back to article If you're not paying, you're product: If you ARE paying, it's no better

There's a saying that's gained some popularity online lately: "If you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold." When it comes to free online services like the late, lamented Google Reader, this is literally true. You, or at least your eyeballs and attention, are the product being …


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  1. Andrew Moore

    A very timely article...

    I am currently looking to setup a cloud service for a company- We found that the "free" services, iDrive, Google Drive, DropBox et al, could not handle the file sizes that we needed to put in the cloud (multi-gigabyte). Any chance you could follow up this article with a top ten or Register Recommended on the various products that are currently on the market (I'm aware of ownCloud and WD's My Cloud).


    1. petur

      Re: A very timely article...

      There's also the QNAP offering, being very modular and, at the end of the day, linux, in case you want to install something not provided for.

      I'm halfway in the process of moving everything to my own could, it already holds all my data, streams my music, offers photo albums, shares files with unique links and expiration. Owncloud runs and RSS was on my list.

      There are even rumours of a chrooted desktop you can log into :)

    2. Amorous Cowherder

      Re: A very timely article...

      Long term archiving or constant quick retrieval? I'm tempted by Amazon Glacier for long term archive storage. We have a family photo archive that's around 500GB and Amazon's prices at $0.01/GB/month seem quite reasonable, there's just a lot of well documented strings attached to usage of the service.

    3. BigAndos

      Re: A very timely article...

      It still seems to be remarkably difficult to transfer large amounts of data between organisations in a secure, reliable and easy to use manner! I'd be interested in an article you mention too, I still seem to rely on sneakernet a lot more than I'd like...

      (Relevant XKCD

      1. batfastad

        Re: A very timely article...

        I've been running a test of BitTorrent Sync (yyaarrrrrrhhhhh) on our local file server and remote backup server for the design team and it's working well, since they're mostly freelancers and remote workers. Shame it's not open source though but the Linux version is well thought out.

        The best thing is that it's forced them to actually bother about how they manage their active files/directories, making my life of managing their sh*t much easier. Only active issues/projects are stored in the BT sync share, with old issues moved off to a read-only FTP archive. ~20GB of large design files and hi-res images seem to be syncing quite nicely.

  2. Sander van der Wal

    Really, nobodody saw this coming

    Title says it all

    1. MrXavia

      Re: Really, nobodody saw this coming

      I can thankfully say I did see it coming, and have never brought into the 'cloud' way of thinking for data or services...

      Just because I am paranoid, it does not mean they aren't out to get me

  3. Anonymous Coward

    RaNdoM capITALS

    I believe the database is known as PostgreSQL.

    But apart from that, yes, we, who can do these things for ourselves, should do these things for ourselves. if for no other reason that active doing is more enlivening, whie passive consumption is deadening. Add in the "security over-reach" (latest euphemism (tm)) aspects and its more important than ever.

    A pity that the EFF's FreedomBox project seems to be slow or now non-existent.

    And one more thought - with the possibility of free hosting of Raspberry Pi - - issues like what a sevrice provider will allow you to do should be a thing of the past.

    Indecision between Tux and Beer - Beer wins, home brewed, of course.

  4. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Clouds are nowt more than water vapour

    The don't last forever.

    IT Clouds are IMHO much the same.

  5. Necronomnomnomicon

    Good advice - but not enormous amounts of fun

    The Snowden leakpocalypse a few months back was the kick in the pants I needed to convince me to break my Google habit and host my own stuff. I tested it over and over again in a VM at home, and then splashed out on a VPS to actually run it off (current home circumstances prevent me from having my server at home).

    About three months on, here's my experiences:

    OwnCloud is a laudable effort. All open standards is definitely the future for me. The web interface is smashing, and I have very few issues with it. I've added in a Roundcube/Dovecot configuration for email and it's all ticking along nicely.

    Unfortunately, the open standards ecosystem that surrounds it isn't nearly as robust as I'd like. I've been using the official OwnCloud app on my Win 7 PC to keep my local and "cloud" files in sync, and for some hilarious reason every few weeks it decides that it needs to resync all 4GB of music I have on the server. No idea why. I'm thinking of taking the music off as it hasn't displaced Spotify for my music listening, but it's a frustration nonetheless.

