. Unfortunately, So was my backup provider, ClaimID.

So, I went shopping for new providers! Here’s what I found:

Whatever OpenID provider you have, I highly suggest setting up delegation. OpenID delegation means you can use any website you control as your OpenID login. The delegate website is configured to use your chosen provider and you can switch anytime without having to update your login information on other sites.

How do you set up delegation? It’s easy! You just have to add the following two lines to the head of the site you want to act as delegate:

<link rel="openid.delegate" href="http://mywebsite.com/" />
<link rel="openid.server" href="https://myopenidprovider.com/" />

Replacing “mywebsite.com” with the site you want to act as delegate, and “myopenidprovider.com” with your chosen OpenID provider (e.g., openid.stackexchange.com). Make sure you have an account at the OpenID provider of your choice before doing this.

If you have a self-hosted WordPress blog, you can use this plugin instead of editing your theme files.

Thanks Aaron Parecki, Nicolas Ward, and Sumana Harihareswara ‏ for helping me compile this list. Know of an OpenID provider not already on the list above? Let me know in the comments!

Leaving Google: Moving email and calendar to Zimbra

Note: This post is part of a series of posts I’m writing about migrating from Google to other service providers. Read Leaving Google: A preface to understand my motivation and goals for this project.

Aside from things like online banking and bill-pay, email and calendar are probably the most important aspects to my online life. They enable me to in touch, transact business and generally know what I am supposed to be doing when. As such, it took me a long time to find an alternative that would work for me.

The requirements and the search

Here are the requirements I defined in a calendar and email solution:

  • hosted and paid, yet affordable ($50-60 annually)
  • decent web interface
  • POP3 and IMAP access
  • ssl/tls enabled
  • ability to use own domain and to add user and domain aliases
  • multiple calendar support
  • ability to share calendars with internal and external users
  • ability to have private and public appointments
  • ability to subscribe to external calendars
  • reasonable disk space (5-10GB) and attachment quotas (>10mb)

Finding a stand-alone email provider was not an issue. Pobox (my favorite), Hushmail, Fastmail and Rackspace all provide reasonable email hosting and there are many others.

What these services lack are the robust calendaring features I need. Both Pobox and Rackspace include calendars with their email, and OwnCloud has a calendar feature. But all three are simple and lack the sharing and subscribing abilities I absolutely need.

Lack of strong calendar features continued to stall my search for Google alternatives until I realized that I was already using a great alternative at Mozilla! There we use Zimbra, a “collaboration suite” developed by VMWare that includes email and calendaring. VMWare offers open source and network editions of Zimbra. If you have sufficient courage, stamina and time to run your own mail server, you can download and install the open source edition for free (although it lacks some features of the paid version).

I have no desire to run my own mail server. Thus began the search for hosted Zimbra providers. I narrowed my list to three: ZMailCloud, MrMail, and Krypt CloudMail, from which I picked ZMailCloud.

The migration

Once my account was setup, the migration process was fairly straight-forward:

  • Update MX records for my chosen domain.
  • Start forwarding Gmail to new email addresses.
  • Add Gmail address as external account in Zimbra via IMAP and start copying messages.
  • Export main Google calendar and import into calendar called “Google” on Zimbra. Start copying relevant appointments to new main calendar.
  • Begin the tedious process of updating email address everywhere.

I had a couple of choices when migrating all of my email messages:

  • Use an email client like Thunderbird to copy via IMAP
  • Add Gmail address as an external account via POP3. The disadvantage to this approach is that you get zero folder information, which is only a problem if you were using folders/labels in Gmail.
  • Not copy messages at all and start with a clean slate!

Also, you might be wondering why I didn’t simply import my Google calendar into my new main calendar. I actually did this at first. Then I realized that all of the appointments were imported with the visibility set to public. This won’t work for me because I want to be able to share my calendar with the public, allowing them to see the details for some appointments (like office hours and public meetings) but not for others.

Progress so far

The migration, begun a couple of weeks ago, continues. Each time I log in to an account I check the email address and update it if need be. I update mailing list subscriptions as I read messages from those lists, and those hosted on Google groups are the most tedious to update.

I also haven’t figured out how to tell everyone who might need to know that I have a new email address. I can’t bring myself to spam my entire address book (and there are probably folks in it I don’t actually want to engage with). So, for the time being, I’m just replying from the new address and letting people or their email clients update my record on their own.

Other solutions?

I’m curious about other possible solutions. For those of you who have switched away from Google mail and calendar, or were never there in the first place, what do you use? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Leaving Google: A preface

While I’ve never had all of my internet-eggs in Google’s basket, so to speak, I’ve appreciated many of their services and have become quite dependent on some.

I opened my first Gmail account in 2004. I switched from Bloglines to Reader sometime before the former was sold in 2005. My sanity, and probably my wife’s as well, depends on the appointments we track in Calendar. All of my correspondence has found its way to Google docs. All of my non-IRC chatting is done through gTalk with an xmpp client.

It’s never felt particularly good or prudent to be so reliant on one company, an advertising company, for some of my most important online needs. But when I would think of leaving Google, a sense of dread and panic would arise. I would think about how dependent on was on email, calendar and other services and how good alternatives seemed non-existent. Not surprisingly, I would come to the conclusion that I couldn’t live without Google, and that they weren’t that bad, after all. And then I’d move on to fretting about the next thing.

But the idea continued to percolate and re-surface in my mind. Each time Google made a decision to close a beloved product, take yet another step away from web standards, made a move that wasn’t outright evil, but wasn’t good either, I re-evaluated my reliance on their services. More and more I felt like I was the product first and the customer second, if at all. The final straw for me was in fact two: the end of full support for xmpp in Google talk and PRISM.

And thus, I’ve started the process of reducing my usage and reliance on Google services. I’ll document this process in a series of blog posts, roughly in order of priority:

  • Email and calendar
  • Search
  • Chat
  • Mailing-lists (for the groups I manage)
  • Document editing and sharing

A few services I don’t intend to find near-future replacements for include Google voice and Hangouts. Google Plus isn’t on either list simply because I hardly use it. Nor have I ever used Picasa (I’ve always preferred Flickr). I have no immediate plans to delete my Google account. Doing so effectively means you can’t interact with any of Google’s services, which would severely limit my ability to interact with many individuals and groups for which it is necessary that I do so.

My goal isn’t to purge my life entirely of Google, but rather to reduce my reliance on its services and to decentralize my online activity.