Divorcing Google

The time has come; all good things must come to an end. So it is with my relationship with Google and the majority of their online services. As of right now, I’m in the midst of separating myself from the majority of Google’s services. I’ve mentioned this several times on Twitter, and a number of people asked me to write about the process. So, here are the details so far.

The first question that usually comes up is, “Why leave Google?” That’s a fair question. There is no one reason, but rather a number of different factors that contributed to my decision:

  • Google kills off services seemingly on a whim. What if a service I’m come to use quite heavily is no longer valuable to Google? That was the case with Google Reader, a service for which I still haven’t found a reasonable alternative. (Feedly is close.)
  • Google is closing off their ecosystem. Everything ties back to Google+, even if you don’t want anything to do with Google+. Communications with Google Talk to external XMPP-based services no longer works, which means you can’t use Google Talk to communicate with other users using XMPP (only other Google Talk users).
  • Support for XMPP clients will stop working in May 2014 (which, in turn, will cause a number of other things to stop working). One thing that will be affected is the ability to use an Obihai device to connect to Google Voice, which will no longer work after this change.
  • The quality and reliability of their free service tiers isn’t so great (in my experience), and their paid service tiers aren’t price competitive in my opinion.
  • Google’s non-standard IMAP implementation is horribly, awfully slow.
  • Finally, Google is now doing things they said they’d never do (like putting banner ads in search results). What’s next?

Based on these factors, I made the decision to switch to other services instead of using Google. Here are the services that I’ve settled on so far:

  • For search, I’m using a combination of DuckDuckGo (for general searching) and Bing Images (for image searches). Bing Image Search is actually quite nice; it allows you to search according to license (so that you can find images that you are legally allowed to re-use).
  • For e-mail, I’m using Fastmail. Their IMAP service rocks and is noticeably faster than anything I’ve ever seen from Google. The same goes for their web-based interface, which is also screaming fast (and quite pleasant to use). The spam protection isn’t quite as good as Google’s, but I’m still in the process of training my Bayes database. I anticipate that it will improve over time.
  • For IM, I’m using Hosted.IM and Fastmail, both of which are XMPP-based. I’ll use Hosted.IM for one domain where my username contains a dot character; this isn’t supported on Fastmail. All other domains will run on a Fastmail XMPP server.
  • For contact and calendar syncing, I’m using Fruux. Fruux supports CardDAV and CalDAV, both of which are also supported natively on OS X and iOS (among other systems). Support for CardDAV/CalDAV on Android is also available inexpensively.

That frees me up from GMail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, and Google Contacts. I’ve never liked or extensively used Google Drive (Dropbox is miles ahead of Google Drive, in my humble opinion) or Google Docs, so I don’t really have to worry about those.

There are a couple of services for which I haven’t yet found a suitable replacement; for example, I haven’t yet found a replacement for Google Voice. I’m looking at SIP providers for my home line, but haven’t made any firm decisions yet. I also haven’t found a replacement for FeedBurner yet.

Also, I won’t be able to completely stop using Google services; since I own an Android phone, I have to use Google Play Store and Google Wallet. Since I don’t have a replacement (yet) for Google Voice, I have a single Google account that I use for these services as well as for IM to Google Talk contacts (since I can’t use XMPP to communicate with them). Once Google Voice is replaced, I’ll be down to using only Google Play, Google Wallet, and Google Talk.

So, that’s where things stand. I’m open to questions, thoughts, or suggestions for other services I should investigate. Just speak up in the comments below. All courteous comments are welcome!

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  1. oscar’s avatar

    curious if you use Chrome and if that is part of the divorce proceedings

  2. Ernie Oporto’s avatar

    Do you see yourself going away from Android in the future or is iPhone not an alternative?

  3. slowe’s avatar

    Oscar, I only occasionally use Chrome on my laptop, but I do use Chrome regularly on my Android phone. I haven’t yet decided if I will find a different browser on my Android phone. Given Chrome’s limited use on my Mac, I’m not terribly concerned about it (and I use Little Snitch to attempt to limit “phone home” attempts by Chrome).

