How to remain online when the big services crash

Written by Bruno Fontes, 28 Jan 2021


Every now and then a big service as Google, Facebook or Twitter stops working. That is usually a non-productive day. People usually spend the day not being able to work, complaining, checking if the service is already back and trying to find a way to get around it. But it is always a stressful lost day.

The problem here is the centralization. These services usually work fine, are free and nice/easy to use, so we get used to them up to the point we need them for everything. The client files, your communication with your family, friends, boss, clients, everything depends on them. The problem starts when they are not available for some reason. Maybe the servers had crashed, or your account was banned for any reason. At this time, you notice everything you use/have is not available anymore. To avoid this dependency, we need to decentralize.

Think about a webpage or an email provider: even if Gmail were down, other providers as Yahoo Mail or Outlook will still be up and running. Even better, if you use a local client as Mozilla Thunderbird or Microsoft Office Outlook you will still be able to access the downloaded emails, even while the webmail is down. The same happens with websites: when one is down, just that one is not working but you still can open other pages.

When we talk about quick message services, as WhatsApp, Telegram or Signal, things are even worse as once it is down you have no other way to access them. So, how to decentralize?

Level 0 - very easy to follow

  • Use Google in a Private tab of your browser: this is not about centralization, but big services usually personalize your search results/suggestions, what directs you into thinking way far in a single direction (maybe even a wrong one!). This can lead to polarization, addiction and/or extremism.

  • For a general advice, I would suggest DO NOT keep all your eggs in the same basket. While using Google, Gmail, Google Sheets, Google Keep, Google Drive, Hangouts and Google Chrome appears to be easy and simple, if your account were lost, so all your data will be as well. A single block from Google and it is done. No one to complain (have you tried to contact someone there?), no more files, emails, notes, spreadsheets or contacts. You could even lose your bookmarks. But if you use different providers, only a few resources will be lost.

  • Use an e-mail application. You do not need to move all your emails to it (POP3), instead, you can set it up as a sync (IMAP), so if you mark an email an unread on the program, it will be changed to unread in your webmail as well.

Level 1 - not that easy, but better

  • Start using another search engine as Qwant, Bing, StartPage, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo interchangeably. You will be used to them and barely notice when one is down.

  • You probably already use Facebook to contact people, so avoid using a second app of them (yes, I am talking about WhatsApp) and install another option. Now, Signal will do the trick, but there are better options...

  • If you use Google Chrome, you can give a try in another browser. Vivaldi, Brave, Opera and a lot of others use the same engine from Chrome, so all the pages will load the same way, but you will have a different server to sync your information.

    If you find that accessing Google Services are slower or Recapcha is asking you more confirmations, try to install an extension that changes your User-Agent (how the browser identifies itself to websites) to Chrome. Tests shows that Google slow things down on purpose to keep you from changing browser, but that will do the trick.

  • Have at least one physical backup of everything. Worst case scenario, you can just plug a external storage to your computer and have your data back

  • Use Jitsi Meet instead of Hangouts or Microsoft Teams

Level 2 - I don't want to rely on big companies

Maybe you don't like to be tracked, is afraid of losing all your data or of a crazy government that could gather information about you. Or yet you just enjoy using FOSS (Free and Open-Source Software) programs. So that section is for you:

  • Get rid of Google Search. DuckDuckGo will probably be your first replacement for it, but I also recommend Qwant and SearX (you will need to find someone that hosts it, as https://stuxos.com/meow/).

  • User a browser that DOES NOT use Chrome engine. Firefox will be probably your first choice, but there are a lot of others as well. You might find something interesting on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_web_browsers.

  • Use a decentralized/federated messaging program. E-mail is a decentralized service (multiples servers that exchange messages between them), while WhatsApp or Signal are not (you can only send messages to your contacts using their app/servers). There are a few options here as well, but the most used are XMPP (ugly clients but easy on resources) or Matrix (more beautiful clients but is way heavier). They both has encrypted messages, closed or opened groups (yes, groups that anyone can find/join), amazing audio and video calls etc. The same way as an email service, you will need a host/server (the service itself) and a program to run it on your device. I will write another post about that later.

  • If you have an Android phone, you will not want to rely on Google Play as they forbid apps that are not interesting for them. Instead, install F-Droid to have access to a long list of FOSS apps that might replace your proprietary ones.

  • Twitter is not as good as it was before? You prefer to not have an algo and keep the messages in chronological order? Create an account right now on Mastodon. Better yet, it is federated, so you can choose your server based on your preferences.

  • The harder one to get rid of is YouTube. Google has money enough to keep big servers necessary for that, to pay the content creators and they demand the videos to be exclusive for their platform. But that does not mean you don't have alternatives. Take the chance to know the federated video platform called PeerTube.

Level 3 - I don't trust anyone

This is the easier part. Basically, follow every step before but hosting yourself the service. If you don't have a lot of technical knowledge, YunoHost can be a really great friend!

You can host yourself:

  • Email server (check iRedMail)
  • XMPP server (Ejabberd)
  • Matrix server
  • Video conference (Jitsi Meet)
  • Cloud service (NextCloud)
  • File transfer (Jirafeau)
  • Search engine (Searx)
  • Read it later service (Wallabag)
  • Mastodon
  • PeerTube

Important note

Don't get me wrong, there are way more apps and services than the ones I listed here. I just focused on the ones I've know the best, but with a little search you can find much more.

Links

Search engines

Chat / Videoconference

Browsers

Others

Servers

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash