I’m tired of being uncomfortable with Google’s boundless desire and entitlement to our data (Facebook, too, but that’s for a different post). Something else that feels downright disrespectful and insulting is Google’s deliberate aversion to directly interacting with and helping its users. Over the past few months I decided to stop being uncomfortable and do something about it, and this weekend I finished my journey by deleting my Google Apps Account (which, for what it’s worth, was grandfathered as a free account). I’ve had enough people ask how it went and what I’m using as alternatives, so here we go.
I’ll get a few details out of the way. * No, technically I have not completely deleted my entire Google presence, but I do not actively use its products with a login now. * I have a dummy account to which I transferred a couple things that I’ll have to deal with over time, namely Analytics and Voice. Details below. * On occasion I do still double-check a search at Google, but those cases are disappearing thanks to some tools that are even more useful than Google. Details below.
With that said, let’s get to some alternatives that might work for you. I’ve switched to all these full time and they work great.
DuckDuckGo is a surprisingly good search engine with some great features, and rapidly getting more useful and accurate. Its image search is also pretty good, you can now set DuckDuckGo as your default in Safari on OS X and iOS, and they have add-ons for other browsers.
One of my favorite things about DuckDuckGo is that, for the times when you need something specific or don’t find what you need, it has a ton of !bangs (text shortcuts) to search thousands of other sites. They even work from Safari’s smart address bar if you set DuckDuckGo as your default. For example, a search for “!w antarctica” will go straight to Wikipedia and search for antarctica, while “!ars China” will search Ars Technica for its China coverage. You can even add your own !bang shortcuts—how cool is that?
Finally, in a few cases where DuckDuckGo couldn’t find what I need, a !g shortcut kicks me out to a secure, logged-out Google search. Thing is, these days, I often know that what I want is at a site like Wikipedia or Amazon, so I find the !bangs much more convenient than a shotgun search across the entire web.
I have three domains that I also care about for email—chartier.land, davidchartier.com, and finerthings.in (soon to be finertech.com). The best alternative I’ve found so far for my needs is Fastmail.
I’ve been testing it for over half a year and Fastmail has been fast and reliable. It also supports multiple domains on a single account and the web UI, which I almost never need, is surprisingly polished and useful, right down to keyboard shortcuts that make much more sense than Gmail’s (D instead of Shift-3 for delete, A = archive, etc. Shift-3 for delete, Gmail? Y for archive? Seriously?). My main complaint for Fastmail, though, is that its settings and instructions are still a little engineer-y; in some cases longwinded, overwritten, or otherwise more complicated than they should be.
But the service is fantastic and it now powers email for all my domains. Fastmail starts at just $20 per year and has support powered by human beings.
Alternative to the alternative
I think Microsoft’s work with Outlook deserves a mention here. While it is powered by ads, Microsoft offers human support and you can even use your own domain names for free. I think you can also pay to remove ads, but don’t quote me.
Confession: Google Analytics has always seemed like a product built for an alien race that can’t speak or understand its own language. A couple years ago I switched to Clicky because it feels like it’s built for human beings. It’s simple to add Clicky’s snippet to just about any webpage, it has WordPress plugins, and some Tumblr themes even have built-in support.
Note that a few of my sites (scroll to Projects) still have Google Analytics tracking code, but I hope to clean all that up in the next few days.
Feedburner has been a zombie product for years, I’m surprised it didn’t join the Google Graveyard a while ago.
Admittedly, Drive might be tough to leave when it comes to work. Some of the places I freelance work in Drive, which is partly why I kept that aforementioned dummy Google account.
For my personal writing and work, I use a combination of apps powered by Dropbox and, increasingly, iCloud, including Byword and Write. When it’s time to collaborate online, Quip is not only fantastic, it’s far better than Google Drive (or Docs) ever was. Quip is beautiful, simple, fast, lets you write however you want (including rich text, which I prefer), and export to a few different formats, including Markdown. It has a conversation component that lets you have (and hide) a discussion alongside documents which, again, is far better than Drive’s. It also offers easily accessible support powered by human beings.
Quip has no ads and is free for individual users. It makes money by charging businesses. This approach might not work for all companies, but I love when it does.
I haven’t decided what to do about my Google Voice number, but I haven’t really used it or handed it out for months, possibly over a year. I transferred it to my dummy account just in case, and I’m still looking into alternatives because I like the idea of having separate voicemail, contacts, and do-not-disturb times from my personal life.
Skype is a good alternative here. It’s missing some of Google Voice’s best features, such as call rerouting and contextual voicemail greetings, but Skype does have affordable paid options that give you a real phone number and human support. There is a healthy number of other alternatives and startups that compete with Google Voice, though, and I’ve heard good things about Line2.
YouTube is unique in that it’s a content destination, not a tool with alternatives. If a creator publishes to YouTube but not Vimeo or DailyMotion or others, your only options are to watch it on YouTube or find a site that ripped the video for its own purpose and profit.
I’d rather reward those creators so I still visit YouTube, just no longer with my personal Google Apps Account. For the occasional video that requires a sign-in for age verification, I’ll either abandon my adventure (I probably have better things to do anyway) or sign in with my dummy account.
Life after Google
Whether it’s the ads, that Google probably has more data on you than the CIA, or the simple fact that Google can’t be bothered to support regular human beings, I’m happy to say life is thriving outside of Google’s products. These alternatives work quite well for me so far, but I, and I’m sure readers, am curious to hear about yours.