    Ernie, I actually have two phones: an iPhone and an HTC One (Android-based), with two different carriers. I don’t anticipate moving away from the Android phone in the near future since it was a recent purchase (to help with staying connected on international trips).

  4. Marc Crawford’s avatar

    I find that searching in DuckDuckGo is different than Google Search. I don’t get the same results. I guess I have to learn what the tricks are to tweak searching in DuckDuckGo.

    Google’s services were free, so you can’t really complain what they do with there services.

    Plus there is no guarantee that any of the paid services you have moved to won’t go out of business next year and you will have to move somewhere else.

    I am not saying that I don’t agree with your divorce from Google, but when you sign up for a paid service you are obviously going to get exactly what you expect.

  5. Greg Knieriemen’s avatar

    Your personal preferences are your personal preferences and I don’t disagree with with it but I do disagree with your logic on XMPP.

    Google was pretty clear back in May that it was moving away from XMPP and over the years, XMPP has turned into a spam engine. XMPP is dying a slow death.

  6. Andy Konecny’s avatar

    http://theoldreader.com is what I’ve settled on as an RSS reader for all the must read stuff that works a lot like Google Reader did. Only issue I’ve had is that it doesn’t see the updates as fast as Google did. Feedly just turns me off when every I look at it, it feels more like twitter for things more than 140 characters, but still transient flybys where if you blink, you miss it.

    I too am not liking the tying of everything to Google +, so in someways I am purposely diluting that service by the little bits how I am using it. They’ve started to do evil, and it only took about a decade for that to happen.

  7. phocean’s avatar

    Good move! The way they pretend to be cool and free while they silently exploit our privacy has always kept me away from their services.

    I only have an account for Feedly and Google Analytics.
    I am looking forward to Feedly supporting another authentication mechanism, while I think I will just get rid of Google Analytics – having a replacement or not.

  8. Dominik’s avatar

    Adding CardDAV/CalDAV support for fruux on Android is actually not just inexpensive – it’s free with our new app: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.fruux.android

    Thanks for mentioning us, Scott!

  9. slowe’s avatar

    Marc, DDG’s search results *are* different—but not necessarily less valid or less useful. Regarding Google’s free services, you’ll note that I also mentioned that I didn’t find their paid services to be price competitive, so I’m not just bashing a free service compared to a paid service.

    Greg, aren’t we in agreement? I said that Google was killing XMPP, and you said Google was moving away from XMPP. It seems the only place we disagree is that I prefer to stick with XMPP for IM (among other services), whereas you do not. Yes?

    Andy, thanks for the suggestion! I’ll take a look at The Old Reader.

    Phocean, I didn’t even mention the privacy concerns, but certainly that has played a role in my decision. Thanks for the feedback!

    Dominik, excellent—thanks for sharing this! I haven’t had the chance to try the Fruux app on my Android phone yet, but I’ll try it as soon as I get a chance. The only challenge I have is that I need CalDAV support for my work calendar as well; will the Fruux app support CalDAV to other services besides Fruux?

  10. Dominik’s avatar

    Scott, we want to support everything you own (devices) and everything you use (services) with fruux. Right now we integrate with Google Contacts (first service we added by popular demand), but we want to extend this to many other services including generic CardDAV and CalDAV in the future. The idea is to give you all the tools to use fruux as a central hub.

  11. David Stark’s avatar

    I went through this for much the same reason

    I also used DDG but have found their results a little lacking.. try startpage.com ;-)

  12. Jim Y.’s avatar

    I never thought I’d find a google reader alternative until I stumbled onto newsblur – similar layout, keyboard shortcuts, full API, mobile app version, all for a small annual fee. Check it out – and no I do not work for them.

  13. Brian’s avatar

    Check out InoReader.com for RSS. I just found it last week and it finally fills the reader void for me. The android app is also solid. I have been using a combo solution of Feedly and a desktop client. This just works.

