Roll Your Own Web Apps To Avoid Privacy Issues

A few weeks ago I wrote and article over on my personal blog about how I was thinking about moving everything “in-house”. Whilst that article has more of an emphasis on email (which I’m still not sure about moving yet by the way, so I’m interested to hear your thoughts…), I’ve also been applying the same principles to other parts of my online “life”. So let’s take a look at some of the roll your own web apps that I’ve launched myself…

URL Shortner – Yourls

Whenever we publish an article here on RefuGeeks, we always share that article on our social networks, and to do this we use a great tool called Hootsuite. However, space is very much a virtue when it comes to Twitter so we always use a URL shortner for our links. Previously we’ve always used the embedded one that Hootsuite uses (, but what if Hootsuite ceases to exist? All of those links on our social media will be completely dead….NOT GOOD!

So I’ve decided to roll my own URL shortner using the open source tool Yourls. Yourls is free and can be easily installed on most web hosts. I’ve personally got mine running on my 3rd party web server via cPanel, rather than taking up extra load on my VPS (install guide coming soon).

I decided to create my own URL shortner for a number of reasons. Firstly, I have 100% control over what the URL’s are and how long they live for. If Hootsuite do cease then all of my own links will continue to work. The other cool feature is that I can “theme” my URL’s – so I went for as the basis for my short URL’s. Here’s a look at my Yourls admin interface:

YourlsYourls also gives you some great features like Analytics, so you can see how many times your links have been clicked and when they were clicked. Speaking of analytics…

Piwik Analytics

Any website owner like myself will be interested in analytics. For those that don’t know, Analytics are statistics about your audience – information on who’s coming to your site, from where, when and how often. They’re extremely important if you hope to grow a successful website. For example, I monitor specific articles on RefuGeeks, and if we hit gold and a particular article is popular, then we will try and cater more for that subject matter as that’s obviously what our readers enjoy.

Anyway, prior to switching the Piwik I was using the de-facto Google Analytics and whilst that isn’t a major problem, Google could decide to close down their Analytics and I would lose all of the historic data I have with them. Like Yourls, on Piwik, I take control of my data, once again I host it myself so I’m in complete control.

Not only that but Piwik is another open source project – geez my donations are gonna be high this month :-), but not only that Piwik actually promotes privacy by encouraging admins to enable auto-deletion and anonymity features. I also have control of the meta data that is being collected from my readers (non by the way – and if there was, I would never pass it on to anyone!).

PiwikI’d like to thank Benjamin Karensa for his recent article on Piwik as I’d never heard of it before and I was on the look out for something just like Piwik. If you want to take a look at Piwik for yourself, you can try their demo site here. Piwik also have a free and very powerful Android app so you can keep on top of your analytics on the move.

Tiny Tiny RSS

The final roll your own web app that I’m hosting myself is Tiny Tiny RSS, which I wrote about recently. The switch to Tiny Tiny RSS was a requirement due to Google Reader shutting down. I’ve been using TTRSS for just over a week now and I have to say that there isn’t a single feature that I’m missing from Google Reader. The only thing is that the Android app costs a measly £1.23 (around $2.00) which is a very small price to pay for such a great system. Plus it supports the project.


So you see people, these hypothetical situations whereby service x or service y shut down is possible, and happens quite often (Google Reader). Yes the likelihood is small, but the risk is still there. Gmail/Google Apps may not shut down any time soon; but Google have already reduced their free Google Apps accounts from 50 users, to 10, and now they have stopped it all together. So maybe the previous existing free accounts, like mine, will go one day. Who knows?

I personally don’t want to take any chances with my data, so I’m going to continue to roll my own where possible. Do you have any roll your own apps that you would like to recommend? If so, you know where the comment section is.

Are you inclined to roll your own web apps, or are you happy with having these kinds of services hosted elsewhere so that you don’t have the headache of managing them yourself? I would love to hear what you guys think below.

Roll Your Own Web Apps To Avoid Privacy Issues
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