12
May 12

Goodbye, Google World.

TODO:

  1. Google Search
  2. Google Reader
  3. Google Chrome
  4. Google Maps
  5. Google Analytics for the blog

In my blog last weekend, I set out to discuss whether I could quit Google’s software and services. To begin, I decided to start just with using Bing instead of Google. This caused no end of amusement to friends on Twitter who mocked be because I wasn’t searching with Google, but worse, I was using their browser all the time. That, exactly, was the reason why I didn’t start with quitting Chrome first – because I was smitten with Chrome (as Google wanted me to be). I had disabled as much sharing, profiling, and tracking as I could within the browser. But, let’s be real. It’s Google’s browser. The company that was tracking Safari users even when tracking was disabled in the browser.

So I started with Google Search, switching to Bing on my iPad and iPhone, and my browsers on Windows at work and OS X at home. Easy. I also reinstalled the Bing app on my iPhone and used it twice during the week to find businesses.

In general, Bing met my expectations. I’ll be curious over the next several weeks and months how well it works – I think there are some sharp edges, but for most cases, It will suffice.

Let me show you an example of a sharp edge. I’ve been reading The End of Food. The author mentions an economic concept, but doesn’t discuss much background around it. So I thought I’d search for more information around it. This concept is called Cochrane’s Treadmill. The truth is that both of them did a pretty bad job with this. But the Bing results were far more littered with exercise treadmill results rather than valid “Cochrane’s treadmill” results. I can sort of see why this is the case. Google’s results work so well due in large part to their large audience. That large audience is what helps to tune the results. On edge cases such as this – I can hardly imagine Cochrane’s treadmill” being a frequent search on Bing – so it falls into Bing’s long tail.

Regardless, in general, I’m pretty happy with the results from Bing. So it’s my default search engine for now. If it returns bad results for a search, I’ll check out Google results to see if it does any better. In particular, for news indexing. It appears Bing severely lags Google in the ability to index news content in rapid form.

Search engine switched out, my next task was Google Reader.

I already had heard some good things about NewsBlur. I think NewsBlur is what Google Reader could have been, if Google hadn’t forgotten about the value of RSS, and didn’t now (errantly) consider Google+ to be their most important product objective. Google Reader has practically stalled out in terms of development.

I use Google Reader every day. I use an app on my iPad that connects to it (Mr. Reader) as well. I use Google Reader to catch news as it becomes available, and would often use Mr. Reader directly, or open the articles in Google Reader and use Buffer to post them to Twitter and sometimes Facebook. I enjoy syndicating news to others, and it helps me to find what Microsoft (or other tech) news is going on.

So until recently, I didn’t think there was a substitute for Google Reader. I think NewsBlur is a more than suitable replacement. So much so that although it’s free, I bought a subscription to it. I don’t like freely available Web services – they’re the kinds of things that can disappear on you, or worse – get acquired by Google, Facebook, Microsoft or the like – and then disappear into services that don’t reflect why you signed up to begin with.

I’ve been using a developer version of NewsBlur for most of last week. It’s got some rough edges (it’s a preview), but in general, it’s amazing. Incredible configuration capability (move different panes around the screen, resize them, and lock them), filtering (which currently requires a fair amount of configuration – but in following the hyper-multi-lingual TechNet and MSDN blogs has proven to be quite capable). The developer preview also has social sharing to Facebook and Twitter – so I haven’t had to use Buffer, either. Finally, there is also an iPhone app, and for premium subscribers, there is an iPad version coming soon.

Here’s what NewsBlur looks like:

So do I miss Google Reader? Not really, no. NewsBlur has completely replaced it.

Next up – browsers. I had thought replacing Chrome would be the hardest, and it was. Chrome is fast, works reliably, and is very, very usable. That’s why I switched years ago.

I decided to move to Safari. Since I have Windows, Macs, and iOS devices, and I think Apple will be moving towards tab synchronization and general harmony between iOS and the Windows/Mac Safari counterparts.

I have moved all of my passwords over to Safari (since it has password completion now), added the Buffer extension, and enabled bookmark synchronization across my Safaris.

