Google-free, Open Source and Indie Webbing it Since 2014

A catch-up after a few years of moving away from Google, proprietary software and embracing Open Source and the IndieWeb movement.

After closing my Google account a few years ago, I think I've finally reached the point where I've replaced the tools it provided and have everything 'just how I want it'.

A big part of the IndieWeb ethos is self-hosting. Both from a data as well as a software perspective. Everything that's important to maintaining my own data is on my own server that I rent from a preferred supplier. That includes self-hosting software to manage:

  • contacts
  • calendar
  • e-mail
  • photo gallery
  • bookmarks
  • reading lists
  • e-books
  • music files
  • documents

I use a variety of tools that are predominantly open source. For example:

My webmail application, Roundcube, runs on the same server that hosts my actual e-mail account. I can log-in to Roundcube's web interface from any browser and access my e-mail as if it were on something like GMail. I can also read my e-mail from the e-mail applications I've installed on my phone and tablet, just like any other account.

The Hosting

Self-hosting means you'll always need somewhere to keep your software and data.

I'm a big fan of Bytemark, an UK-based hosting company that have created one of the best hosting management tools I've found, called Symbiosis.

I rent a server from them to host my websites and applications. I've added a few additional Hard Disk Drives to provide some archival storage, alongside the included Solid State Drive, all managed through their easy-to-use Control Panel. The panel tots up your monthly costs as you add or remove server features, making it a great way to get the hosting you want at the budget that suits you.

I manage my domain names through Gandi, the 'no bullshit' registrar. I point my domains at Bytemark's nameservers and the rest is managed through Symbiosis. Take a look at the Symbiosis documentation to see how easy it is.

While Bytemark is great for websites and applications, I'd rather keep my actual data on a more dedicated storage system. That's where Memstore from Memset comes in.

The Memstore cloud storage product is cheap and easy to use. At £1.95 a month you can't really quibble.

I can access my files through secure FTP and the data is available when I need it.

The Software

Open Source software has improved greatly over the last ten years. I remember initially struggling with well intentioned, but badly designed tools. But today's software is on par with commercial offerings.

I've already mentioned Roundcube for webmail. Other systems include OwnCloud for contacts and calendar hosting, soon to be replaced by NextCloud and DavDroid to sync them with my Android phone and tablet.

Lychee is a great tool for self-hosting your photographs. It's updated regularly and the interface works well when using either a mouse or keyboard. I set up a separate large drive on my Bytemark server to store the images themselves, symlinking it to Lychee's image folder.

Finding a good, self-hosting bookmark tool proved difficult, so I took the plunge and built my own. That led me down the path to learning programming and building other tools that supported my needs. I now store my bookmarks in a tool I built, that does exactly what I need and is accessible anywhere I have web access. And I know it will never be 'sunsetted'.

My reading list is a whole big story in itself. First owning a Kindle, then dropping Amazon (and closing my account) for its tax-dodging and unethical work practices. Then using Shelfari until Amazon bought it, moving to Goodreads until Amazon bought that too. Replacing my Kindle with a Sony Reader, and then finally replacing my e-books with DRM-free titles. It's a journey that's led me to building my own reading list site and starting my own e-bookshop.

My reading list lives at Libreture and helps others find shops that sell the DRM-free titles I've listed.

I even host my own tweets as a backup, using some great self-hosted software called Tweet Nest.

There's plenty of software out there for self-hosting, built by people who have hit the same hurdles as you may have, and felt they could offer an alternative.


One specific aspect I want to talk about is that of mobile devices. Owning an Android phone and closing your Google account leaves you in a difficult, but not impossible, position.

My saviour was the aforementioned OwnCloud coupled with DavDroid. OwnCloud provides the platform, while DavDroid does the syncing. But, if I've deleted my Google account, how do I download apps. Well, the Play store isn't the only place to get apps.

F-Droid is a priceless resource. It hosts thousands of open source Android apps, provides an App Store tool of its own that manages browsing and updates and provides important information about the way each app uses your data.

Not all apps are open source though, and won't be available on F-Droid. Yandex.Store provides an alternative for the more commercial Android software. Yandex is a Russian search company and the great feature that makes it's app store different from Google's is that you don't need to create an account to download free apps. That makes using some remaining proprietary Android software an easier task than you might think.

The final bit of the Android phone puzzle is the longevity of the device and the installed Operating System itself. That's why, when I dropped my ancient and trusty HTC Sensation, smashing the screen, I took it as a sign to have a look at Fairphone.

Since supporting it by pre-ordering the Fairphone 2, I haven't been entirely happy with the device. It was riddled with bugs at launch and had a number of device-breaking issues. But after six months and plenty of angry forum browsing, I'm starting to appreciate my phone.

The change came when Fairphone released their completely open source version of Android - dropping the usually embedded Google apps. The phone is now one that I have complete control over, including root access. Each app is there because I deliberately installed it and works exactly how I want it to.

Along with self-hosting my essential software, owning my data and supporting open source developers, I now feel more in control of the technology in my life. I'm in a privileged position to be able to actually do this, but that's why I feel it's important to write all this. It shouldn't have be as expensive as renting your own server and having the time to learn how to, as well as actually manage it.

Supporting others

The ability to take control of the software that's so important to our modern lives shouldn't be left up to advertising companies and corporate behemoths.

Open Source software developers, supported by donations from users who are able to pay, provide free software to others who can't afford to. We need a similar approach to server hosting. Without a free or low-cost alternative to the proprietary (the user is the product) services, the IndieWeb approach is destined to be out of reach of the very people who would benefit so much from it.

That might seem like an unrealistic ideal, but there must be a way to create a sustainable model that can support such a cost-intensive service... ideas are welcome.

I'll write up some thoughts on social media and a Facebook free life next week. In the meantime take a look at the software and services I've linked to in this article and see if any take your fancy.