Tom MacWright

The simplicity of dropping Google in 2018

Google logo, saturated and unsaturated, color pencil

A few months ago, I stopped using Google for everything personal: I switched from Gmail to FastMail for mail and calendars, and that was the end of the era.

I remember how incredible Gmail was in the early days - I signed up when it was still ‘in testing’ around 2005 and you needed an invite code to get in. All of the previous systems had such low quotas that you’d constantly delete mail. The search functionality was so bad that you’d have to organize everything manually. And for a while, every new Google product was genre-defining: Google Calendar freed us from desktop software, Google Code was GitHub before GitHub, Google Docs changed the default mode of working.

But slowly, and without intention, I left it all behind: they shut down Google Reader, and I switched to Feedly. GitHub replaced Google Code. I switched from Google Search to DuckDuckGo. From Docs to Dropbox Paper, iA Writer, and Notion. From Picasa to Flickr and a simple folder of images. Google Analytics grew obtuse and unusable, so I switched to, and then eventually removed analytics from all my sites. Google Groups, once a forum for discussion, has been overtaken by Discourse, Slack, and GitHub Issues.

Switching off of Google in 2018 is easy because you’ve probably abandoned most of their products anyway, and the ones you’re still using are stagnating.

Case in point is Gmail, the last thing on my list. The new paint job they released this week is the first in years, and still doesn’t answer the question of whether Gmail or Inbox is the future.

FastMail isn’t perfect - the spam filter is less accurate than Google’s, the mobile app a little less slick. And the transfer from Gmail was slow - but mostly because of Gmail’s unbelievably low rate limits. In all other ways, it’s an excellent - and better - product.

Which is the pattern: alternatives to Google services aren’t half-baked knock-offs, they tend to be superior. Google Reader was great, but Feedly is a more polished, better-maintained product. During their co-existence, there was just no comparison between Google Code and GitHub: GitHub was the better product.

I didn’t expect it to turn out that way: if Gmail had improved at the same pace from 2009 to 2018 as it had from 2004 to 2009, it would be unbeatable.

Not about security

When I’ve mentioned FastMail to folks, a lot of them are interested in the security implications. Email security is complex, and, frankly, it wasn’t one of my motivating factors. As FastMail has written themselves, they don’t support PGP, which is the only popular method of end-to-end email encryption. Which makes sense to me: PGP is renowned for terrible usability and hacked-together workflows.

FastMail has other, excellent security standards. They probably don’t take part in intelligence-gathering for nation-states, like Google did with PRISM. There are reasons to feel positive. But, practically, you’re going to write an email to your uncle with an AT&T account who undoubtedly uses a 5-character dictionary word password, and you’ll need to consider that message as a public artifact.

So – if you’re thinking about taking the leap, now’s a pretty good time to try out life without Google: the alternatives are strong and switching isn’t too painful. The Google Dashboard is arguably one of their best-maintained products, and it’s your ticket out - it’s the interface that lets you download and delete your data from Google.

April 26, 2018 @tmcw