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We're all internet hoarders

Over the past few years I’ve moved around a lot, living in Los Angeles, Seoul, Beijing and now Singapore. Over the course of these moves I pared down my belongings, so now everything fits in just two large pieces of luggage.

But on the internet, this is so much more difficult to do. Most of us have more than a few suitcases worth of accounts and user data floating around out there. More so, even if we want to toss out some of these things, we usually can’t do it quickly or easily. For each account,

  • Log in (~30 seconds)
  • Reset password? (~1-2 minutes)
  • Export user data? (~1-2 minutes)
  • Delete account (~1-2 minutes)

That’s 5 minutes per account. Now multiply that by all your accounts, of which I have, maybe 20 or 25. Now imagine you get stuck in a loop trying to reset a password or retrieve an old email address in a janky auth flow (Microsoft, looking at you).

🤯 If only we could just rm -rf accounts

But the saga continues. Besides closing down old accounts, what about changing all your passwords to unique, secure ones and storing them in a password manager? I’ve been down that road already. Estimate many more days or weeks.

The point is, It’s really hard to have just two suitcases worth of internet stuff because it lives in so many guarded places. I’m a fan of new projects emerging from this line of thinking like Solid, but it may be some time before every user is savvy enough to have something like their own personal “pod” or cloud.

That being said, I’ve been thinking about a few actionable targets we can observe as developers that can help new apps avoid adding to this unwelcome trend:

  • Do not require authentication, or if absolutely necessary, require only an email address.
  • Store data locally or in a cloud already owned by the users.
  • If data is stored remotely, make user data export and deletion as readily accessible as possible.

If all goes well, I plan on implementing these ideas in the side project I’m working on now. As for the rest of the apps out there that we depend on daily, the only way is to painstakingly reduce our dependency until cleaner alternatives are built.

Cheers! 🍻

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