Swaroop C H

blog books about contact subscribe

An experiment to be Google-Free

21 Mar 2010

Update on 5 Oct, 2012 : Still on Mac applications, but now using the free email mailbox option of my domain registrar Gandi.net + local Thunderbird email folders instead of Rackspace Email. Desktop apps are better for frequently used stuff. No matter how many times web apps lure me into "available everywhere" + "mobile syncing" feature. For example, the Brief addon for Firefox is so much more responsive and pleasant to use than Google Reader, although Google Reader's advantage is that it works on mobile as well. I spend too much time with my mobile phone anyway, so it's a good way to dis-incentivize me from using that screen.  Update on 13 Jan, 2012: Most of my online services has been replaced by good Mac applications + Dropbox. I have moved away from Zoho services because their UI tended to be quite buggy, and using the browser's "live bookmarks" feature as the RSS reader. The main things I'm still dependent on Google for is Feedburner (because it is the standard for RSS reader count) and Google Analytics (again, the standard for analytics). Update on 30 Jul, 2011: I have switched to another paid option now - Rackspace Email. Update on 24 Apr, 2011: I was using Zoho Mail exclusively for a long time, but I got tired of my email landing in spam folders of Yahoo! Mail and Gmail users. Going back to Yahoo! Mail was not an option (IMAP support is only in an expensive paid option and I don't like the Yahoo! Mail UI any more), so the Hobson's choice was to get back to Gmail. Sigh.

A series of incidents and thoughts led me to try an experiment - to be "100% Google Free". This turned out to be a lot harder than I thought, and ended up admiring Google a lot, and at the same time, worried and curious about what they do with all that data they have.

First things first, since I no longer use Google's Feedburner, please kindly update your RSS readers to use http://www.swaroopch.com/feed/ instead of the earlier Feedburner link. For those 140+ people who are subscribed via email, I have migrated to MailChimp (emails were also being sent by Feedburner earlier), so emails will continue to be delivered to you from this post onwards. You can subscribe or unsubscribe for email delivery on this page.

Back to the main topic... there were a few reasons that led me to this experiment: Phew. I think those were enough reasons to move away from Google, at least for a while.

And, boy, it has been tough. Let's face it, it's hard for companies to beat Google when Google makes slick products and gives it away for free.

Here is what my transition looks like:
  1. Search - The funny thing is I used Google Search only in 2004-2005, started using Yahoo! Search since 2006, and have moved to Bing exclusively since the past 6 months. (free)
  2. Analytics - Moved to Mint ($30) + Piwik (open source)
  3. Reader - Moved to Tiny Tiny RSS (open source)
  4. Feedburner - Moved to the default WordPress feed link + MailChimp for emails (freemium)
  5. Google Apps - Moved to Zoho for Business ($5 per month)
  6. Docs - Moved to Zoho Docs which turned out to be way more powerful (free)
  7. GTalk - Stopped using IM, it was a distraction anyway. (zero)
  8. Contacts - Exported from Google, stored only on iPhone (free)
  9. Calendar - Zoho Calendar (free)
  10. Google Groups - subscribe to RSS feeds of the group (free)
  11. Maps - Since the map application on iPhone uses Google Maps, no alternative
  12. Google Alerts - no alternative
  13. Google Adsense - This is still a todo item, haven't looked into it yet. I have heard about Komli, Chitika, etc. but yet to investigate.
  14. Phone - My next phone is probably going to be an Android phone, looks like there is no alternative (I'm tired of having to use Windows just for iTunes, only because I have an iPhone)
As I'm sure you have deciphered, this took some installation of server-side software and some money to make this transition. These were the best alternatives that I came across that suited me.

So far I've been very happy about this experiment, because I got to discover and try out new tools and realized that there is so much more cool functionality available out there that I would have never discovered otherwise!

And at the same time, I admire Google even more now (from a startupper's perspective) because they discovered a business model because of which they are able to give away so much functionality for free, and hence brought more people online.

