My goal here is to make a guide for people who don’t necessarily want to pick up a new hobby, or who might have limited time and energy to learn new things, but who still want to find alternatives to the big, default names.
Some of these are open-source projects, some are non-profits or co-ops, some of these are corporate but maybe less bad and respect you more than the megacorporations beholden only to shareholders who want to make money; some are still pretty corporate but might make it easier for you to control your own data, own your own blog posts, run your own store.
Many services that are listed as free accept donations, which is a good thing to do if you have the means and want them to continue.
I originally posted this here and got a lot of great advice from that thread, including some much more advanced self-hosting tips.
0: Very similar to something you already use.
1: Doesn’t require a technical background, but you might need to spend time learning about it.
2: Fairly straightforward if you’re comfortable with computers. Someone without a technical background could learn, given the time and energy.
I’m trying to avoid recommending anything more complicated than that in this lsit.
Non or less commercial replacements for common tools
- Difficulty 0
- Almost every other browser is secretly Google Chrome.
- Difficulty 0 if just using for messaging. 1 if you are using it for e.g. activism purposes and you need to make sure it has the exact security guarantees you want.
- Free, funded by donations
- It has the added benefit of being the gold standard for security and privacy.
- I’ve never used it
- Supposedly very secure
- Maybe complicated? Since I haven’t used it I won’t rate its difficulty
- I’ve never used it
- Costs $5/month or so
- Maybe simpler? Since I haven’t used it I won’t rate its difficulty
- Free below a certain usage level
- Like Signal, difficulty 1 if its encryption features really matter, but otherwise it’s basically Google Docs with a few weird things.
- Like Signal, has better privacy and security guarantees than Google Docs. It is slower as a result, though.
- Never used this but apparently good as a google docs substitute as well.
I don’t know much here, shamefully.
SearXNG was recommended to me (see the thread linked above). I’ll put it at a 2 because I don’t totally understand it.
Publishing things on the Internet
A blog is a place where you post longish-form posts. Usually you have more control over the platform than traditional social media. A cool thing about blogs is that you can subscribe to them using something called RSS. I use Inoreader (a commercial platform, but a smaller one) to subscribe to blogs: it’s an app where the blogs just magically show up when a new one is published.
- I haven’t used this but I know a bunch of non computer oriented people have.
- You do need to write things in markdown or HTML so I’ll put this as a 1.
- Seems to be totally free? It is the project of some guy. I think you host it on his site, rather than your own.
- Use it to make blogs and simple websites. It’s what this blog is hosted on!
- You have to host it somewhere so I’ll put it as a 2
- It gives a bunch of templates and stuff though so you don’t need to be able to design a website
- I’m guessing maybe also a 2?
- I’ve heard good things about it if you want a more elaborate, traditional website.
- It also apparently has built-in mailing list capabilities
Creating your own wesite from scratch
- I have also done this. I have even handwritten an RSS feed. I don’t recommend doing that.
- Difficulty: 2+. It is doable with time and effort, and I do think anyone could do it, but may just not have the time, and will likely end up with a very 90s aesthetic (which can be cool). Comparable to Hugo but more work.
There are a lot of other options, I don’t know enough about all of them. Wordpress used to be big, but the software behind Wordpress is complicated and I remember it had a lot of security issues. Cohost is a smallish company that I think is basically fine, but also all your data is owned by a company that is not terribly profitable and thus might vanish if they ever run out of money.
These are not blogs, despite what certain companies will tell you! If you just want to put things on the Internet for fun, you probably want a blog. If you need an audience, because you are for instance an artist, author, craftsperson who sells things on the Internet, etc, or you just can’t stand that only a few people read your blog, it’s worth considering.
Mailing lists are a mechanism for sending email to a lot of people. Unlike the other options, they are heavily legally regulated because if done the wrong way, they become what is known as “spam”. On top of huge fines you could also get your emails blocked by email providers. You may also need to share your address with the general public (getting a PO box may be an option).
I’d say a mailing list starts at difficulty 1 because you need to go research the legal requirements of hosting one. I am not a lawyer this is not legal advice etc
- I haven’t used them, but I’ve heard good things about them.
- You do have to pay $9/month after 100 subscribers, last I checked.
