Getting Off Google

So my last post focused on how I switched from my @gmail.com to my @kevinleung.com email. Here’s the continuation of how I moved away from other Google services.

Migrating Contacts

Closely tied to Gmail are Contacts. Although you can sync Google and Apple Contacts, I figured I should keep them separate on principle.

This transition was straightforward albeit labor intensive. I exported my Google Contacts as a file and imported them into the Contacts app on my computer, and all of them appeared. The work came with cleaning up my contacts so that they were actually usable. This went through a few phases.

First, I trimmed away contacts I no longer needed. Basically, I deleted anyone I would feel weird calling, texting, or emailing. Particularly, I found plenty of former classmates or work contacts that I had talked to maybe once and no longer needed.

Second, I combined contacts that weren’t automatically merged. For example, my Grandpa had entries under his proper name and “Grandpa”, or Tom also showed up as Thomas.

Third, I cleaned up contact information. Over the years, I had collected multiple phone numbers and emails for people. For childhood friends, I had their parents’ landline. For college friends, I had their personal and school emails. If possible, I pared down each contact to the one email and one phone number that I actually would use to contact them.

Finally, I added a couple notes to people. I don’t use a CRM or dossier management system, but I did have a “Birthdays” calendar that I moved into specific contacts. I also noted food allergies, most of which were pulled from wedding notes. And if I didn’t know someone as well, I wrote down how I met them.

Since then, it has actually worked out really nicely. It just feels better having one set of contacts rather than phone numbers in one system and emails in another. And although the migration took awhile, I actually enjoyed reminiscing about old friends and relationships.

Migrating Single Sign On and Other Internet Accounts

An email address isn’t just a place to receive emails: it is a digital identity tied to accounts across the internet, and according to 1Password, I have 359 website logins.

In theory, I guess could switch one account per day and finish in just under a year, but that probably wouldn’t be worth the effort. Many of the accounts are dead. I can’t remember the last time I used woot, which I literally just learned still existed while adding the hyperlink in this paragraph. Instead, I’m taking a more pragmatic approach of just migrating an account whenever I receive an email or sign into something. If I never use it, then it probably wasn’t worth migrating anyways.

Since I use a password manager, I wasn’t using Single Sign On (where you use, say, your Gmail or Facebook account to login to other services) much in the first place. However, the three that I had made it quite easy to set a password and subsequently use that for login.

Migrating Google+

Just kidding. No one was using that anyways.

Migrating Calendar

During college, I actually used Apple Calendar (then known as iCal) because it was the first time I needed a real calendar, and it was available on Macs. After college, I switched, and I don’t exactly remember why.

Anyways, it wasn’t a big deal to switch back. I exported my Google Calendar and imported it into my Apple Calendar, and it worked seamlessly for me. However, my friends subsequently told me that they had received email invites to several past events. Whoops. At least they thought it was funny instead of annoying.

Since then, Apple Calendar has been working well. In fact, it’s actually better because I primarily coordinate my personal calendar with Julie, and she’s already using it. It saves a few clicks to invite and accept invitations through Calendar rather than using email as an intermediary between Apple and Google Calendar.

Switching Web Search

A few weeks ago, Julie joked that she had been surprised to see someone actually using DuckDuckGo, and I had agreed. Who actually uses DuckDuckGo?

Well, I guess I do now.

It’s not bad. However, it’s definitely not as good. It mostly finds what I am looking for, though I have noticed that it doesn’t search social media (e.g. Twitter, reddit, etc.) quite as well. I have used Google as a fallback when I didn’t find the results I wanted in DuckDuckGo.

This switch has also been pretty easy because Safari allows you to specify DuckDuckGo as the default search engine. I always search using the address bar rather than the search engine home page, and since the design is so similar, I actually have forgotten a few times that I was using DuckDuckGo.

Migrating Google Drive

This one isn’t too big of a deal because there are already good substitutes. I use iCloud backup for my Documents folder anyways to make my local machine as stateless as possible. Physical hardware breaks, so why rely on it? I have boasted that I have everything synced or backed up to the cloud so that if you took a sledgehammer to my computer, I wouldn’t lose a thing.

