Thoughts: Does self-hosting benefit the public?

“Do things not for yourself, but for the public, of which you are a part of.”

How well does this ethical imperative fit onto…


Quality contributions to a commons always benefits the public. A pre-requisite of this is the ability to contribute to the commons, which may involve lowering the skill barrier required to do so.

The ability to self host?

The ability to use an alternative benefits the public by denying potential walled gardens, where a lower skill barrier means more benefits to the public.

Self hosting?

Self hosting by itself does not benefit the public, only the person hosting it. In fact, one may argue that self hosting harms the public by taking away time that can be spent contributing instead, or by physical inefficiencies that harm the environment.

For servers without network effects, such as a password manager, RSS reader or personal knowledge base, where the server code is free, and the data backed up on a personal device, the above applies.

However, for servers with network effects, such as social networks, self hosting (more specifically, having a diversity of servers) may prevent the potential creation of walled gardens; imagine a large server simply disabling federation, with no code changes required. In this case, self hosting, making self hosting simpler, and encouraging others to self host benefits the public, not just the person hosting it.

How does this work, practically?

  • Make it easier for people to contribute to the commons.
  • Encourage people to contribute to the commons, and do so yourself.
  • Make it easier for people to self host, or more specifically, to create alternatives that they control.
  • Encourage people to self host, and do so yourself, only if doing so may help prevent servers making it harder to self host.