Escaping Google -- The Rationalle

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For the past 16 years, I've been running my own server.  It started with a machine running Redhat sitting in a guy's garage (this particular guy had a T1 to his house) in Bend.  When DSL came along, the computer moved to to my house and I installed Gentoo on it, which lasted for several years; eventually I put Ubuntu on it and that's what it's been running for the past two or three years.  It's come with me across the country and through four relocations, and has had enough upgrades that the only thing about the machine that is original is the case that it is in.  As of this writing, it's got 4TB of RAID-0 SATA disk, a quad-core CPU, 8GB RAM, two 2TB external drives connected via USB-3 for rotating daily back-ups... and it's off now.

Running my own server was not without challenges. Administrating Redhat was so horrible I would have defected from Linux entirely, except at the time there were no decent alternatives. Upgrading Gentoo was horrendously finicky, and every upgrade session was an odessey of terror. Power outages, not infrequent in Pennsylvania (which has some of the worst infrastructure of any state in which I've lived), meant the server was down several times a year. And don't get me started on Comcast. I will only ever be a Comcast customer again if there is no other option.

Over time, I've slowly migrated to Google. Email was the first, mainly because of the outstanding spam filtering, but also because of reliability and eventually because Comcast blocks port 25 (the port over which email is transfered between servers). For the past 18 months, I haven't been able to run my own email server. Blogging went to blogger.com (also a Google property), but that's mainly because of bad experiences with OpenSource blogging engines. I've lost much blogged content because of DB issues.  Photos went to Picasa largely because the Picasa native client made image management so much easier.  I jumped to Maps as soon as it came out; it was no contest with Mapquest.  Google Talk was an obvious step since it brought chat to people who didn't know what XMPP was. I recently noticed that I'd increasingly been using Google Drive for documents and sharing -- again, the native sync client makes all the difference.  I hang out in Google Groups a lot, used Google Feeds, and while I'm not a big social media user, I used Google+ when I needed to scratch that itch.

So, yeah, Google's got a lot of data on me.

Some of the reason why I landed on Google so heavily has to do with convenience, some with the good design and user interfaces, and a lot on the fact that it's essentially single-sign on.  One account for everything takes a tiny bit of irritation out of 100% of the interactions -- it doesn't sound like much, but it adds up. In the last year, three things have begun to increasingly bother me, and in the past few months I've been seeking a way to escape from Google.

First, there's the fact that Google keeps deprecating services I like and use.  Well, it's that, plus the strong-arm tactics of driving everything to Google+.  I don't mind Google+, but I don't particularly like it, and I don't *want* to have it as my single interface.  I don't believe in one-tool-to-rule-them-all; I don't think a single UI can necessarily be the best interface for all possible use cases, and I firmly believe that, for a company full of such brilliant people, they're being unbelievably stupid about this.  Google Feeds is gone, Picasa will probably go away (they've made it a right PITA to use the old interface, which I prefer), and the deck is stacked against blogger.com, since it most directly overlaps with Google+.  I half expect www.google.com, the original search engine, to be sucked into the Google+ interface, which is a shame, because to this day it's the most useful, light weight interface for searching.

Which brings me to point two: Google's UIs are getting worse.  They're getting heavier, slower, more awkward, and just more frustrating to use.  Again, it's almost as if Google has forgotten *why* it beat Yahoo: not becaues the search results were so much better, or not alone; but because the interface was clean, effecient, and uncluttered.  Look at the new maps interface.  It is *horrible*.  It's sluggish, it interferes with (UI) navigation through over-use of hover-over, it obscures the information I want to see with information I don't; it's just a really crappy UI design.  And no matter how many times I tell Maps that I want to use the old interface, and yes, to remember my preferences for next time, after a couple of days it always forces me back to the new interface and I have to go through the whole take-me-back dance.  It is highly annoying.  Google+ started out bad; again, there's just too much Javascript. They've forgotten where they came from, what they were good at, and what made people like them.  Now they're becoming another Yahoo of UI design.

Finally, there's the the issue of control.  It's more than just privacy; that aspect is certainly important, but I really hate the fact that Google keeps forcing me to change my behavior.  This isn't an offer; it's not a "hey, we think we improved this -- please try it, and use it if you like it!"  It's not a Darwinian evolution of product, where the best product wins.  It's a decision by fiat on the part of Google that you'll use this new service, by damned, whether you like it or not.  Now, we can only complain about that so much; the services don't cost money -- although we must always keep in mind that if we aren't the buyer, we're the product.  But I don't have to like it.

As the saying goes, it's a free country: if you don't like it, leave. I don't have to be Google's product; I don't have to give them information about me that they can resell; I don't have to use their crappy new interfaces; I don't have to spend man-weeks uploading and inputting data only to have services turned off; I don't have to be forced down the path of Google+.  So I'm migrating away.  I don't know how much I'll be able to entirely detach myself from Google, but I'm trying.

This is the story of my journey.

Copyright © Sean Elliott Russell

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