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The De-Google-fying of my online life…

The De-Google-fying of my online life…

My Retreat from Google

A few weeks back I posted about my Return to Google following my move away from it in 2012. I have been growing increasingly wary of Google’s creepiness, especially relating to its free offerings and the fact that it is collecting enormous amounts of data which it uses to filter search results, and to sell to advertisers.

At the time, I had decided that I was perhaps overdoing things a little, so decided to allow Google back into my life in some areas, while spreading out my data. And using paid Google services where possible. Just 4 days later, Google announced the closure of Google Reader, along with discontinuation of several other services/products. I, like many users, was disappointed with this.

Inspired at least in part by Ben Brooks’ post You Can’t Quit, I Dare You, written in response to Marco Armant’s post Your favorite Thursday sandwich, I have taken on the challenge of De-Google-fying my online life to as a great an extent as is feasible. Marco made the provocative statement:

Want to really stick it to them? Stop using Google. All of it. Search, Gmail, Maps, the works. Delete your account and start using Bing. Ready?

Yeah. That’s the problem. You won’t. I won’t. Nobody will.

Now I would have to agree that it is virtually impossible to completely remove Google from your life, because they are ubiquotous and deeply embedded into so much of the online culture. But I think it is important that we pay careful attention to where we store our data, and what information we give freely (perhaps in return for a free service) to any single company or organisation.

For me, that means that I am de-Google-fying[1] to a large extent. Here’s where I am at so far:

Search


My preference is to use DuckDuckGo wherever possible due to its well regarded privacy policy. I have made it my default search in both Safari and Firefox. Firefox makes it easy to do so, by way of an extension. With Safari I had to edit the hosts file to make DuckDuckGo the default search engine.

My iOS devices now use Bing as the default engine. I have also installed and use a DuckDuckGo action for Drafts, and use the DuckDuckGo app for iOS.

Email

All of my email (from multiple domains) redirects into my Fastmail account – a paid service. As my Google Apps subsriptions expire, I will direct the domains directly into Fastmail, and bypass Google altogether. I no longer use Google for a front end. I also use the CloudPull app to grab all my historical data down from Google.

I am using Airmail as my front end email client on OSX, and the native iOS Mail app.

Calendars and Contacts

All have moved back to iCloud. I look forward to full 2 factor security for all iCloud data, along with all other Apple ID related services.

Documents

I wasn’t a huge user of Google Docs, at least in recent times, and instead use Dropbox and, to a lesser extent, iCloud. CloudPull has ensured that I have my historic documents.

RSS Reader

I have moved back to my own Fever installation. I had been using Fever for a while, but moved back to Google Reader due to the limited number of front end apps for Fever, particularly on OSX and for iPad. I am using the excellent Reeder app which supports Fever on iPhone[2], and I am using the browser interface on OSX and iPad for now. Rumour has it that Ashes app is being rebuilt to support Fever on all iOS devices[3].

RSS Feed Redirection

I have moved all of my website RSS feeds away from Feedburner to Maxime Valette’s uri.lv service. I’ve taken on a Premium account for the additional services, and so that I can support the developer.

Maps

Another easy one for me, at least on my iDevices. I’ve gone back to Apple Maps. They’ve improved in many areas, and it’s up to users to keep using and providing feedback so they continue to improve. I don’t use maps on desktop that much, and will probably use Google for that wherever needed. I’ll reconsier if and when Apple comes out with a true alternative.

Google Earth

I love this app, and do use it some of my training activities. I’ll probably keep using it. As a standalone app, it’s not really that connected to the big picture view of the data stream coming in.

Social Networking

I am not a big fan of Google+. In some respects G+ represents the essence of the so-called creepiness factor about Google. My social networks of choice are App.net and Twitter, and I rarely use Facebook or Google+, although I do have accounts.

G+ has some fantastic photo sharing capabilities, and some wonderful groups for photographers. With that said, Flickr is still my preferred photo sharing site.

The thing I do like about G+ is the hangouts. So I keep it around mostly just for that.

Youtube

I surf Youtube. I have a paid Vimeo account for hosting and sharing my own videos.

Browsers

I use Safari and Firefox as my browsers of choice. Neither are logged into any Google account. I use Chrome exclusively for Google, Google+ and Youtube.

Authenticator

Google provides an excellent app called Google Autheticator, which allows you to establish and access 2 factor passwords for a variety of services. At this time, I haven’t found an alternative that I feel comfortable switching to. Since I don’t have to logon to a Google account to use the app, it’s a standalone island on my iPhone. So I am not uncomfortable using it, as I don’t believe Google to be likely to gather or maliciously use this data.

AdSense

Played around with this some time back on a couple of my sites. I’d rather do selected, targeted promotions of offerings I like and use through referal programs and/or sponsorships.

Analytics

My sites are on Squarespace or are self-hosted WordPress sites. I get all the analytics I need from the built in Squarespace tools or the Jetpack analytics on WP.

AdWords

I have used these on occasion for my Karate Dojo in Sydney and my scuba instructor training courses. I probably will again.