Update: Thanks to Helen (in the comments below), got to know that Leo Babauta (Zen Habits) wrote about the exact same topic just 2 days ago. Good to know that I'm not alone in my concern!

Comments

Pradeep Gowda says:

"They have this attitude that if you're getting it for free, you should be happy with what you get." is by Rob Enderle, a known microsoft shill.

You could have chosen a more objective person to quote without damaging the credibility of what you wanted to say.

Swaroop says:

@Pradeep Apologies, link removed.

Varun says:

Love the options on this post. Very well researched and presented as is the consistent trend on this blog. It caters to a lot of us who have been burned by Google privacy issues or are generally weary about this new evil on the block.

Bookmarking as a must click link for the time I decide to migrate myself, which might be very soon. I have already started limiting the use of Google Apps and other things like getting out of gmail will follow suit.

sashank says:

If today u want to escape google , tmrw u may want to do it for some X , Y ,Z , its all because the entire web infrastructue is designed on Server Centric Nature , As some time back i suggested there is a need / urge to move to User Centric Web which would solve most of the problems of broken identity , privacy and misused data !

Swaroop says:

@Varun Glad it was useful for you.

@Sashank How do we tackle, say, email storage space with "user centric web"?

sashank says:

the first thing pops out of my mind is , like we just need a backup service or cloud kinda service for mobility of our mails , this can be done in similar way as Firefox is trying to solve with Weave , if we cannot rely on mozilla's servers , we can have our own servers of Weave , similar cloud service with privacy and confidentiality of our data is enough , we need not get tied up with some service provider

Swaroop says:

@Sashank So, essentially, use desktop applications or "offline-enabled" online apps? Or pay up for our own servers? It is feasible for a techie, but just won't work for a common man.

sashank says:

I envision an entire ecosystem around that , Once people are conscious on web about their broken identity and data misuse , Third party Weave Servers ( or similar servers which provide confidentiality ) and similar service providers ) would come into picture , new business models develop around it ( may be freemium model holds good there too ) ,

even the current way social networking done is also nonsense , they just want user numbers and their data but least bothered about User Value ! its all broken big time , we need to fix it " To ride the next curve of innovation" ( phrase taken from Guy Kawasaki )

Shivraj says:

Very good collation of sites helping us to be google-free. I had similar concerns but can't revolt against them and opt for alternatives until we know their intentions or they start charging their services . Both the doubts will hardly be true when we analyse their biz model.

I use buxfer for money mgmt and it's been awesome . Do share some tools/softwares which can be handy to a techie like me :)

@Swaroop: Waiting for ur next post eagerly ! :)

Helen says:

Synchronicity??

http://zenhabits.net/2010/03/google-free/#more-5886

Avinash Sonee says:

for google alerts alternative > http://topikality.com/

Swaroop says:

@Sashank Well, I hope you make the first moves and show how it can be done, for example, the third-party Weave servers, etc. that you have talked about. Power to you!

@Shivraj Just like with people, I guess we have to go with gut feeling and trust until proven wrong :) ... If you're looking for good tools, check out makeuseof.com and of course lifehacker.com ... Next post on anything specific or in general?

@Helen Wow! That's surreal - Amazing coincidence of both Leo and me writing about the same topic on almost the same day :)

Swaroop says:

@Avinash The reason I said there is no alternative to Google Alerts is because it uses Google's vast database generated by it's search engine crawler - and there are very few players who have reached that kind of reach / size. How does Topikality rate on that scale?

sashank says:

@swaroop,

Yes , am on to it ... :)

Praval says:

Nice move Swaroop! Glad to read about your adventurous initiative. However, the next release of Ubuntu shall support iPhone, on the fly. So opting in for an Android phone, just for that, may not be a good move! My 2 cents. :)

Swaroop says:

@Praval, Yep, just got to know about that. That solves a huge part of the problem, but I still have to have Windows around for phone-OS upgrades, etc.