  14. Csaba’s avatar

    Hello,

    For search I guess you have tried http://blekko.com/ , I use it when looking for a number of articles on a topic. http://www.yandex.com/ is getting better in English. http://www.picsearch.com/ for pictures.

    There are a number of Android app markets other than that of Google. A fairly decent list can be found here: http://www.dmoz.org/Computers/Software/Operating_Systems/Android/Markets/

    I’ve been using FastMail for years, it is great.

  15. Mike’s avatar

    Interesting article… My wife and I have recently got married and I’m looking into new email options due to the surname change. We currently use email, contacts and shared calendars from Google. I’ve considered a switch to iCloud but I’m not sure if that’s a jump out of the fire and into the frying pan?! We both have iPhones however it would be nice to not be tied to a supplier and gain ownership of our data. Like you I was a big Google Reader user (for blogs including yours) and Google closing it down was a shame. I’d be interested to hear how you get on a few weeks and months in and what features you gain/lose – we may end up following suit!

  16. Kevin’s avatar

    What is your source for Google dropping support for XMPP and Federation? I have yet to see any dates.

  17. Bish’s avatar

    “XMPP has turned into a spam engine”? That’s like saying we should ditch another protocol like SMTP or HTTP because they’ve become huge spam or exploit facilitators; it doesn’t make sense to blame the medium for one kind of message.

    Remember BITNET? Proprietary chat gardens need to lose their walls!

  18. obo’s avatar

    For apps, consider https://f-droid.org/, a vetted store entirely of FOSS Android apps.

    In there, you’ll find DAVdroid (https://f-droid.org/repository/browse/?fdfilter=dav&fdid=at.bitfire.davdroid), which allows you to sync contacts, calendars, and tasks with any CalDAV/CardDAV compatible server using Android’s native account support. It’s in Alpha, but under active development with frequent updates.

    I’ve also used Marten Gajda’s paid products: https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=Marten+Gajda

    To excise Google Play and Wallet, consider flashing the device with CyanogenMod or some other AOSP-based ROM that’s compatible with your phone. Some are easier and less risky to flash than others, but the payoff is immense: you can opt-in to specific Google apps you want or need, like Maps or Voice, without installing the full Google Play services. You can also have fine-grained control over app permissions.

    If you miss having an app store and F-Droid doesn’t cut it, you can probably use Amazon’s, either on stock Google Android or a CyanogenMod/AOSP alternative.

  19. tom miller’s avatar

    Scott, Too funny. I saw your article and had to respond as I too just moved from google; chrome “too many java issues”, gmail “tired of google forcing changes down your throat”, big one was RSS “ticked me off – this was the last straw”. Goodbye Google. Using live.com for mail, contacts, calendar. Firefox is solid. RSS really dissapointed me, lot of work setting up 100′s of feeds then they are just not offered via google rss.

  20. Dan’s avatar

    For the Reader replacement, I love NewsBlur so far…….1st one that really feels “right” for RSS feeds, and I also tried feedly and others.

  21. Ben’s avatar

    I switched to inoreader.com for RSS feeds. It’s actually faster than Google Reader was. And has far more keyboard shortcuts.

  22. Daniel’s avatar

    That’s a bold move, considering how far and deep Google’s tentacles go. Will you stop using Youtube even? I’m guilty of using most of their services, Search/Gmail/Youtube/Calendar/Drive/Android, but they are starting to act quite totalitarian. The latest push to require G+ for Youtube is downright bananas. I don’t wish to use G+ nor associate my Youtube account with any other account for anonymity reasons, so I can no longer comment on videos or save favorites..insane.

    Please write a follow-up in a while to tell us of how you’re getting along without the almighty Goog.

  23. unclespeedo’s avatar

    For SIP provider, give http://voip.ms, their rates are competitive and service has been top notch and they’ve got POPs in several major NA centres plus London.