My only complaint about Safari so far is that it does tend to become unstable sometimes. Certain extensions (the Bing extension, possibly) seemed to make this worse. So right now, it’s just the Buffer extension I have enabled. Safari definitely doesn’t like to have Pandora running all the time – I really wish Pandora wouldn’t require Flash. I don’t think that helps reliability.

In general, I think Safari will suffice for me now. Though I did note this week that I hit a site that yelled at me for having an unsupported browser (Safari on Windows), even though it didn’t when viewed through Safari on iOS. I have removed Google Chrome from my Windows PC, and will be pulling it off of my Mac today as well.

For Maps, I mentioned that it may take some time to switch – but looks like this summer I can. In the meantime, I’ll  be using the Bing app on my iPhone for directions, to see ho well it works.

Finally, I also decided I had to pull my blog from Google Analytics, since I didn’t want to keep my Google account open at all. Quite easily, I disabled my GA plugin in WordPress. I may miss some of the insight it gives, but I’ll invest a bit of time in my log files to see what I need/want to track better over time. Luckily, my hoster, Bluehost provides decent analytics on their own – good enough for me for now.

Last but not least, I removed permissions from all Google sites for my account, and deleted my Google+ profile, followed by my entire Google account. It’s really surprisingly easy to delete your Google account – hopefully it really was deleted. 

 


05
May 12

Can I Quit Google?

If you asked me a few years ago about Google, odds are I would talk your ear off about privacy, about how Google aggregates your life together in a manner you can’t imagine. Ask any co-worker at my last job before I left Austin – it’s true.

Yet while I’ve still held up my stance as someone concerned about online security and privacy… I’ve lowered my guard. I’ve used Google. I use Google a lot, actually.

But Google has been bugging me a lot too.

I have, as I said, lowered my guard. I use Google search all the time. It’s like a third lobe of my brain. But I have concerns about how little Google actually cares about our privacy as consumers. As a consumer who is also a professional with a focus on security and privacy, it isn’t in my best interest to use services from a company that data-mines every action we take, and is willing to only take a stand on cybersecurity initiatives when it suits their interests and their legal liability concerns (SOPA), not ours as consumers and American citizens (CISPA).

I’m also not a fan of Google+. I believe that in the end, history will show that Google made a pretty severe mistake when it decided to prioritize itself as a social network over search. Like many companies that hit middle age, and have an identity crisis, Google has lost focus. It has lost it’s way. For me, I’ve become too dependent upon the services of a company that seldom has my best interests in mind. In the end, Google is an advertising company with a search engine, not a search engine company that has advertising. Everything they do is about maximizing the amount of time we each spend online, and learning what it can about us to help provide more accurate advertising (to make more money).

To that end, I am beginning the process of weaning myself off of Google, one step at a time.

Luckily, I never fell in love with Gmail, Google Voice, or Google Docs. I tried Google+, but never liked the user interface. I tried Google Offers, but found them more useless than Groupon deals (that’s pretty bad).

Fundamentally, then, there are four ways I frequently use Google today:

  1. Google Search
  2. Google Reader
  3. Google Chrome
  4. Google Maps

I believe that I can replace all but the last one with relative ease. The last one is troublesome for me primarily because I have an iPhone and iPad. You can’t remove Google as the mapping provider. However, what I will do is start using Bing Maps on my work ThinkPad and my home Mac when I need maps there. For the iOS devices, as I’ve stated on Twitter before, I have a feeling something we might see this summer is a decreasing dependence upon Google for iOS mapping data. Time will tell.

So back to my list. For the first three items, I intend to spend one week changing over each – and by the end of May, with a few exceptions, I hope to have changed out my use of Google properties and Google software. We’ll see what happens.

For now, I’ve switched out the default search engine on my iPad and iPhone, as well as set the default search engine in Google Chrome (my default browser – for now) to be Bing. While I’d actually like to try an alternative engine like DuckDuckGo, it can’t be configured as the default on iOS today – so no go.

Next weekend, I’ll post an update on how my life without Google Search went for the week, and update you with my strategy to replace Google Reader – a tool I use every day for news aggregation. I’ve got my eye on a suitable replacement for Google Reader, though. Without a doubt, the hardest step for me will be the last actionable one in my list – getting rid of Google Chrome. But I have a few ideas about how I will do that too. Stay tuned.