I tried an OS upgrade once via Windows inside VM on Linux and the whole computer crashed. So I have to have a raw Windows installed. Sigh.

Not sure whether there are regular OS upgrades for Android.

Similarly, I can't take backups of the phone without iTunes/Windows.

Sandeep says:

Nice blog! It surely would have made a lot of people think about moving to non-google products.
But one thing I would like to add: Its not just the fact that google products are really good that makes people use them, but also the useful things you could do by combining a few of them.
For eg, the integration of Google Docs with Gmail or the ability to view a person's orkut profile from Gtalk, etc (I can't think of better examples right now, but I'm sure they exist).

Swaroop says:

@Sandeep I see similar good integrations within Zoho products and they've mentioned in their forums that they are working on improving on it further.

Helen says:

I think the google-free thing must be in the air or Gestalt or whatever the expression is, I've been thinking about it for a while too. Your take on it was somewhat different from Trent's actually, Swaroop, and I'm quite interested in some of your choices.

Enjoying your blog immensely, by the way.

Kanti says:

Hi Swaroop,

You bring up a very good point here.The diversity of the internet is what drives it.There was a wave earlier to use whatever services yahoo came up with.The ease of use is one big factor for a lot of users.You have a google account , you would end up using orkut as well at times.
The diversity can improved in a lot of ways
- if the authentication is atleast handled at one place( think openid).
- Nowadays lot of internet users are also mobile users , so the service has to be portable and accessible to the mobile device/smartphone as well.
- Security of data is also a big concern.People may have a feeling that the data is a bit more safe with hotmail, gmail or yahoo mail than say some other service.This is a perceived threat and actually the converse may be true at times.

The internet is not really as safe as people may think , but added to that , the internet may be safe for you if you do not want to venture out a lot ( go to chickpet/binnypet and buy something :) ).

I have not commented on the security models in use today as that would need a lot more elaborate coverage.
Can you do pki with zoho mail? does it work on a mobile device? I know it would need to be explored , but something may be useful to you which is missing from a specific provider.

Regards

Kanti

Swaroop says:

@Helen I'm assuming you mean Leo (Who's Trent?), and yes, I'm surprised that there are quite a few others who are thinking about the same thing, I thought I would be called a heretic! But, yes, I'm quite serious about not becoming part of a monoculture because then you will get used to the least common denominator of ideas :)

Thanks for the kind words about the blog!

@Kanti Yes, that is why standards usually evolve and help interoperate. It is because we have POP3, IMAP and SMTP, that anybody could start an email service and do cool new things - just consider how Yahoo! Mail was the No.1 email service provider for new users - Gmail was able to come to the scene and now become the No.1 choice for new users.

Unfortunately, we are losing that choice. Just consider how Google Buzz is integrated within Gmail, which by itself is not a bad thing, but then it leads to startups like ETacts (they build an intelligent social layer around your email) - I was really interested to try out their service but they are Gmail-only!

Helen South says:

Oh yes, Leo Babuta, of course. Trent is at The Simple Dollar, - thesimpledollar.com - another site I read regularly. He does particularly thorough book reviews. I don't always agree with him (of course) but even the ideas I disagree with encourage me to take another look at my views and consider alternatives.

I've just started using my personal website as a private wiki to use instead of Google or Evernote - well should I say, I'm in the process of installing it. Basically it involves installing a second Wordpress installation and making it private. See davidhewson.net

I'm very excited about this - it's my own space, I have total control over it, no adverts! And hosting is quite cheap.

Swaroop says:

@Helen Aah yes, I have not read Trent's site in a while, always remember him for the amazingly detailed book reviews.

