A few weeks ago when Google announced the discontinuation of Google Reader effective July 1st what began as a moderate approach to reclaiming things here and there that were important to me was sent into a tailspin. Maybe that seems dramatic but the Reader shutdown really hits home to me possibly because it’s one of the first services to shut its doors on me that I personally used every single day, often several times a day. It’s hard to trust a company after something like that and more importantly it raised larger issues about what the RSS landscape looked like before a heavy like Google came in and wiped out the competition only to bow out now. I had briefly flirted with the idea of getting off Google servers but now it was personal. So here’s what I’ve done in the meantime:
Their have been tons of blog posts detailing all the various Google Reader alternatives out there. Most of them feel like switching from one proprietary web platform to another. The idea of hosting my own solution appealed to me and paying a nominal fee to a developer I’ve admired and respected for years was the icing on the cake. I’ve been using Fever since the day the shutdown was announced and it’s been absolutely great. I save items I enjoy which feed into a widget at the bottom of this blog. If there’s one thing I wish it had that would be a “mark as unread” feature since I used that previously to keep posts available to me. I’ve been trying to retrain myself to “save” items I want to come back to which works ok but not as well. I will say I’m a bit hesitant to how well Fever will be supported given Shaun’s blog post about the current state of it but regardless it’s working well now and since it’s hosted in my space I can use it without worry of a company attempting to monetize or close its doors on me.
Gmail was always expected to be one of the hardest ones for me to give up. I’m not sure why that is, I’m certainly not a power user of many of its features and most of time I’m checking my mail through a client with its own featureset anyway. I connected Apple Mail to Gmail over IMAP to download all of my email and then setup a mailbox on my hosting server, connected that to Apple Mail, and dragged it all into an Archive folder there. I setup a forward on Gmail to my new address, changed the contact for as many of the services I could think of (that’s an ongoing thing), and never looked back. I have to say this was one of those switches that I expected to be worse than it really was. I’m rarely using the web client but when I need to Roundcube on Hippie Hosting is pretty nice (and there’s a whole host of plugins for it I haven’t even explored much yet). The hardest part is getting people to know the new address but with all email from the Gmail address coming to me and my replies coming from the new address I’m hopeful over time that will self-correct (I thought about setting an auto-reply letting the user know of the change but figured that could cause real problems with mailing lists so I didn’t do it).
Switching away from Google Docs has been a lot harder. Getting an archive of everything I had was pretty easy thanks to Google Takeout so I grabbed everything and dropped it into an archive folder in my ownCloud folder. But the fact remains there are no good web alternatives to Google Docs. There are plenty of repositories but not many collaborative editing suites and none as robust. I’ve played with a hosted install of etherpad-lite which works ok but it’s not great and the server demands make it a non-starter for most people that don’t have their own dedicated box. For now I’ll have to keep my account active but with a focus on doing more with local documents rather than making GDocs the default environment for all of my document editing which was previously starting to become the case.
I subscribe to just a small handful of Google Groups which are basically listservs with a forum-style frontend. Sadly there does not appear to be a way to subscribe and interact with a group without a Google account. A few searches appeared to show some promise but the information is outdated and none of the things I tried work anymore. I get the digest emails to my new email address since Gmail forwards over but I can’t respond via email and if I want to interact with the thread I have to log in with my Google account. Ugh.
So yeah, a few wins, a few losses. Overall I can honestly say this hasn’t been as painful as I would have expected. Especially for something as big as email which I use so regularly. I think we often get caught up in the fear of the unknown and we let it paralyze us from exploring these alternatives. Google is our comfortable Lord and ruler. It’s been refreshing to notice I’m no longer signed into a Google account all the time and my life is no worse for it (and in many ways better).
Photo Credit: Alan Levine