Fleeing Google

For some time, I have been concerned about the amount of data I store on Google. This post aims to show alternatives to the service.

This is primarily for two reasons. The first is simple. I would like to avoid a single point of failure, and the risk that I could be suspended for a number of months with no recourse.

The second if more political. I’m worried about the way that certain governments can subpoena information which they may not be able to collect directly. Now, don’t get me wrong. Google is good at transparency. They also provide a very useful service that works incredibly well. In fact, the quality of the integration and services provided is the primary reason I have not changed previously.

Calendaring is something that I naturally feel shouldn’t be hard, but somehow is. Google Calendaring service is rather good, and far outstrips anything open source I’ve found so far. However, I’ve managed to migrate to Zoho which offers a very similar level of functionality. It’s also very easy to extract your entire calendar from Google, which makes the transition easier.

Reader is a service provided to subscribe and read RSS feeds. In the past, I’ve used Gregarius as a self hosted solution, but this seems to have disappeared recently. I briefly flirted with NetVibes, which works well once you turn off the frustrating ‘widget’ mode, but has completely failed to address the need to have native tablet apps. In the end, I settled for NewsBlur which also has the clever use of hotkeys for navigation which I found essential in Google’s products.

Picasa has stood me well for hosting photos for some time. And photo hosting is something I have quite a large amount of professional experience with :) Despite having previously been in competition with them, I can heartily recommend Flickr, even with it’s dogmatic reliance to creating a Yahoo! email address for each account.

Search still has some way to go to find a viable replacement. I’ve tried DuckDuckGo, but found it lacking. Much like the mistake that Apple seem to have made with the launch of Apple Maps, there seems to be a misunderstanding that search is actually HARD.
There are two camps when it comes to searching. You can be dumb, or you can be smart. By being dumb, the user can provide enough information to help narrow the results down to a single (or at least manageable) result set. This works fine, and is a traditional model. The opposite is to be smart. Simply get the results right, using a variety of metrics to work out what the user wanted in the first place. This is obviously more difficult, but infinitely more valuable, and is something that Google excels at. The problem lies when you fall in between these stalls. Unfortunately, it seems that there is no viable alternative to the big G at the moment.

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12 Responses

  1. Hypno says:

    Have you tried startpage already for searching?

    https://startpage.com/

    • Neil McGovern says:

      I had a look, but it seems to use Google as the backend. There was also Scroogle, although they seem to have gone a bit mad with an anti-cloudflare rant page.

      • Bruce Cran says:

        Scroogle don’t exist any more – Wikipedia says “In February 2012, the service was permanently shut down by its creator due to a combination of throttling of search requests by Google and a denial-of-service attack by an unknown person or group.”

        I suspect most people will associate ‘scroogle’ with Microsoft now after their ‘scroogled’ campaign.

      • mv says:

        duckduckgo.com is my home, love it!

        what about gtalk, did you go with jabber or other xmpp service?

        • Neil McGovern says:

          Basically, outside of the US and presumably South America, gtalk doesn’t seem exist in the same way. I’ve always used xmpp in the past, or good old IRC :)

      • Hypno says:

        Hi Neil,

        That is correct. There is IXquick and startpage. Startpage uses only google for anonymous private searching and IXquick uses more search enignes.

  2. Screwtape says:

    I use DuckDuckGo as my primary search engine, and while overall I agree its search results are less useful than Google’s, I find that often I just want to find *some* information about a topic – finding how a word is used in a sentence, finding out whether some familiar-sounding phrase is actually a quotation, that sort of thing. For those searches, where I just want a random sampling of extra context, DDG works just fine. For other searches, where I’m searching for some specific piece of information or I really need the single best reference on a topic, I’ll just add “!g” to my DDG search string and it redirects me to Google.

    It’s not as perfect as completely avoiding Google entirely, but I figure reducing my data foot-print is worth doing regardless.

  3. I’m looking to get off the Flickr bandwagon because my account has been compromised twice in the last 3 months. http://theopenphotoproject.org/ seems to be a promising alternative.

  4. dhardy says:

    I just use duckduckgo and switch to google when ddg doesn’t get what I want (often enough, but switching is as simple as sticking !g at the beginning of the search box).

    Akregator works brilliantly for feeds, except that it doesn’t synchronise across devices.

  5. Anonymous says:

    What did you find lacking with DDG? I’ve used it as my primary search engine for a while now, and it took some getting used to (for a while it just felt alien because the results didn’t *look* like Google; amazing how you can get used to a theme and associate it with quality). I finally ended up just switching and living with it for a bit, rather than just dabbling while continuing to use Google, and then I got used to it fairly quickly once I did. Also, I’ve found the DDG maintainers quite responsive to feedback, so you might consider contacting them about your experiences.

  6. I found the same with Duck Duck Go, I suspect we have become irretrievably used to how Google presents its findings.

    I have great sympathy for your concerns about Google, although I can’t help wondering whether your data isn’t safer in a company that is publicly flogged for every data transgression, or with a company that few have even heard of and who could probably get away with data murder if they wished.

    Also, Google are too large to keep secrets, so any transgressions are likely to be discovered sooner or later, whereas smaller companies can keep secrets.

    I also wonder whether you are truly better off entrusting your data to one entity, or lots of different entities. I suspect that each and every new entity with whom you entrust your data increases your risk.

    Not sure of the answer to be honest, but I suspect it probably lies in only giving your precious data to those that you truly trust and that very well mean no-one at all.

    Maybe Owncloud is the answer along with accessing DuckDuckGo via the Tor network. Providing you trust the Tor network of course…

  7. Christian says:

    Have a look at http://feedafever.com/ as a reader. It’s PHP based and you can host it on your own server. For navigation you can use the keyboard. It also gives you an ‘indicator’ of hot topics in the feeds.

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