Tuesday, February 7. 2012
I’m considering moving away from Google as much as is practical. I suppose I should start by explaining why I’m thinking of it. The short answer is that I find myself more and more wondering what they’re doing.
In particular integrating Google+ more and more tightly into everything at the expense of Facebook. I understand they want people to use Google+ but I don’t want (and have turned off) the option to have social searches included in my search results. Even so… the search results should be paramount on their main page and showing a willingness to tinker with them to advertise their own product feels like a dangerous precedent. Adding an option to allow me to search through Google+, same as I can opt to search images, videos etc. absolutely fine, in fact a smart move I’d suggest, but moving my search results down to sneak in things from my social network - no thank you. Maybe I’m odd like that but I’ll happily read (or ignore) my friends feeds and information there. When I search, I don’t want to know what some random person from Second Life thinks about MySQL functions, I want the MySQL reference manual at the top of the results list, ideally with a link to the right chapter for me right there! This is what I used to get and appreciate.
I’m also underwhelmed by the new one size fits all privacy agreement and TOS. It seems ironic, as a long term Mac-grrl and Second Life resident to change about the TOS and EULA being changed on the fly. But they’re minor changes or changes that allow for new services to be added explicitly. Some of them may be to tidy up bits in response to the lawyers too. Google coming out and saying we’re going to smoosh all your agreements with us into one big one I’m less keen on. They’re already linking up names of people with their various online appearances, really not happy. This change seems to make it a lot easier for them to do this.
Finding alternatives to searching with Google has proved fairly easy. I’m currently trying out both DuckDuckGo and Bing. Slight preference for DuckDuckGo at the moment but I’ll give it a bit longer. Both services seem to drop results out pretty efficiently, DuckDuckGo is a more minimal interface.
Giving up Google Reader is proving more problematic for me. I want, by preference, a tool that will work either on my desktop or in my browser, and on my iPad. There is one, free (Mac only) solution to this - Shrook (there may be Windows+iPad solutions too but I didn’t look). Shrook works nicely, although perhaps a little oddly, on the desktop. Nicely enough I might keep it even if I end up with another solution - quirks can be endearing after all. The iPad version starts seeming weird rather than quirky. It does, eventually, settle down although some quirks remain (like it’s hard to find new items in their list if you have scores or hundreds of feed sources) on the iPad and might become my answer. I’m nor sure, so I kept looking. xFeed for example might be an alternative if I didn’t have to import my Google Reader feeds one by one - it seems nice but importing 400+ feeds, ugh. Thinking of using xFeed on the iPad led me to consider using something like SimplePie. I can take the Google Feeder URL export, restructure into a single page that I compile for myself to draw together all of my RSSes into a single giant list and then write an RSS feed for that page and… boom. Import to xFeed and all is well. Or, since I’ll have a page, perhaps just read it in my browser directly. It’s certainly doable. (Closer examination of this shows it’s not doable as a single page - I have had to make a separate page per group because my list of feeds is so long importing all the feed data crashes against the system’s memory limits. At a bit over 128MB. Oops.
I looked at Fever briefly too, which seems to do a similar job to SimplePie but with a different emphasis. SimplePie is a bare bones include library that lets you write your own output page (there’s a decent tutorial at technabled with enough code to get you started with a site, although the documentation at SimplePie might be more useful.). Fever is a fully featured reader that provides an interesting approach (but not one that works well for me), where you divide your feeds into core (kindling) and peripheral (sparks). The more a sparks feed hits that link to a kindling feed the “hotter” it appears so you can read it earlier because it’s important. This would be interesting in terms of making links for a news aggregator, but Zite does the job for me already thanks. I could keep my core feeds as kindling and add subscriptions to Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, BBC News etc. just to get some good sparks but I’ll skip it thanks. I’m happy the way I work but if you work with a lot of wide-ranging feeds like those, it might be worth a look.
Although there are alternatives to gmail, I’m likely to keep this if nothing else, simply because the pain of updating email addresses is more extreme than physically moving! Maybe something with a free email address and an automatic forwarder to start with, notifying people of the change and hoping they catch up.
Google Docs… is nice but I haven’t used it much recently. If I need to work that way, I will look into solutions other than Google Docs. I’m pretty sure there are some out there, although one I have used in the past was bought out by Google. YouTube I don’t use regularly. I’m sure it will be impossible to stop viewing things on YouTube simply because everyone else uses it so much. Since I don’t upload anything there I’ll accept being pointed to it by others.
So, disentangling myself from Google, with the exception of YouTube and gMail, is more or less doable. It started as an experiment to see if I could. I’m still considering whether I am willing to abandon gMail, but the rest are all doable - knowing I can work around Google. I’m starting to seriously think that I will to.
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