A New Platform - My Relentless Pursuit of Privacy

I have decided to try out a new format for my blog. The site that this article was originally published on can be found at the new home of my blog, here. I thought I might take this opportunity to discuss the platform that runs this blog, as well as my motivation for moving the primary source away from Medium.

Enter Hexo

For this site, I’m using a static blog generator called Hexo. Hexo has been around for a few years now, and is fairly mature. More importantly, it has a pretty solid user-base. I tried out several different self-hosted blogging platforms during this process, including (but not limited to):

  • Postleaf - this one was my initial choice, but it has a much smaller community, and doesn’t appear to be actively developed anymore.
  • Ghost - Ghost is a powerful CMS platform with a massive commnunity. However, it has a much more corporate feel, and I’m not wild about running an app vs. a statically generated site. Additionally, it requires a login to their central service and has many features behind a paywall.
  • Wordpress - I’ve used Wordpress in the past. While it works well as a holistic website solution for many people, I generally prefer something lighter that I can modify easily.

Content

So, how does Hexo work? Well, it’s pretty straightforward, actually. Pages, data, and posts are defined in markdown files in a source directory within the app’s files. This means that the “CMS” in this case is my favorite text editor and Git.

Themes

Various theme options can be installed by cloning them into the themes folder of the application. I settled on the Cactus theme for Hexo because it has rich plugin support, and appears to still be maintained. Plus, it was easy to adapt the existing dark theme to match the color scheme on my main website.

Plugins

Because the Cactus theme supports a wide range of plugins, it was really simple for me to add the functionality to this site that I would expect from a semi-modern blog. For example, you can subscribe to this page with Atom/RSS, full-text search the posts using a statically-generated search index, and leave comments below courtesy of Disqus.

Large technology companies like the ones that run the so-called free services that run our lives make their money by selling our data to advertisers.

Okay, but why?

My Medium view/read stats for October/November 2019.

Over the last couple years, I’ve written fewer articles and tutorials than I would have liked, but the ones I did write have done fairly well. I have a pretty consistent 25-30k views per month across several of my stories, including my multipart Raspberry Pi Cluster series. So why would I want to move away from Medium as my primary publishing source? Well to answer that question we need to look at a deeper trend.

Technological Behemoths and the Internet Consumer Product

Nearly one fifth of all humans on earth have a Facebook account. So, one might be tempted to say that Facebook has ~1.3 billion consumers. But, this is not the case. In fact, very few of those people are actually consumers of Facebook. Instead, they are the product. Massive technology companies like Facebook and Google stay in business because the users of their platforms are not the consumers, but instead are the product. Generating ever-more valuable data for analytics, clicks, shares, and the king of it all advertising.

Large technology companies like the ones that run the so-called free services that run our lives make their money by selling our data to advertisers. In turn, we are bombarded with increasingly strategic ads that try to steal our attention. This is troubling to me.

That, combined with the fact that I am deeply uncomfortable relying on sometimes ephemeral companies to provide me the services I need to use day-to-day. Especially if, in turn, the data I entrust to these services is being analyzed to sell me on AI-selected products.

Public Cloud

So, over the last year and a half, I’ve embarked upon a journey to become less reliant on the likes of Google and Microsoft by transitioning services I traditionally relied upon to private instances hosted on a VPS.

I know that a VPS still implies a level of trust of my data with a corporate entity. However, the access that entity has to my data is severely limited. Besides, I’m a college student. Where am I supposed to put a rack of servers. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy that…

So far, this effort has included, among other things:

  • Replacing Google Contacts, Calendar, Drive with NextCloud equivalents
  • Transitioning from Google Docs to LibreOffice on my laptop and a private OnlyOffice instance online
  • Relocating my code from Github to my private Gitea instance
  • Swapping Google for DuckDuckGo, a privacy-first search engine
  • Moving my personal site from Github Pages to a VPS

A Medium Corporation

Medium is a very large, very popular, very corporate blogging platform that makes a portion of its revenue from a user-subscription model. This means that Medium is much less dependent on privacy-hostile streams like advertising. However, having Medium as the sole home of my content is problematic because at some point, I no longer control that content. If Medium were to decide tomorrow that I had violated their terms of service, they could remove all of my content irrevocably, and because they’re a private entity they have every right to do so.

So, in keeping with my theme for the year, I wanted to find a more data-safe medium (heh) for my content. Hence, this site was born.

What does this mean?

Going forward, I’d like this site to be the primary home for my content. I’d love to answer questions and comments on that content here, and interact with users directly. However, I also want to enable as wide a variety of people to discover this work as possible. So, my Medium blog will become a mirror of the posts on this site. That is, any content available here will also be available on Medium.

I’m excited to get back in the process of creating write-ups for my projects. It helps me document my work and has given me some really awesome opportunities to interact with people who enjoy these projects as well. So, be sure to check back in the future.

Garrett

P.S. - Existing posts from my Medium blog will be made available here as I have time to transition them.