Conclusion

It’s still early days, but I have already moved substantially away from Google. I feel comfortable that my data is more distributed, largely amongst service providers who are committed to providing quality products, at a fair price and with an appropriate level of security/privacy.

I am not trying to “stick it to” Google. For many years I was a major Google advocate, and in fact encouraged others to adopt Google services. I don’t regret this – it was the right choice at the time. But times, people and organisations change. They continue to do a lot of good things, but some fundamentals have changed, causing me to reconsider my own stance.

Gabe Weatherhead expressed his reasons for his move away from Google beautifully in his post Getting Off the Google Juide:

Why go to this effort? Is this a conspiracy? No. Google is just being true to their mission: provide ever increasing information to advertisers so as to increase adverting revenue. I just don’t feel like being part of that. I’d rather pay for anonymity and data privacy. Google has not earned my trust and Apple, DuckDuckGo and Wolfram have.

I am simply (and similarly) taking ownership of my own data and online identity. In so doing, I want to to support providers who support users, and who have “earned my trust”. I hope others will consider these factors and make appropriate decisions. For those that choose free products, from Google or any company, I would encourage them to consider the true price of free.

I’d be interested to hear your views – are you de-Google-fying? To what extent? What apps/services have you adopted to replace Google services? Let me know in the comments.


  1. I am not trying to create a new word using a Google trademark. I’ll leave that to the Swedes
App.Net goes free. Hopefully not into free-fall.

App.Net goes free. Hopefully not into free-fall.

The Twitter-alternative social network known as App.Net (ADN) has gone free, in a way, as of today.

Launched initially as a paid service, ADN has had a special feel about it as the signal-to-noise ratio is excellent, with spamming non-existent, and actual conversations between what seem to largely be real people. The value proposition was that being a paid service, we users were the customers, not the product.

In the press release today, ADN founder Dalton Caldwell (@dalton) was almost apologetic in his justification for introducing free accounts. More importantly, however, he overviewed the ways in which the free accounts will be limited. Apart from having to be invited by a (paid) member of ADN, there will be other restrictions…

Free tier accounts are similar to paid tier accounts, but with a few limitations. These limitations are as follows:

  • Free tier accounts can follow a maximum of 40 users
  • Free tier accounts have 500 MB of available file storage
  • Free tier accounts can upload a file with a maximum size of 10 MB

Over the last few months, ADN has dropped it’s subscription price, and then added storage space for use with apps. It looks like they’re trying to get app developers to use ADN as a backend with a social network attached, rather than a Twitter alternative social network with a back end attached.

Marco Arment (@marco) sums up a key issue with ADN’s confused value proposition:

Worse yet, if I build an app that requires App.net, it still effectively requires a paid App.net account for my customers to use it, because the chances that they’ll already have been given a free-account invitation from another member are nearly zero.

A major problem with Twitter is that as a freemium service, we users are the product which Twitter sells to its advertisers. The signal-to-noise ratio is out of control, with a lot of spamming, and predominately broadcast based messages from various celebrities.

ADN offered us an alternative world, but it looks clear to me that this world has failed to get sufficient momentum. High profile users like Stephen Fry have dropped their accounts, and powerhouse users like John Gruber, John Siracusa and others have reduced their participation.

I suspect that ADN is confused about what their product actually is.

  • Is ADN a social media network? If so, where are the users?
  • Is ADN a storage platform? If so, what is the compelling proposition against Dropbox, Amazon S3 or CloudApp? And why would we pay for it in addition to the cost of the app?

I want ADN to survive and thrive. But as a founding user, I am not at clear anymore as to its value proposition. I hope that by going free, ADN isn’t starting down a path to a free-fall.

I am @desparoz on ADN. Come and say g’day.

App.net Fast Becoming a Powerful, Open Social Platform

App.net Fast Becoming a Powerful, Open Social Platform

Netbot ScreenShotDalton Caldwell announcing the App.net File API :

The promise of “unbundling”

Imagine a world in which your social data (e.g. messages, photos, videos) was easier to work with. For instance, imagine you could try out a new photo sharing service without having to move all of your photos and social graph.

In this world, your photos are held in a data store controlled by you. If you want to try out a new service, you can seamlessly login and choose to give permission to that service, and the photos that you have granted access to would be immediately available.

This is one benefit of an “unbundled” social service. Unbundling gives the user power to pick the software that best suits their needs, rather than being forced to use the software made by the company that manages their data.

I’ve been an App.net (also known as ADN for “App Dot Net”) user since early on – when they took the the concept to the people and offered something different – a model where the users are the customers, not the product. Unlike Twitter, Facebook and others, ADN does not rely on advertising revenue, and instead is a subscription service.

The addition of a wide range of apps was the first step in ADN getting traction. But an interesting thing started to happen – each developer started to add innovative features, as a result of direct communications with users. Although I primarily use Netbot for iOS and Wedge for OSX, I actually use other apps for specific features.

The ADN team recognises the power of having an underlying layer for data storage and exchange, and a platform that allows developers to provide innovative front end features. They also recognise that the power for them, in their business model, is to let different users choose the apps that provide them the features they want.

I think that ADN should be firmly on the radar of serious users of social media, and of course SMEGs.

I am @desparoz on ADN.