Seeing myself getting completely locked into using Google products, I thought it might be an interesting experiment to try not to use any Google services for a month. [I'm also still a little annoyed with them for not sorting out the problem I still have with Google Groups].
Perhaps I’ll find some other interesting tools and services, or maybe not, but at least it will push me to explore and look for them, rather than going into default ‘use Google’ mode.
The main Google services I use are search (obviously), mail, reader and alerts. A while ago I was also using docs, but stopped doing so once I’d been in Ethiopia and couldn’t rely on an internet connection. So what are going to be my alternatives?
Not a huge choice here, but then I don’t tend to do very sophisticated searches. Going to give Bing a try, and maybe Wolfram.
I did question whether or not I should exclude myself from using Google for search, after all, then where do I stop – not using YouTube? But I decided it would be good to force myself to try out some other search engines.
Although I read my mail through my GMail account, it’s usually a forwarded copy from my own domain. I could, with minimal effort switch to the Squirrelmail or Horde mail interfaces provided by my hosting provider. This will work fine in the UK, but back at Mekelle Uni, these interfaces run off non-standard ports, which are blocked by the Uni proxy. So, I’ve installed RoundCube to use instead. It has quite a basic interface like SquirrelMail, but has some Ajax features such as drag and drop. I don’t think I’ll miss GMail labels, but it’ll take some getting use to not having the conversation style layout of messages, to which I’ve now become accustomed.
Again, this wasn’t a huge deal to switch from. I installed Tiny Tiny RSS on my domain and imported the OPML from Google Reader. The functionality is very similar to Google Reader, but it has the advantage that I can choose to cache images from feeds. It may not sound like a huge deal, but it will mean when I’m in Ethiopia that I’ll be able to view the photos and other images from blogspot feeds, which are otherwise blocked in Ethiopia.
This was the only service where I failed to find an equivalent. There are other alert services (alerts.com, Yahoo alerts and more) but these seem very restrictive and targeted at people wanting updates on news, sports, stocks etc. rather than general web and blog alerts. So, for now, I’ve kept my Google Alerts in place, but I’m very willing to try out other alerting services if anyone can point me in the right direction.
I like the idea of being more in control of the tools and services I’m using, despite the fact that I need to be more self-reliant for backups etc. Having my own domain (and associated email), made it relatively easy to install and run roughly equivalent services without huge upheaval.
Will the reduced (or just changed?) functionality and usability make me miss Google too much? I’ll find out in the next month, or maybe just the next couple of days.