    Getting stuff onto Android is a similar hassle. I'm using a free (with restrictions) sync app called Folder Sync to get the files I use everywhere onto my Nexuses (Nexi??) 4 and 7 and it's fairly solid but it seems to fall out of the background processes periodically and so there's day-long gaps in what should be regular syncs. Annoying, but I've not found a better app yet.

    Calendar and Contacts sync to Android I've managed with CalDAV-Sync and CardDAV-Sync respectively. They cost a few quid each and again work fairly reliably, but imperfectly. I changed one contact's name on my phone and another on the tablet and only one of those changes made it to the OwnCloud contact list. It seems like bi-directional syncing is the problem, so for stability I have to only make changes on the web page. Minor but annoying.

    Viewing documents in open formats (.odt and .ods from LibreOffice for the most part) works OK but not brilliantly in the web interface (it dumps all tabs into one massive scrollable page) but more surprisingly there's a shortage of open document editors for Android. They're all focused on the MS Office formats. I've had to make do with OpenDocument Reader, which as the name implies doesn't actually let you change files on the go. Poor show.

    Email works beautifully through K-9, although I've had difficulty getting it to work on my desktop Thunderbird install. Not that a local client there is really necessary but it would be nice.

    The biggest pain, to my mind, is the setup. Setting up a new Android phone with Google would mean putting in my Google account username and password and downloading any (and there's very few now) Google apps that don't come pre-installed on the phone. Setting up a new device on my Owncloud setup means downloading, installing and configuring individually each of those apps individually, which is an annoying time sink. That and they do need a bit of nannying as above once they are installed.

    The only things I really miss from my full-on Googleness is bookmark and tab sync - Firefox just doesn't work with my OwnCloud setup and I can't be bothered to carry on trying to get it working.

    For me as a techie it's been interesting setting it up and I do prefer having control of my own data destiny, but it's something I'd really struggle to recommend to a non-techie. With effort, my stuff just about works as expected. But it's still not as good as what I've stopped getting for free from Google, and I have to pay £12 a month for the privilege of a VPS. Still, it can only get better, right?

    1. Necronomnomnomicon

      Re: Good advice - but not enormous amounts of fun

      Forgot to add - despite all that, I still can't fully extricate myself from Google. The Play Store on Android is most useful and still needs a Google account - short of pirating my apps or buying from Amazon (who are just more of the same) there's no getting away from that.

      Google Maps is still best in class on any device - not so much for navigation (got GPS Nav & Maps which is much better and only cost a few quid) but for looking up where a pub or restaurant is, nothing else compares. And I do prefer Google Search to the alternatives.

      The Google Now stuff is also particularly impressive and there's no real substitute that I've found.

      So I am still feeding my data into Google. Just less than I have done before.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Necronomnomnomicon

          Re: Good advice - but not enormous amounts of fun

          In transit? Yes, with a self-signed SSL cert and enforced SSL connections. In storage? Some, but not all, via TrueCrypt containers and similar. OwnCloud does have it's own encryption stuff built in but I've not really played with it yet.

          The hosting provider is the weak point, but even with them I get the bonus of not having my emails and data spidered by Google, and as SSL is still apparently strong where they haven't got your key my in-transit data should be good.

    2. Oh Homer

      Re: Good advice - but not enormous amounts of fun


      OwnCloud is very good at what it does, but I wouldn't use it as a file or backup server. Its most useful function is as a CalDAV/CardDAV server, primarily because there are so damned few of them, for some odd reason, but its file, media and document handling is ... basic, putting it mildly.

      My prefered music server is mpd, because it's extremely powerful yet lightweight. It supports numerous, concurrent outputs, including streaming over HTTP, and is supported by a multitude of clients on every platform, including Android. In passing, I also use beets to organise and tag my music. It's a bit complicated, but very powerful, and absolutely essential when dealing with a vast number of badly named/tagged music files.

      For video I'd rather use XBMC, which is pretty much the benchmark for HTPC software, and can be either a UPnP server and/or a front-end/extender.