Yes, great idea, I remember I had a private MediaWiki installation for a very long time - it was fantastic. IIRC, I stopped doing that because moving stuff around was proving to be painful, but it was really useful, simple, extensible and really private :)

Monica Rohit says:

Awesome analysis swaroop!! but u haven left any comments on bing v/s google search....wud like to know more about that :)

Swaroop says:

@Monica Bing has a better privacy policy than Google, and equally important, the search results by Bing are usually good enough for me compared to Google, I still haven't faced the need to go back to Google Search, which is quite surprising to me.

ವಡೆ-ಪಾಯ್ಸ says:

Yes, the GMail problem leaves me sleepless at nights :P
No, seriously! I have some 4-5GB of insanely important data on GMail servers and I have no idea how to download them, because IMAP and POP just don't work on old accounts.

But, GMail is a lot better than Y! Mail, which did not even offer POP (Which was why I moved out.. I don't know the current state though)

As for the search Paranoia, I've started using chome in incognito for searches.

The problem with ditching Google services is that they are so darn good that other services will leave me begging to return. I am a very quick to try new services and startups, but not too many people maintain my interest.


Bing: Slow
Mint: who pays money for analytics? I use AwStats instead and sometimes parse apache logs myself. They are much better than Google Analytics anyway!
Reader: ttrss? no srsly. I need a real reader.
Feedburner: Dont use it
Apps: GMail for my domain.. very lucrative
Contacts: I dont know too many people :)
Calendar: The one on my phone


and also, not to forget Chrome and Picasa.. both of which I use heavily.

I sure wish there services much better than Google keep popping up.

Neerav Parekh says:

Nice post Swaroop.. Thank you for letting us all know of a few alternatives that at least I was not aware of.

Having said that, I would like to go against the general consensus here. I agree with most of the concerns that you've raised against google. But I don't think they give me a sufficient reason to stop using their services totally. Let us look at a few positives of the google economy..

Text-based contextual advertising has revolutionized the web. It has ensured that a wealth of information gets published by both amateurs as well as experts as they get compensated by ads.

The revenue that they are generating via these text ads subsidizes their work on building useful free apps like gmail, google apps, reader, etc.

We as customers have got a great deal from google via their free products. But they also need to give the advertisers an equally good deal to continue providing the free products. Hence, I find nothing wrong if they try and analyse my data to understand my habits and behaviour to provide targetted ads. Serves both the advertiser and me as well!!

Besides, being a heavy internet user, I have lots of my data, including email, online. This runs into tens of gbs. I am sure that with the kind of infrastructure that Google has, the chances of me losing my data are negligible as compared to having it only on my local server and being backed up every now and then. Saves me all the hassle of installations, updates, backups. etc.

There are a lot of other benefits.. I can go on and on but would stop here.

The general public always loves to hate a giant and likes to support the underdog till it becomes a giant itself.. remember supporting google v/s microsoft?

Sreenivas says:

Smaller players must find a viable model to survive. If I use services of startups whose business model is not yet proven then I should be prepared for frequent hops. How feasible is it?

Can we stay with google, use multiple IDs for different types of activities, and ensure that a whole picture is not understood by Google? For example, I have five google IDs, each of these IDs is used for different purposes. By grouping activity types, I'm giving out more detailed information. However, unless, there is an easy way of linking these email Ids, there is no way for Google to profile me fully.

Swaroop says:

@Neerav There is a difference between delivering value and being overbearing. And I have listed exact specific reasons for my concern.

@Sreenivas So are you saying we should not use products by startups? ... And only you can understand multiple IDs, etc. What about the average person?

Ajay Reddy says:

Swaroop,

Are you tracking subscription to your feeds? I'm trying to avoid feedburner on http://hitchhikingindia.com but the alternative is to add a page with a meta refresh, which doesn't work on tumblr blogs.

Swaroop says:

@Ajay Unfortunately, I haven't found a good alternative to Feedburner yet. But I would recommend Piwik (open source) or Mint (paid), the most appropriate I found so far.

Feedback

There's no comment box, but please do email me or tweet me your thoughts and criticisms, and I will publish the relevant ones here.