I try to be pretty open-minded about most things. That is, I try not to be legalistic or dogmatic about any particular idea. If something comes along that contradicts something I hold true or near and dear, I’m willing to evaluate the evidence and see if it reinforces or challenges what I believe.

Admittedly, there are people who are better at it than I am but I do my best.

But one thing I absolutely cannot get passed – and this is something becoming more and more prevalent the older I get and the more I work in software, specifically in open source – is the idea of data ownership.

And I believe there’s a direct result between what we’re able to do with WordPress and data ownership that can positively impact the type of solutions we release and we’ve yet to even realize we can build.

On Data Ownership

I recently tweeted about my thoughts about some service’s stance on their privacy policy. The short of it was that it was sketchy at best. Someone asked me if I really took the time to read those things.

Yes, I do.

I haven’t always, though. Used to it was: Yes, I agree, Yes I agree, Yes I agree, okay let me use your application (or service).

But over the passed few years, I’ve gotten far more skeptical about privacy policies. In fact, I’d argue they have become more about “Here’s what we will do with your data and here’s how we’re going to reuse the information we give you.”

It’s not so much about privacy anymore, but I digress.

Privacy

Case in point: I just read a private for an application I found on Product Hunt I was going to test, but the privacy policy explicitly said the following:

To provide Visitors and Members some of these products and services, the partner may need to collect and maintain personal information. In these instances, you will be notified before any such data is collected or transferred and may decide not to use that particular service or feature.

Emphasis mine. Now, to this services’ credit, they do agree to notify before any such data is collected and what appears to allow us to give us an opt-out option.

But the fact this is built into a brand new service before it’s begun to take root, and knowing the policies can change on a whim after data is collected has never sat well with me.

Such is the world we live in, though.

But the point I’m ultimately getting at is not that we should pour over privacy policies (though I personally think it doesn’t hurt), but that we need to take data ownership into serious consideration when using certain applications and services.

WordPress and Data Ownership

So what does this have to do with WordPress? Honestly, for me, it has to do with a lot.

When it comes to sharing information online, I’ve gotten more and more strict about the services I use.

I don’t use Facebook anymore (and haven’t for years). I’ve tried Instagram over and over, but I can’t get passed the fact they are owned by Facebook and they ultimately own the photos.

As beautiful and impressive as other blogging systems are, especially those like Medium, I can’t get fully behind those because the content resides on their servers. Yes, they offer an export feature and I love that. I wish more services would follow suit.

Here’s how unsettled I get: I get iffy about keeping photos stored on third-party services and keeping my code stored on third-party services. It’s not that it’s not useful, but I always want to maintain a copy of this information locally, as well.

Push come to shove, I’ll go nuclear on everything. But okay, enough of this tinfoil hat nonsense.

WordPress – You Mentioned WordPress

Yes. I did. So how does WordPress fit into all of this?

Given the open source nature of WordPress and it can be self-hosted, there’s a big pull to want to use it to store a variety of information first and foremost our blogs and other similar information we share, right?

Furthermore, I think we’ve yet to realize the full potential of the REST API. Imagine being able to build your own hub of information that collects all of the information you’ve shared across the web using third-party APIs and store them within the context of your own application (well, headless WordPress, but you get it).

WordPress REST API Documentation

So even if you decide to go nuclear and delete an account, you have all of your information owned and maintained in your own database.

This is not without its caveats. I know. There’s still hosting and things like that to consider. But when you look at just how far out our social networks spread – from Twitter to Instagram, from Facebook to Medium, from Flickr to 500px, we’ve got data everywhere.

Imagine being able to continue sharing information, but also continuing to own all of the information for yourself by simultaneously bringing it back into a database into an area you own.

Pretty exciting, right? At least for those of us who are tin foil hat types.

But in all seriousness: I’m not trying to come off as preachy in saying you should never use the services you want to use. On the contrary: I think everyone should want to use whatever services they want however they want.

To that end, though, I’m iffy about using said services for the reasons above. And it’s why I continue to be excited about WordPress as an application and the future of what it’s going to bring to the web as being more than a CMS.

WordPress and data ownership are things I see going hand-in-hand for a long time to come.

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Join the conversation! 17 Comments

  1. Using WordPress as a backup for cloud services is a great idea. It could also be a full replacement for some services, especially those that aren’t as social in nature.

    For example, I’ve used WordPress as an in-house organizational document repository where various kinds of documents could be e-mailed in. Things like Word documents were then automatically converted to posts containing the text along with attachments of images and the original file.

    With additional media handling and creative use of the REST API, something like that could become a decent personal replacement for Evernote, which is a service I never fully embraced because I wanted to completely own the kind of data I would put there.

    I’m very excited by the possibilities that are now becoming so much easier to realize.

  2. Admittedly I’ve considered this many times. For example I think it would be a great idea to make an accounting theme for families or a CRM theme for small businesses so that they can do the things available on these cloud services but not have the risk of a shared environment with other people’s data and ultimately own the vital data. Still may do this someday when time isn’t so hard to find.