      As for the file and backup server, I tend to use NFS and rsync, although I'm not sure how useful that is to Windows users. I suppose the Windows alternative is CIFS and whatever backup software you want to use. BackupPC is multi-platform and extremely sophisticated, but gross overkill for me.

      But I don't think I'd use ownCloud for any of that.

      I haven't played around with "online editing" much (I don't even use Google Docs), but a quick search revealed something called WebODF. GNU/Linux is awash with collaborative software of one kind or another, so I'm sure there are a few suitable alternatives. Personally I'm more comfortable using native apps.

      I've run my own Postfix mail and Leafnode news servers for years, along with Dovecot IMAP, BIND DNS, a Transmission torrent server, Apache Web server, and various other services. Just yesterday I installed a Friendica instance, and I'm toying with the idea of trying the decentralised YaCy search server, in my quest to be Google-free (or rather NSA-free).

      Your file sync problems are probably something to do with the retarded way that Windows filesystems handle file modification timestamps. I don't know what specific configuration you'd need to change in ownCloud to mitigate the issue (I haven't touched any Windows filesystems in years), but in rsync, for example, you'd use the "--modify-window=1" option.

    3. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Good advice - but not enormous amounts of fun

      Just a quick note that someone's prepping a fork of the (looks to be abandoned) Mozilla Sync app for OwnCloud which works with Firefox Android, they appear to be in the final stages of releasing it. If you take a look at the Mozilla Sync thread on OwnCloud's website and the links from that thread to github then you'll find more info.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Editing and grammer?

    I know El Reg is full of grammar nazis, so i am going to get in first to point out a few (not just one or two) errors in your writing... (call me a Nazi if you like)

    "Start up are sometimes more reliable" - start ups?

    " it was the cornerstone or my research " - of my research?

    I gave up after that, since reading badly written text full of errors is what I must tolerate on facebook.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Editing and grammer?

      I see that you couldn't find the 'send corrections' link either... I know that I spent a few minutes looking.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just buy a NAS

    Why on earth would you get server running the latest version of Ubuntu, when you can just buy a NAS with a whole bunch of server features like auto backup etc.

    For example, a 2 disk RAID from Zyxel, which does file sharing, media server, backup, bittorrent and a bunch of other stuff. Runs on an ARM chip for low power.

    Or maybe this one

    A synology server, a linux box that runs all manner of packages, backup, encryption, can drive video IPs camera, SMTP server, MySQL, Perl, webserver if you want.

    1. MrXavia

      Re: Just buy a NAS

      While a NAS is great, its the software for other devices that is the problem, what do you use to sync your tablet/pc/phone/laptop with the NAS?

      the idea behind owncloud and similar is to offer a drop box style experience.

  8. willish

    Host your own cloud

    A startup aiming to solve this exact problem ...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Been there.

    I had the annoying 'attachment too large' problem on emails, and needed some way to quickly host images to link to in forums. Things like that.

    So I wrote an ultra-simple bit of perl and stuck it on a webserver.

    Just upload the file, and get a nice easy link to it, like so:

  10. Novex

    Not Quite Cloud...

    I recently set up my own ClearOS server for email, with SOGo for groupware. It all works, kind of, but of course it's not a proper cloud service in that it doesn't have apps that can be downloaded to phones, etc. But it did finally get me away from Microsoft's Outlook (I now use eM Client instead as it can handle the CalDAV and CardDAV that SOGo uses) and having my email hosted. But running my own server does need a decent internet connection (which I have) and the cost of the electricity to keep running the server 24/7 needs to be included, though it isn't much.

    I'm sure there are easier and probably better home cloud solutions out there, like the NASs mentioned already, but what I would say is that I am much happier now that I'm not locked in to any cloud service provider's offerings.

  11. Andraž 'ruskie' Levstik

    As someone...

    ...who has been running his own email, http, etc... services for years. I can say it's not that hard but it does take effort for initial setup and for major upgrades.

    The problem is getting less tech savvy people using anything even when provided with easy to use web interfaces etc... It's just not "insert provider here".

  12. fighne

    own cloud mines pink ...

    I purchased a pogoplug long ago, does most things out of the box, installing some additional code gets you almost everything else. I then purchased a fixed IP address via my ISP and I'm home and dry.