I also have a few things in Dropbox as well, so I’m already using a replacement. Just like with my internet accounts, my plan is to gradually migrate files as I use them.

On a related note, I will mention that I actually use AWS S3 as my long-term backup for old documents, photos, and other archives. Although I could get more space on Dropbox or use another backup service, S3 is dirt-cheap. I’m not sure if I would recommend it for everyone, but if you think you can hack it, you will save a few bucks.

Not Migrating

Although I have switched away from many Google services, I couldn’t get all of them. Here are the things I’m definitely still using.

YouTube

Simply, there is no substitute. There is content on there that you can’t find anywhere else, and even other web video or audio content is often duplicated to YouTube.

You might argue that YouTube still has ground to make up in specific areas, but for posting and sharing videos, it’s the clear winner, and its content is king.

Google Docs

I feel weird about this one because Microsoft Office 365 is the obvious alternative, but I can’t convince myself to switch. Maybe it’s because I have to pay for it, although I agreed that I would pay for email. Maybe it’s because no one else is using it, although I really only share documents with Julie. Maybe it’s because it’s Microsoft, although Satya Nadella has really reformed their image.

Anyways, I’m not really sure why, but I’m sticking with Google Docs.

Hangouts

This is also odd because Hangouts seems very replaceable. In fact, chat/messaging/texting/video calls probably has the most competitors out there. However, it happens to be engrained with a couple specific groups. My book club, online D&D group, and college roommates all have long-running Hangouts threads, and I don’t expect them to switch just for me. I’m not going to stop talking to them based on some fuzzy desire, so I’m keeping Hangouts.

Google Analytics

I have Google Analytics on my personal blog. I actually hadn’t considered switching it because I forgot about it until I wrote this piece. I will think about whether I want to switch this going forward.

No Migration Necessary

I’ll call out a few services that I didn’t have to migrate:

  • Todo Lists – I use Asana and Apple Reminders rather than Google Keep
  • Notes – I use Apple Notes and vimwiki for notetaking. I probably will have more to say about this soon
  • Music, Podcasts, TV, etc. – These are split across platforms. I use iTunes for podcasts, Spotify for music, and (annoyingly) whatever streaming service for TV and movies
  • Photos – I use Apple Photos and iCloud, which is very cheap and works wonderfully
  • eBooks – I use my Kindle for most normal reading and iCloud Books for PDFs (mostly tabletop RPG rulebooks)
  • Chrome – I previously had split my web browsing behavior to use Safari for personal stuff and Chrome for work stuff
  • Maps – Of course, I use Apple Maps

Conclusion

So that is what a less Googled life looks like. Since I’m not going cold turkey with Google, it’s actually been really nice. I haven’t made tough sacrifices, and the Apple ecosystem works better with my devices (and marriage).

The act of switching made me clean up and declutter my digital life, so I feel lighter, too. Although digital clutter doesn’t take physical space and is largely invisible, it feels better knowing that it’s all organized and not left out there to be leaked when I’m not thinking about it.

I can see how this migration may seem like an extreme reaction. At this point, I don’t see why I would go back, but I can imagine relaxing my stance about actively avoiding Google services. Maybe in a few months or years, I’ll feel differently.

And at that point, I’ll probably tear everything up again and move again.

One thought on “Getting Off Google”

  1. A major factor in the selection of my own productivity application had turned out to be that I am not really in the Apple ecosystem, and my everyday desktop environment has become KDE on Linux, with the option to switch between Kubuntu and Manjaro.

    Most collaborative interactions are on the web and with browsers, but some lend themselves towards a full desktop interface. Sometimes, I now find that AUR has packaged Wine versions of Windows applications that are sometimes useful in a pinch.

    I guess industry standards made some of these decisions tactical. I know that Google has some quirks on IMAP, I wonder how different Calendar is from Apple Calendar, and from an open source implementation.

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