Why I stopped using GMail

I am a fan of Google products. When Google Voice first came out I went around begging people to invite me and have been using it ever since as my primary number. I can't even remember how I read RSS feeds before there was Google Reader. And Gmail! I was a little hesitant when it was first released but for the past years Gmail was the first browser tab I opened in the morning and the last one I closed at night. The list goes on. According to my Google Accounts page I use 30 different Google services.

Things were good. Google made more and more great products. Whenever one came along that I found useful, I started using it. Payment was easy: I gave them my data, they used my data to show me relevant ads. Sometimes I clicked the ads and bought something. I was happy. I thought Google was happy. I was wrong.

Google does not want me to love their products. Google wants me to love Google. All of it. As Larry Page himself points out: “This is the path we’re headed down – a single unified, ‘beautiful’ product across everything.” (Source: Pando Daily)

Examples of  “unified, beautiful”  have been cropping up everywhere on Google for months now:

  1. The grey bar on top of Gmail has been there in one form or another for a long time. It's a time sink. I am distracted easily. A constant reminder that Google Reader exists and that somebody whose name I remember added me to a circle is the last thing I need—even if the reminder is beautiful and unifying.
  2. During my occasional visits to Google+, an artificial intelligence suggests I should invite my boss and other professors I work with to Google+. Nobody told the artificial intelligence that it's above my pay grade to invite professors to social networks. And anyway: What does the frequency of emails I sent people through Gmail have to do with Google+? Nothing. Beautiful and unified. But mostly annoying.
  3. For years you could sign up for Google Analytics with any email address. A while ago, you had to merge that separate login into your Google Account. Your client's websites that you track in Analytics have nothing to do with the cat videos you share on Google+? Too bad, now the cat videos and your clients are beautiful and unified. 
  4. When I google my name, as suggested by Google, the first "search result" informs me that my Google+ profile is 30% complete. Beautiful and unified. And irrelevant. 
  5. There was a time when you could sign up for Google products, and sign off from Google products. Today, you are merely informed when you automatically become user of new Google product like Google+. Compare how many Google products you use today, to the number of Google products you can individually remove from your Google account.

This should give you a taste of things to come. I haven't even mentioned the filter bubble created by "Search, Plus Your World" or the beautiful unified privacy policy yet.

There was a time when users had needs, and chose tools to satisfy those needs. Need to hang a picture? Select a hammer. Need to make pancakes? Select a pan. Need ubiquitous access to your email? Select a webmail provider. Everyone had their own set of tools. Every lumberjacks has their own preference of chainsaw. Every code monkey has their own preference of text editor. Some like Stihl, some like Husqvarna. Some like Vim, some like Emacs. On the internet, these times are over.

We aren't selecting individual tools any more. We choose from a small selection of beautiful unified tool boxes. If you want Gmail, get the Google tool box including a Google+ profile you never asked for and personalized search results that shape your picture of the world. Some fear that this will lead to incompatible online service ecosystems: Separate world wide webs owned by big companies. I fear more practical issues:

  1. Google locks people out of their accounts. All the time. I recently lost my Google Adsense account for no clear reason and without a chance for appeal. With a unified Google both your chances of unintentionally triggering an account lockdown increase and the damage caused increases.
  2. Unexpected interactions between tools you never use and your uninformed actions will result in your data being exposed like it happened with Google Buzz. If you care about your privacy, you will have to understand the entire Google ecosystem to protect it, not just the Google products you use.
  3. It will be even harder to focus. Google Talk and Google+ and the Google Toolbar are already there today to distract you in Gmail. This will get worse.

I want to continue using the Google tools I love without the risk of losing my online identity by doing something I didn't know was prohibited (I am still not sure why that Google Adsense account is gone), without the work involved in understanding the entire Google ecosystem to manage my privacy, and without constant distraction by the latest gadgets Google came up with. Dropping Gmail is how I achieve this. 

Why Gmail? Of all Google services, Gmail holds the most information about about me, and also the most private information. My mother's maiden name, my SSN and what medication I took for an inflammation three years ago, it's all somewhere in my Gmail. By taking that data out of the beautiful unified Google ecosystem, I dramatically decrease the risk of privacy debacles. Gmail is also the Google service I interact with most. By leaving it, I achieve the biggest reduction in beautifully unified distraction. Not using Gmail should also reduce the chances of losing access to the tools I rely on—doing less things inside the ecosystem seems like a good strategy for doing less things that can cost me my key to the ecosystem. And finally: As opposed to other Google products, there are good alternatives to Gmail. 

Farewell Gmail. And kudos for your IMAP access, the "archive" concept, threaded conversations, and generally how you disrupted the freemail market!