    As for social networks, when it comes to images I have every photo already archived in dropbox prior to posting anywhere so not sure I understand the benefits. Also even if I have a copy of the data, does their privacy statement still give them ownership of the data?

    One reason I’ve focused on BuddyPress development is the idea of building more private communities. I still use facebook, but I think some groups are better off in a private community.

  3. I’ve been working on a client project on/off over the past year trying to achieve something similar (not so much for backup purposes but for a social hub) in which my client will NEVER administer their own site or its content, they don’t have the time or the interest.

    However, they want it to be self managed in which the content populates itself automatically through the social media outlets they already use. They simply prefer to continue using their chosen social networks like facebook and instagram as they have always used for self promotion and sharing of ideas, media, contests etc. and have their website reflect that without interaction, i.e. a media grid if you will.

    Some might say this is simple but actually I’ve found it to be quite a chore. They are only a few plugins that aggregate social media into posts well and some require ridiculous setup steps and monthly memberships costs as if the average small business on the web has money to throw at such a basic concept of sharing what they already share publicly…not to mention all the hoops one must constantly go through to register with the latest in social network API’s and setup developer accounts for each of these networks as if every website owner is also a web developer or can afford one. Personally I think there has got to be a better way. I’ve even been denied by instagram several times requesting permission access to my own content through an “app” I’ve had to register on their developer platform and when requesting permissions they keep saying it doesn’t meet their requirements even when I point out that it in fact it meets ALL requirements explicitly. I’ve gone so far as to request a human response as to why I keep getting denied and an actual explanation…but I never get it. I’ve since thrown in the towel on their API and resorted to writing my own http scrape which I’m sure they wouldn’t approve but hey, they forced my hand through their bad API practice. You should never force users to register a dev account and setup an “app” just to share a public social stream…we’re talking about GET not PUT here!!!

    Anyway, enough rant on that but until these social networks “get it” and realize how ridiculous it is to keep polluting their own systems with all these garbage “apps” that really aren’t built for truly unique immersive applications but just a simple means to an end for many users to share their already publicly shared content I’m pretty much over it.

    Back on the WP REST API, can’t wait to see how this evolves. Being originally a front end dev first, I really love the idea of being able to build my own loops exclusively with js. I can imagine how this also opens the door for the wp customizer and front end content editors to really bloom into fruition.

  4. What bugs me the most is the low data literacy of common persons. When I try to stimulate my friends on the importance of data ownership they reply something on the line of “it’s a nerdy argument, I just want to chat and post photos”.

    If only they could know what a company can do with machine learning on massive personal data.

    By the way, I hope the web will be more decentralized as possible and WP is the resistence leader against corporate greed.

    We are responsible to keep the talk going :)

    • I’m afraid some of those people are going to find out the hard way, when personal information appears somewhere that horrifies them and nothing can be done about it.

  5. I’ve actually been thinking about that a lot, especially with the API’s release. What I want to work towards is building a plugin that consists of various “modules”, sort of like how Jetpack is set up. Except, instead of modules that aid in publishing, there are modules that help wrangle data that is normally stored in third party services. For instance, there would be a “Notes” module, that is sort of like @Doug Smith’s idea. And a “Bookmarks” module that lets you manage personal bookmarks. I have ideas for lots more, but right now I’m just working on a basic structure.

    In this vein, I think it makes sense to have a “Social” module, and this is actually where my idea first came from. I think having a social hub, that at the very least, imports all of your data that was published elsewhere, is extremely important. The problem is, the way API’s are set up, it takes so much to get these things up and running. In the end, Social auto-posters require users to create their own keys, and individually connect services. In order to make this portion work right, there would need to be some sort of “social proxy” that is free for just about anyone to use. I believe that’s how Jetpack makes Publicize work. But the plugin could then just call the proxy, which would navigate the requests to social networks and return back data. Anyway, just one of the things I’m wrestling with.

    For now, I have the beginnings of a beginning up on GitHub (https://github.com/JasonHoffmann/Me). I want to start with some lower hanging fruit like Notes and Bookmarks before moving on to Social streams. If anyone’s interested in helping out, definitely let me know.

    Also Tom, if you haven’t already, it’s definitely worth reading up on what the IndieWeb is trying to accomplish (https://indiewebcamp.com/POSSE). I’m surprised the IndieWeb spirit hasn’t moved towards the WP community more, they seem very much in sync.

    • It took me longer to reply to this comment than intended, but I wanted to make sure I had the time to give it that it deserves :).

      For instance, there would be a “Notes” module, that is sort of like @Doug Smith’s idea. And a “Bookmarks” module that lets you manage personal bookmarks. I have ideas for lots more, but right now I’m just working on a basic structure.

