A personal server provides private email and encrypted web-based facilities on your very own server just for you. Crucially, personal servers are about more than just privacy, they are a platform for being organized. Your personal server comes with facilities for managing your private information, your public information and your community information.

What is the problem with sharing information online?

If you have some time you might like to watch this talk from luminary Eben Moglen about the urgent need for personal server technology:

The Socratic Dialog

In which we convince Socrates that he wants a Personal Server.

Socrates: Hello John.

John: Hello Socrates!

Socrates: What have you got for us today?

John: A managed personal server with support for private, public and community services.

Socrates: Can you give me an example?

John: Yes, let's say you want a private wiki so you can keep notes, a public blog so you can publish articles on the web, and a university wiki where you can keep your study notes and potentially collaborate with your classmates.

Socrates: I see. So you have public information, private information, and information for your university community?

John: That's right. You can have any number of communities and for each community you can choose which facilities you want.

Socrates: What choice in facilities do I have for each community?

John: At the moment each community can have any of the following:

  • Wiki
  • Blog
  • Photo Gallery
  • RSS/Atom Feed Reader
  • Version Control System (i.e. Subversion or Git)
  • Mailing List

Socrates: Why do I want any of that on a personal server?

John: Because it's a secure platform on which you can conduct your digital life.

Socrates: Why do I want any of that community functionality on a personal server, especially that functionality regarding public or unrestricted access.

John: Because some of your information is private, some is for sharing in a specific community, and some is to be shared with the whole world equally.

Socrates: Why is a personal server relevant to sharing public information when I get that for free elsewhere?

John: Because you are the guardian of the access logs, not some third-party. Running your own server is simply polite. All your stuff in the one place that you control!

Socrates: Why are access logs relevant to information that is in the public sight, if not public domain?

John: Because "who accesses it" and "what they look at" and "for how long" and "how often or when" isn't in the public domain. That is, at least, if you run a personal server. If you rely on third-party services to do your sharing you give up guardianship of the logs, which is not ideal. On the other hand if you keep the logs you can look at them yourself (do you know if anyone has read your Facebook page this week?)

Socrates: How do the community features of the personal server help to justify $50 a month?

John: Because without community features you would have only coarse-grained control over your community information, i.e. you could make your information private, or public; but with communities you can strike a balance between sharing and secrecy.

Socrates: What justifies the expense of $50 a month?

John: It's primarily about security and availability of the access logs along with a bunch of handy features for organizing your digital life.

Socrates: $50 a month to restrict access to logs? Really?

John: Yes, really. If you care about privacy you can pay me to provide a solution, and $50/mo is my fee. Alternatively, you can DIY and I will provide how-to guides that help you if you don't want to pay for a managed solution. The goal is to have everyone running a personal server, it's less important if they manage the server themselves or not. In this way personal servers are a "cause".

The stand-out feature of a personal server is its privacy. When you're using your personal server (e.g. reading your mail, reading your RSS feeds, composing or uploading content) no third-party is monitoring your usage. When others are using your personal server (e.g. reading/viewing your content, commenting, etc.) only you get to monitor their activity.

There are other benefits. For instance having all of your stuff in the one place. And having a diverse array of services available to you under the one umbrella. If you were trying to emulate the feature set with free services you need to have potentially scores of accounts.

Socrates: So your product is therefore a secure web and email server with public access and restricted web logs for $50 a month.

John: You got it.

Socrates: I'm sold! Where can I get one?

John: Thank you Socrates, you can get your new personal server today!