"Servers no longer serve, they possess. We should call them possessors." —Ward Cunningham

Possessors are machines that hold user data. Contrast with servers.

The term possessors originated from a tweet by Ward Cunningham on January 11, 2013. The idea that servers possess information rather than serve the will of the end user is related to the notion of “self-hosting,”1 the IndieWeb,2 and invokes the GNU project’s ideals of Free Software.3 Data ownership, that is, who possesses whose data, is a critical question because the answer determines who has (political/technical/physical) power over whom and how.

Early Tech Autonomists, who were advocates for self-hosting and the “Indie Web” movement and positioned themselves in opposition to techno capitalist data silos, used this framework of “serve” versus “possess” when creating tools for users to “own—and possess—their own data.” Some tools, such as Tumblr Crosspostr, explicitly referenced Cunningham’s tweet in their user-facing documentation and descriptions.4


1 Wikipedia: Self-hosting

2 GNU Philosophy: What is Free Software?

3 IndieWeb

4 Tumblr Crosspostr