  24. lee’s avatar

    one more upvote for NewsBlur — simple, clean replacement for Google Reader.

  25. lee’s avatar

    actually i just realized that this blog post is currently linked to on NewsBlur as one of their most popular shared stories. so it would appear that a lot of readers of this blog do in fact use NewsBlur!

  26. TimC’s avatar

    For a reader, I switched to (don’t laugh) AOL reader. I like the interface and flow better than any of the alternatives I’ve tried. Who’d a thunk AOL would come up with something that doesn’t suck?

    https://reader.aol.com

  27. Gianluigi’s avatar

    Ciao Scott, I would suggest you Newsify as RSS reader.
    It syncs with your Feedly account and you can configure it to open links via Readability Mobilizer.
    Cheers from Italy! ;-)

  28. tom miller’s avatar

    Scott,
    Wanted to follow-up with another comment. Wonder how folks are getting around this issue with firefox, flash, and the webclient?

    Only on linux when you open up the webclient you recieve; “To view this page ensure that Adobe Flash Player version 11.5.0 or greater is installed.”

    https://communities.vmware.com/message/2274441#2274441

    I had to install chromium, but that’s not a clean divorce is it?

  29. Mike’s avatar

    Scott, You can try NetVibes as a replacement for Google Reader which is what I did. I like it because i can import and export feeds / dashboards and give them to other users over email to import into their dashboard.

  30. Volk.W’s avatar

    I’m currently using these apps here to get rid of Googles sync services. They support multiple ways of contacts/calendar/task synchronisation. So e.g. CardDAV/CalDAV can be used but its also possible to use only a simple webdav or ftp server which is also available for free at some providers. Configuration of my Owncloud and DaviCal Servers (using CalDAV/CardDAV) was really easy also the sync works fast and I did not notice any issues yet.
    For CalDAV on Android:
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.icalparse
    For CardDAV on Android:
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.vcard.android

    I’m using them on a Nexus 5 and a Xperia Z.

  31. Ernie Oporto’s avatar

    I use an open source RSS reader I took over in 2006 and have been developing since then except for the year I was on Google Reader before it closed. It does what I need in reading RSS.

  32. Marcus’s avatar

    I am also switching from Google products for similar reasons. I agree with a couple of other comments here – inoreader is good for RSS and I now prefer it to Google Reader.

  33. Jim’s avatar

    I have found NewsBlur to be the closest to the old google reader. It is light, fast, and not overly graphical whcih is what I found of feedly.

  34. Paul’s avatar

    Just curious: wouldn’t the reasons for divorcing Apple be very similar to the reasons for divorcing Google? They don’t have the same penchant for killing useful services, but their ecosystem has always been explicitly and aggressively closed, and their track record for downplaying and obscuring security vulnerabilities is poor.

  35. slowe’s avatar

    Paul, yes the reasons could look similar for a number of companies—not just Apple but others as well. There may come a time when I’ll need to do the same for Apple, but that time hasn’t yet arrived (for me).

  36. impressthenet’s avatar

    I’m a bit late to the thread, but Phocean was asking about web analytics options. I’d like to suggest Piwik. http://www.piwik.org

  37. mc’s avatar

    (I realise this thread is old, but I have a question)

    My main reason for divorce is fear of being locked out of my account. Was for 24 hours a few weeks ago – idiot false positive and G would not explain why or admit gross error.

    Am looking at fruux and mykolab. Did you evaluate anything other than fruux? I would be interested in any views/comparison. Both sites have such sparse documentation (esp fruux) it is hard to compare.

  38. Burt Munro’s avatar

    I signed up for fastmail last September. I wanted to use my own domain for emails, but had some problems setting it up. I’ve sent countless emails to Fastmail, and have received a grand total of ZERO RESPONSES.

  39. slowe’s avatar

    Burt, sad to hear that you’ve had some support issues with Fastmail. My experience has been quite different, but thanks for taking the time to comment here!

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