Like many people, I recently decided to move many of my online services away from Google. The recent Google Reader shutdown and Google Hangouts disabling XMPP federation made me realize that any of my services could go at any time and I didn’t want to be so dependant on a single provider or the integrations between services.
First of all, let’s start out with what I’m keeping. The list is short: Gmail. Though I handle most of my email with a desktop app (Mozilla Thunderbird), I still use webmail quite often and haven’t found a solution I like as much as Gmail.
Update: since writing this post I’ve moved all my email over to Fastmail. I was getting fed up with Gmail for entirely different reasons (it claims you can have 15 gigs or more of email, but after you get to around 10 its searches and navigation become unbearably slow), and decided email was important enough to be worth paying for. Fastmail’s filtering is far better as well, and even lets me write custom Sieve code.
I actually switched my blogging provider away from Google almost a year ago but it’s still worth mentioning. Decent self-hosted solutions include Jekyll and Octopress (actually just a set of templates and extensions built on top of Jekyll and what this blog is using). If you don’t have your own server (or domain) you can even deploy your Octopress or Jekyll blog using GitHub Pages. Unfortunately I don’t like any of the hosted blogging solutions I’ve tried, so if you want something a bit simpler than Jekyll there’s not much I can do to help. Medium has been getting a lot of good (and bad) press lately and on the open source side of things, a project called Ghost recently met its funding goal on Kickstarter and might be worth keeping an eye on.
One reader wrote to note that I didn’t mention that one of the web’s most popular blogging platforms is, in fact, open source: WordPress offers both self-hosted and hosted solutions. Personally I’m not a fan but to each his own.
Update: I’m not sure why I even mentioned Wordpress; it’s hard to use, and full of terrible engineering practices. For self-hosted blogs I now use Hugo on Netlify (although Hugo is still far too complicated and I’d love something simpler), and if I want someone else to host it I’m a huge fan of Write.as which doesn’t even require that you sign up for an account.
For file storage I’m now evaluating using two alternatives: Copy [Disclaimer: affiliate link] and BitTorrent Sync.
Copy is a more traditional file sharing service like DropBox or Google Docs; you upload your files to their cloud and then you can view them on the web or download them automatically to a folder on your computer or phone using their app. With BitTorrent Sync on the other hand, your files are transfered between your various computers (or with friends, just like Copy) and only stored locally. This means there’s no third party involved and your files never have to leave the safety of your harddrives.
Neither of these services are made for collaborative document editing like Google Docs is but it’s not a service I find myself needing often (and when I do, more often than not, I’m using Git).
One of the Copy developers wrote in to note that Copy is in the process of adding collaborative document editing in the UI. Until they do, he recommends using the file versioning system and the API. If anyone’s working on a document versioning system based on copy, let me know. I’d love to see it.
OwnCloud also provides file storage and can be self-hosted or purchased from a third party provider (some may even have free plans).
For maps I’ve been using OpenStreetMap—you can use it under an open license and it works like a wiki so anyone can contribute changes. For embeddable maps, MapBox is very nice. If you’re a map creator who’s tired of dealing with KML files, consider switching to GeoJSON. GitHub, the collaborative coding site, recently started rendering GeoJSON and TopoJSON files with MapBox and Leaflet.
You can also use OpenStreetMap for turn-by-turn navigation using third party apps such as MapQuest (don’t worry, it’s gotten much better since the 90’s), Waze (now owned by Google), or OsmAnd among others.
Search is one of the hardest things for most people to switch from but was one of the easiest for me. I moved my search over to DuckDuckGo a few months ago and haven’t looked back. I had a bit of trouble adapting to the kinds of results I was getting and what sort of language I used when searching (I didn’t realize how tuned-in to Google’s search algorithms my subconscious had become) but after using it for a while I began to love it. It also has an open framework for developing search extensions and instant answers.
This is another service I just don’t find myself caring about. I ditched Google+ earlier today after having been a heavy user of it for the past few years. I won’t be picking up an alternative but, if you need one, I suggest App.net. There’s no free membership but I consider that a good thing (Correction: A reader pointed out that app.net does in fact have a free membership now). When you’re paying for your social network it makes you a customer instead of a product. Other social networks make money by advertising and by selling your information to third parties; not so with App.net. There are also free and open alternatives that pledge to do the same thing. Diaspora is an open and distributed social network that might be worth your while (if you can convince your friends to join, that is).
