Darren Hickling

Taking Back Our Digital Content

Published onReading time5 minutes

Sharing your news via social networking was easy in its infancy. You were on MySpace, your friends were on MySpace, you'd post a message, they would see it, done. Facebook came along and little changed, except the sheer, structured amount you could share, particularly photos. That was the status quo until recently, when other networks such as direct competitors Google+, or content-specific sites like Pinterest sprung up, seeking to share our news and thoughts in other ways. This has opened a huge can of worms. Managing your digital content has never been so challenging: you like the features of other sites, but you took some time to become comfortable with the ones you use now. Suppose you do take the plunge: how do you share your content with friends? Do you hope hey also sign up, or post links back to the other sites? Do you care that your long-lost friend with the posey profile picture can see everything you share? Or will you upset a crazy Aunt, who religiously follows your every move and hasn't seen that funny kitten clip your sister mentioned?!

Then there's the recurringly-neglected theme of privacy, which often goes hand-in-hand with security. Of the many examples, Facebook receives regular criticism for its handling of privacy, and the Prism programme of the NSA has led many people to reconsider the security of the systems that hold data important to them. Sure, you may not mind the odd photo of you and your mates in a pub being leaked accidentally, but if trust the "cloud" with your entire digital life, you may want to consider this statement from Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and creator of the GNU OS, about that "cloud":

It's stupidity. It's worse than stupidity: it's a marketing hype campaign. Somebody is saying this is inevitable and whenever you hear somebody saying that, it's very likely to be a set of businesses campaigning to make it true.

What could be done instead, then? Well, how about hosting the data yourself? It sounds like a daunting task, but there is so much help available online. You could set up your own (cheap!) personal web server, or let a company host it for you. Using that to broadcast your ideas is often quite simple; for example, the WordPress blogging platform is a one-click install on Media Temple, and will publicise your posts on multiple sites automatically after your publish them, thanks to Jetpack. It seems business are going back to using similar techniques, too. There are so many other reasons to use your own blog, but I'll remind you of this: you retain complete ownership of your work.

Great, but what about files? If you own your web space, why not consider storing and sharing it from there? I recently set up our ownCloud instance, a terribly-named by really useful self-hosted replacement for sites like Dropbox. It supplies an installer, desktop and mobile apps for syncing data and, best of all, is open-source and free! I had a couple of issues with the installation, however, which weren't trivial to fix, and although is expected of a relatively new platform, could definitely be off-putting. It was worth persevering; I feel far happier sharing more photos of our newborn to close friends and family, plus the site acts as a backup to local copies of up to 100 GB of data.

Don't take my word for it, though; please, please read around. Always keep your software up-to-date, particularly security fixes, and change your passwords regularly. Test your setup with some people you trust before uploading your much of digital life, and try some of the features; ownCloud has great sharing options, including time-limited links. Since I'm new to the game too, here's my test link: hope you enjoy the pictures! Oh, if you are intrigued by the URL from the link, there'll be a post on that soon...

In the future, I'd like to sync photos other people post of the family from other sites to ours. I have used recipes on IFTTT to sync photos of me tagged on Facebook to Dropbox, and have since suggested a new channel for ownCloud, so if you feel the same way, please do the same. If this inspires you to also attempt to rein in some of your digital content, or you have already done something similar, it'd be great to hear your stories. To quote from a brilliant trilogy:

May the odds be ever in your favour!