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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

Decentralizing all of my data

A few days ago I came across Ton Zijlstra’s post about trying out Obsidian. I didn’t have the time to read it just then so I quickly stored it in Unmark (shameless plug alert) to read later.

After reading his post I realized he is attracted to Obsidian for the same reasons that I was to give it a try. It stores your notes in a format that keeps the data local, readable, and accessible to any text editor. I really like Simplenote but it only stores notes in Simplenotes cloud service and not as local files (although, it did before Automattic acquired the service many years ago).

As the capabilities of cloud services get more and more robust I find myself drifting back to the early days of my computing where I wanted complete control of all of my data. Even though I can have all of my data accessible from any device, anywhere in the world, doesn’t mean that I want to rely on those services to provide me that data. And, I certainly don’t want the data to be locked into any single app.

Web 2.0 addressed this issue by pushing for accessible APIs that allowed data to be imported or exported in a variety of standard formats. Which is great! However, I find that it is the storage that should be standardized and not the method by which you can move data around. And text notes are just one example. I’ll give another example in a moment.

Zijlstra links to another one of his posts regarding “networked agency” that leads to a super interesting post by Ruben Verborgh titled Paradigm shifts for the decentralized Web.

I need to spend more time digesting Verborgh’s post (which I somehow missed when he published it late last year). However, the principles that are mentioned within it really land with me. One that stands out:

As apps become decoupled from data, they start acting as interchangeable views rather than the single gateway to that data.

This is exactly what I want for so much of my personal data. Any note taking app should be able to read notes written in any app – making the app’s interface simply a view into my note data. Like email. I can choose any email app for any email address. And switch whenever I want.

I’m currently working at building the very same capabilities for my photo library. In the past, I’ve written about why Photos for Mac isn’t a good long term storage solution for our photo libraries. As I write this I’m creating a set of tools and a workflow for my photo storage that allows me to store my photos in a readable format and structure while retaining the ability to use an app like Photos for Mac as a view into that library.

I still have more work to do, and I plan on writing a post sometime in September on what I’ve made so far, but it is a challenge to be sure. My overall goal is to have a photo library that does not require an app, but that an app enhances the experience of browsing my library. And, that all metadata related to a photo (EXIF, tags, faces, etc.) are stored within the file itself and not only within a photo management tool’s database. This will not be easy but I’m determined.

Notes and photos are not the only data that I wish I had in a standardized readable format. My links from Unmark are important to me. Unmark can already import from a variety of services and formats, and it can export into a JSON file. But I’ve recently started working on an export process for Unmark that will spit out a standardized HTML file so that people can export their links to be ingested in any browser or app they desire. This is, of course, the Web 2.0 approach.

I’m glad I read Zijlstra’s post. It has reinvigorated me to continue my effort to decentralize as much of my personal data as possible.

Ton Zijlstra linking curiosity to his blogging

Ton Zijlstra, replying to Frank Meeuwsen’s post that was replying to my post, took a different angle:

Over the last 16 years my blog has been a good instrument to trigger, feed and explore my curiosity. Me blogging more means I’m curious to expand my horizons again.

His post reminded me of a discussion that came up in 2013 on the blogosphere… writing is how I think. And still to this day, my blog is where I form ideas and hypothesis regarding my own interests.

Don’t let people tell you blogging is dead. Seems alive and well to me.