Google Calendar took a lot of thought but the answer ended up being quite simple: Just get a paper planner. Problem solved. Why do I want my calendar to be online anyways?
If you’re the kind of person who tries to go paperless, OwnCloud also supports calendars (and there’s a demo).
Photo hosting is another service I switched away from Google ages ago (back when Picasa still existed). I never used Google+ for photos; instead I chose to use Flickr which powers most of the photos on this blog. Photographer.IO is a newer photo hosting service that’s completely open source and offers a decent feature set comparable to Flickr or 500px.
Update: I’m still using Flickr, but Snap.as looks very nice these days as well.
Unfortunately, I can’t help but think that Chromium/Google Chrome are still the best web browsers out there. However, in the interest of free as in freedom software and after reading this great post by my good friend Cameron Paul, I’ve decided to switch back to Mozilla Firefox.
If Firefox still isn’t free enough for you, one of their developers suggests GNU IceCat. IceCat is a fork of Firefox which has entirely free branding as well (eg. No Mozilla or Firefox logos, which are trademarked) and comes with several free extensions. For those who care, it’s licensed under the GPLv3.
Mobile Phone and Apps
I’m still stuck with Android for the moment (I’d still be on a dumb phone given the choice but that’s another post); I may consider switching to Firefox OS in the future. As far as Android distros go, I prefer Cyanogenmod.
As for getting apps, don’t feel like you have to be locked into the Google Play app store. F-Droid is a decent FOSS alternative and there’s always the Amazon app store.
This is the big one for most people and has been extensively discussed elsewhere. Google, err, search on DuckDuckGo for it.
I use Gwene to convert RSS feeds to public Usenet groups (remember Usenet?) and then subscribe in my news reader. I also like what I’ve seen of Fever, a self-hosted (non-free) feed reader.
Update: I ended up settling on Inoreader.
The hardest thing for me to give up was Google Talk. Unfortunately, I want my chat service to support XMPP (an open standard for chat used behind the scenes for many chat networks including Facebook) and be federated (eg. I can add my friends on any other network that also supports XMPP) I ended up going with a self-hosted solution using ejabberd but DuckDuckGo also has an XMPP service that’s very good. The original IM service based on XMPP, Jabber.org also runs a public chat service. Like DuckDuckGo it’s federated so you can add all of your friends on other XMPP based chat networks that support federation (Not Facebook, and not Google Talk for very long).
For group chat Google Talk never worked properly anyhow and I’ve always just stuck with IRC (find me on Freenode or GeekShed as “SamWhited”). If you want an XMPP based solution, DuckDuckGo and Jabber.org fully support XMPP conference rooms and HipChat is popular for businesses (though it’s XMPP implementation is poor).
Update: The IM landscape has changed a lot since I wrote this. DDG’s service went down hill until it was almost unusable, and I eventually settled on Conversations.im which also gives me the ability to use my own domain while not having to host the server myself.
Music / Voice
I’m still working on this one. Yet again, OwnCloud comes to the rescue if you want a self-hosted solution and a reader also pointed out CherryMusic, a good HTML5 alternative. Another reader also recommended Subsonic which has paid and free options (and a demo). If you don’t want a self-hosted option, I don’t know of a good alternative unfortunately. I used to prefer Amazon Cloud Player to Google Music but decided that I didn’t like the complete lack of Linux support. As for Google Voice, I’ve never heard of another service that did exactly what it does. If you just want to make voice calls via your phones data service or using your computer SIP may be what you’re looking for. I use OSTEL to make encrypted phone calls but there are many other free SIP providers out there.
Let me know if you have a good alternative to either of these products.
Update: For SIP and public telephony I’m now using JMP.chat. I got rid of my traditional mobile plan and ported my number into JMP.chat since I was using it exclusively anyways and it let me receive calls and texts on my laptop or my phone.
And that’s about it; I have a few old videos on YouTube, I stopped using FeedBurner and Google Analytics years ago and I never used Google News (Google Reader served the same purpose). I don’t have any aversion to using Google products in general and will still use them where they don’t require me to be entirely dependant on them (Google Scholar, Google Patent Search, Google Books, watching videos on YouTube, etc.) but where I require reliability, or where the service requires that I use it to store my content (eg. Uploading photos or video), I’ll look elsewhere from now on.
Update: Updated the post with a few suggestions sent in by users and services I forgot about. Thanks for the feedback and keep it coming! (diff)