      We’re definitely on the same page and I see where you’re going with it. It’s all about bringing this fragmented information into a single, personally owned place.

      In this vein, I think it makes sense to have a “Social” module, and this is actually where my idea first came from. I think having a social hub, that at the very least, imports all of your data that was published elsewhere, is extremely important.

      Couldn’t agree more especially with some people using so many social networks (personally, I use very few).

      In order to make this portion work right, there would need to be some sort of “social proxy” that is free for just about anyone to use. I believe that’s how Jetpack makes Publicize work. But the plugin could then just call the proxy, which would navigate the requests to social networks and return back data. Anyway, just one of the things I’m wrestling with.

      The overheard required to tie it all together is not to be underestimated, for sure. Plus, it will take time as these other services will no doubt change their APIs, update the requirements for their keys, etc.

      For now, I have the beginnings of a beginning up on GitHub (https://github.com/JasonHoffmann/Me). I want to start with some lower hanging fruit like Notes and Bookmarks before moving on to Social streams. If anyone’s interested in helping out, definitely let me know.

      Definitely going to check this out. Thanks for sharing this link!

      Also Tom, if you haven’t already, it’s definitely worth reading up on what the IndieWeb is trying to accomplish (https://indiewebcamp.com/POSSE). I’m surprised the IndieWeb spirit hasn’t moved towards the WP community more, they seem very much in sync.

      I’m almost ashed to say I haven’t even heard of them, but now that I have I’ll be following them around on what they’re doing :).

      • Hey Tom,

        Appreciate the reply. Right now, the repo is more of an idea and me banging at it from different directions trying to get something to work then it is an actual functioning product. But I think I’m getting closer…

        Would love to chat more about how you would structure / code a plugin like this, and just some general feedback on the idea. I’d call myself an intermediate developer at best, so still figuring things out. But it’s also an issue that concerns me, and one that want to try to do something about.

        Enjoy the Indie Web stuff!

        • I’d love to chat about it, too if time ever allows.

          Right now, I’m doing the best I can to keep up with the work that I do have in order just to keep above float. Don’t hesitate to shoot me a note as you make progress, though.

          I’m always open to hearing more!

  6. What completely put me off using Evernote was that I discovered that I could only access MY notes when on wifi.

    I immediately switched to Quip and dumped Evernote.

    • What completely put me off using Evernote was that I discovered that I could only access MY notes when on wifi.

      Interesting! I’ve never had that problem (perhaps its a premium feature?

      Dunno.)

      Either way, Quip looks pretty slick, too. I’m too bought into Evernote at this point, but it looks like a solid alternative.

      • ok, not only wifi, I should have written that your content on Evernote is only accessible with a data connection.

        I discovered that when preparing driving routes for a trip in Europe and knowing that I would not have a working data connection when in Europe.

        I believe it is indeed a premium feature to download your content to your device without the need for a data connection.

        • Ah! That makes sense. Your use case makes total sense.

          The one thing I can’t get over is how these apps keep introducing various forms of “work chat.” I mean, I understand the need to be social in a collaborative setting, but why not leave those to pre-existing tools?

          I’m just complaining, really. Some people may love work chat. I just don’t use it and wish I could have a version of Evernote without.

  7. Hey Tom,

    Appreciate the reply. Right now, the repo is more of an idea and me banging at it from different directions trying to get something to work then it is an actual functioning product. But I think I’m getting closer…

    Would love to chat more about how you would structure / code a plugin like this, and just some general feedback on the idea. I’d call myself an intermediate developer at best, so still figuring things out. But it’s also an issue that concerns me, and one that want to try to do something about.

    Enjoy the Indie Web stuff!

  8. I purposely left Facebook too, after 7 years, just weary to death of the shallowness, b.s., ads, and the creeping uneasiness about my data.

    But do you ever find you want to look something up and the only place it exists is Facebook, and without an account you can’t see it? Frustrating, but it points out a disturbing aspect of FB — Zuckerberg wants it to BE the Internet, and without a FB account, I can’t even access Zuckerberg’s Internet.

  9. Great post, I was just thinking about this a couple of days ago. I’m a huge fan of owning my data. I already store my tweets in a private WordPress instance, I have some other WordPress blogs for blogging.

    I can not possible understand how people only posts content in one place, such as Flickr or Instagram. What will happen when those close? Even if you export the content, you’ll have to repost everything again?

    We need to spread the word!

    • I can not possible understand how people only posts content in one place, such as Flickr or Instagram. What will happen when those close? Even if you export the content, you’ll have to repost everything again?

      Some people aren’t as particularly concerned about it as others, you know?

      I’ve talked with some about things like this and they don’t sweat it as much as the rest of us do. Ironically, I don’t even really use that many social media accounts (save for Twitter) and I’ll periodically just download the provided archive when I want to backup my tweets.

      This isn’t to say we shouldn’t spread the word. I think we should :). I just don’t think it matters as much to some people about who owns their information.

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