    Needles to say I'm a techie but the instructions for most things were very well written so should be easy enough for someone used to a command line.

  13. Tim Almond


    "Even if the service doesn’t get yanked you run the risk that one day you’ll lose something critical thanks to a systems outage or hard-drive crash."

    What's the difference between that happening to you and it happening to a service provider? Except that you've got to do all your own patching, backups, verifying backups and so forth, rather than a company with dozens of staff who by sheer numbers can solve more problems than you can.

    The main thing with all software and services is to always have an exit strategy. If you don't like how a software or service provider treats you, are you either happy to give up the service, or do you have a way of migrating your data to another service?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Setting hem up is no more difficult than Wordpress...

    .... which most people do really really badly and get hacked within a few days if not hours.

    Running your own is fine, if you're going to keep on top of updates etc. - 99% of users do not (speaking as a web host).

  15. Prndll

    Your own server

    Setting up and running your own webserver is NOT that hard (certain not like the article eludes to). Any computer can be a server and it all comes down to how much work and attention your willing to give it. The more you do, the more you'll enjoy it.

    As for Facebook....a public facing webpage on your own server isn't any harder to save to favorites/bookmarks than any Facebook page. If coding is done correctly, it would be just as easy to find across the web too. Take all that time and energy spent on updating your Facebook page and use it for your own server and end up running by your own rules instead of submitting yourself to whatever Facebook tells you. You can be alot happier and do alot more with it. It's already reached the point where your alot more likely to get "hacked" over Facebook than any server your likely to run yourself. Not to mention being constantly monitored and always risking infection.

    There are ways of doing things. As long as you have an IP, you have options.

    1. PyLETS

      Re: Your own server

      Some ISPs have long enough duration leases on IPs that it's possible to get good enough reliability running servers on these by using dynamic DNS for the naming of them. But consumer grade connections are only suitable for low capacity servers - due to higher download than upload speeds.

      Renting a virtual server at around £15/month is more suitable if you are likely to have a number of relatives hitting your latest holiday videos all at the same time, and want to do other interesting stuff including mailing lists, web applications and multiple website hosting. You'll save a lot of that by not having to leave your home based server powered up all the time.

      Home based NAS boxes are useful for local backup and media serving, but can take several seconds to kick in when a client asks them to serve something, due to the disks being in sleep mode.

      1. Prndll

        Re: Your own server


        It really all depends on what you want. Many people just want to share photos between a handful of people. Not everyone does videos. Alot of people just want to deal with 5 or 6 others. Some people just want to get information out without having much if any feedback. Of course, the more you do, the bigger pipe will be required. If the idea is to get thousands of hits, then consumer grade connectivity might not be good enough.

        Then there is the stability of your ISP....running your own server might not be a good idea of your modem is always going down.

  16. Crisp

    Possessions are fleeting

    And so it would seem, is data.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For serious cloud services,

    you'd really want it run like banks, with regulations, and a regulatory body with powers to penalise. Say if a bank loses your money, I would hope there is some kind of recourse. Say if a cloud provider lost your data, or was down for a week, the regulatory body could enforce compensation etc. Obviously this would cost money, but if you want a more trustworthy cloud, there needs to be something in place like this.

  18. Mitoo Bobsworth

    Just for fun...

    Definition: Cloud



    • an indistinct or billowing mass, esp. of smoke or dust.

    • a state or cause of gloom, suspicion, trouble, or worry.


    • make or become less clear or transparent.

    • place under suspicion or cast doubt upon.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Shadwell", they said, "you should build your own cloud!"

    So I built my own cloud...

    But it rained.

  20. cd

    Replacing Facebook

    Replacing Facebook is idiotic, I agree. Better to host my own site with info I can delete and change at will, and avoid free services as much as possible. There are these things called search engines that can find me anyway if someone wants to look me up. I can type short blurbs if I want to be succinct, without signing up for yet another service that limits my characters for me. I can have private pages that stay private and can be removed.

    This is all dependent upon my not being egotistically bound to artificial stats about how may people are paying attention to me. Which are mostly set up to drive the user to produce even more free content. Or have trolly articles with half-baked conclusions. Like certain articles on certain tech sites, say.

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