- I haven’t used it and don’t know anyone who has However, as commercial options go, it’s free, and probably less bad than substack
- You can host an online store if you fit the requirements (in particular, you are selling handmade things.)
- It does cost a fair bit of money - you have to buy a membership. Doing some work for the co-op instead is also an option it seems.
- I haven’t used it but I’d imagine it’s otherwise more or less as straightforward as Etsy? So probably 0
- It’s a co-op, which means as a member you partially own it, which is pretty cool!
As a side note, most options listed on this website are either actually corporate (just less shitty about it), or require each individual to do a bunch of work and learn some new skills. A co-op might cost money, but that money lets you build a platform where the work to set it up and maintain it can be shared and you aren’t all off trying to solve the problem on your own.
All difficulty 2, by definition. Also they will all be some kind of big corporation. By self hosting you aren’t avoiding big corporations, just removing one layer.
- Owned by microsoft, boo
- free to host static sites (i.e. a website like a blog where it’s just pages of text and stuff)
- You need to know how git works
- I’ve used it. It’s ok.
- Don’t get a cool domain name. In theory you can set up a custom domain name but I never got it working with encryption.
- Not the cheapest, but I’ve found it fairly easy to use (both for static hosting and for running a mastodon-like server)
- Static sites are free
- I know some people use this for static sites, I don’t know anything about it
- I haven’t used them but heard they’re good
What’s a static site?#
There are basically two types of hosting: static sites and non static sites. For a static site, you have a bunch of files that say what is on your website. Examples include: some blog software, a homepage that you made yourself out of html. These can be free because they don’t take many resources to run.
Non static sites are any website that shows different content based on what the user does. For instance, it might show different content if you’re logged in or not, or allow you to post comments. These usually cost money, because basically the computer needs to be doing work whenever someone is using your webpage.
Think of it as like the difference between paying to print out a bunch of flyers, and paying someone to go talk to people and answer their questions. Bigger websites tend to do the latter because in this analogy, the person can try and sell you things while they’re at it.
I use namecheap. No idea if they’re good or not. They’ve been fine. They are pretty corporate.
- I haven’t used them but heard they’re good
Github like things#
- Haven’t used it
- you need to know what git is, so probably difficulty 2
What is git?#
Git is a source control system. Basically, given a folder full of files (and other folders), it allows you to save snapshots of the entire contents of the folder, rewind time to a specific snapshot, create like alternate timelines so you can go work on stuff without affecting the state of the universe, and merge your timeline back in when it’s ready.
It’s really nice when working with other people, it can be pretty convenient when working on your own so you don’t have like text.final.ACTUALLY_FINAL.2.txt, but there’s a bit of a learning curve.
If you’re reading this you’re probably familiar with it, but for completeness:
- Microblogging (mastodon, etc) is probably the most popular use. My server runs hometowm, a mastodon fork with some nice features for smaller communities.
- Other popular uses are pixelfed (instagram-like), lemmy and other reddit alternatives, and bookwyrm (goodreads replacement).
- Fediverse-compatible gath.io lets you make events similar to eventbrite.
- Your main consideration when picking a server is moderation. A badly moderated server might have problems with spam, racist harassment and similar, and even content that puts you at legal risk. Also, badly moderated servers get blocked by well moderated servers.
- If you’re in the Bay Area, I’d recommend sfba.social (unless you know people on carfree.city IRL, in which case I recommend carfree.city). Servers based around local communities or particular interests are a good place to start. Really big servers can have moderation issues.
- Recently they started sfba.club, a bookwyrm instance!
Difficulty: 0.5 to 1. It can be very straightforward but there are some weird things you can run into.
Cost: generally free, but it helps if you can help pay for your server.
Commercial services that still might interest you
- Bigcartel for hosting stores, can host up to 5 things for free
- Square at least used to send you a kind of crappy payment device thing for free (but they take a cut of all sales)
- If you make anything that could plausibly be described as a “game”, not necessarily just video games, itch.io
- Also it’s a great place to find cool weird indie stuff
- If you want something printed, and want a bunch of copies, more than what your local library can do, and you don’t care if the quality is a little bit uh variable, Mixam is probably the cheapest option
- Pirateship lets you ship at a reduced commercial rate usually, and lets you create a lot of shipping labels at once
- Canva - easy to make cool graphics
- Partiful - for sending event invites without using Facebook