I’ve begun to write about free (libre) network services, and the hazards of being a tenant on the web instead of a property owner. I began slowly moving away from Google in 2009, but I’ve accelerated that process since the launch of Google+. I thought I’d begin to share my process of degooglification.
To be clear, I still generally trust and respect Google, and I do believe they’re generally less evil than most, but…
- Despite great support for open source software, they remain a proprietary software company at their core. Google is a friend to open source infrastructure, but not to free (libre) network services. Specifically, it’s the proprietary network services I’m degoogling from.
- The sheer amount of data — email, contacts, documents, calendar, RSS feeds, social graph, phone calls, photos, GPS location, nevermind web searches… — aggregated into a one single account with a proprietary service provider is an obviously bad idea. Even if Google never intends to do anything bad with it, they can make mistakes. Even if Google never does anything bad itself, it’s a single vector for attack from an outsider. And it’s not your account.
Email is one of the easiest services from which to degooglify. It’s also a good example of a multi-step transition.
Changing the front-end
The first thing I did was to stop using the Gmail web interface. I configured my Gmail account in Thunderbird, which I was already using for other email accounts. Google’s commitment to data portability often makes it easy to switch your front-end software before switching the back-end, which can make a transition much smoother. Rather than cutting over cold turkey, you can ease into a new interface. My Gmail account is still active, but it rarely sees any important email anymore. I’ve transitioned 99% of my email to other accounts on domains I control (like this one).
Changing the Backend
Gradually, I started using my blaise.ca email addresses instead of my Gmail account, until eventually I wasn’t getting much email through Gmail anymore. With my Gmail account configured in Thunderbird, it was easy to archive the contents on my computer. You can access Gmail labels as IMAP folders and just copy email from one account to another, and Thunderbird will even offer to synchronize a local copy of your Gmail account. I never used Gmail contacts, but an export and import to Thunderbird would get your data out (more on contacts another time). Lastly, I’m still monitoring my Gmail account via Thunderbird, but I could set an auto-reply and/or forwarder if I really wanted to force that last 1% over. I will probably do that eventually.
There are a few other perks of a Gmail account that are pretty easy to get from libre alternatives:
- Hosted: Not everyone is going to run their own mail server, or have a friend or family member who does. But there are hosted, libre services, like riseup.net
- Storage space: in 2004, 1 GB of email was a huge game changer. Today, it’s not very hard to get that kind of storage space on a server for cheap.
- Chat: Google uses the open standard XMPP for its chat service. I run my own XMPP server, and there are public Jabber services like jabber.org. I’ve simply added my Gmail contacts to my email@example.com XMPP account. More on chat another time.
- Conversations: The Conversations add-on provides Gmail-style conversations inside Thunderbird.
- Spam filtering: Gmail has a good track record on spam filtering, but SpamAssassin, ClamAV and a greylisting policy can produce great results on your own server nowadays. I don’t get any more spam to my blaise.ca inbox than I do to my Gmail inbox.
- Webmail: I love Thunderbird, but not everyone wants to use a desktop client, and you’re not always on your own computer. Roundcube is already a great free software webmail client, and it hasn’t even hit 1.0 yet. Many hosting providers already offer Roundcube to their customers.
- Mobile: With IMAP, my email is easily accessible from and synchronized between Thunderbird, Roundcube, and my mobile computer’s IMAP client.
Email is probably the easiest thing to degooglify. It can be a smooth, gradual transition, and there are lots of good alternatives, as well as benefits from leaving Gmail. Over the next while, I’ll share my ongoing efforts to degooglify other aspects of my online life.