Random bits from a random nerd

Migrating Away From Google

There’s an inherent tension when a company provides a free service: How do they make money? Are you the product? Is it a Freemium model? Do they even have a plan?

If it’s free, they can always go out of business, change the terms, or generally do anything they want. Those are your risks.

There has been, in the last couple of years, a recurring spate of news about Google that gives me pause. Censorship in China, the blending of Plus into search, etc, etc.

The thing that tipped me into action is their awful new ‘privacy’ policy (By the way, you should really clear your Google history before that takes effect on March 1st!). Me no like.

It’s their company. They have to make a profit, and it’s their choice how they do so. From the point of view of a random nerd, I strongly dislike the level of fine-grained data they will be gathering and selling. I am choosing to look for alternatives, and I’m happy to pay for them.

Let me share what I’ve found so far. For the most part, I’ll just mention the ones I chose and not try to enumerate all the alternatives.


Still far and away the best product from Google, I must say. I’ve been using the oddly named DuckDuckGo which I found via John Gruber. It takes some getting used to, but has some new features I like too. Using ‘!so’ to search StackOverflow is handy, as are the Python and Android shortcuts. I’m warming up to it.

Search in Safari or other browsers

If, as I recommend strongly, you are running GlimmerBlocker, then adding DDG to Safari is pretty easy - see this page for instructions.

Chrome or Firefox are also tweakable; see the same page

Search on iPhone / iPad

No easy way to replace Google with DDG here. DDG does have mobile search apps for iOS and Android, but it’s not integrated into Safari.

Search on your blog

If you use the search bar here on Fnord, as of today it’ll go via DDG. Kudos to them for having Octopress instructions - major nerd plus! They also support other platforms, of course.

RSS/Atom (Google Reader)

There are several alternatives here. I found and recommend NewsBlur, which is Freemium, open source and has an iPhone app. I simply exported my OPML from Google Reader, imported it into NewsBlur and have never looked back. I paid for the Premium account, which is as I recall ~20/year; you set the donation amount.


  • iPhone app is a bit crashy
  • No iPad app yet

Overall - strongly recommended. I use the main site on the desktop and the iPhone app. Works great.


I run an Exim-based mailserver here, though a few years ago I conceded the spam battle. My personal email is now forwarded to SpamCop for filtering. $30/year, fantastic. Never a single outage or problem in three years now. I have a hybrid setup, where I archive messages to my IMAP server, but the inbox is on SpamCop.


Depending on your level of techie interest, you can self-host as I do, use Github and Octopress, or one of the other free platforms such as Tumblr, Posterous, WordPress.com and so on. I prefer to self-host, as that way I have my data locally and complete control. Plus, it’s fun to do this stuff yourself!

If you do run WordPress, there are commercial services that’ll handle all the sysadmin work for you. It’s a pain if your site gets popular.


I paid for and like Mint. You can see my stats on this page. The price is reasonable, the install painless and the results decent. For my WatchOtaku site, I’ve been using Clicky, as it’s a bit nicer but really Mint would work there too. There are others; for my level of traffic and casual observation these both suffice.

Code and project hosting

Go Github. Don’t even consider anything else. It’s that good.

Also works for static pages like this one

If you need an in-house-hosted or FOSS solution, Gitlab is pretty darn near a complete workalike.

Maps and directions

OpenStreetMaps is excellent. Good for GIS work too.

Google Docs

I used to use this more at UCSD, these days it’s a combination of IM, Email and the rare DOCX file. No suggestions, other than to suggest using HTML for doc formatting; makes posting it easier anyway.

Maybe Dropbox?

Google apps for your domain

I use this a bit; Google is still doing the mail for WatchOtaku. I can live with this for now and will migrate off if the account starts getting a lot of email; right now its about 1 per month and I can accept that. Since that’s a domain-specific hobby/account/site, the analytics from it are gonna be bizarre.


Google has some excellent products and replacing them takes time and money. It’s worth it to me. I’d rather spend a few bucks then be monetized, but of course YMMV.