Leaving Product: Google (?)

I use e-mail a lot. I know it’s not as cool to talk about in these social website times, but the truth is, I do like to correspond with friends and groups of friends, via good old e-mail.

I have two types of account – I have my ‘web company’ accounts – Gmail, MS Outlook, Yahoo for those company’s services, and for dumping signups into. Then I have a couple of accounts for myself and family members based on my own domain names where we communicate with friends and family.

I started using these domain named accounts about 8 years ago, settling on IMAP, and moving away from ISP based addresses and even from the above mentioned webmail apps.

For a while, they were based on Pair.com’s SquirrelMail implementation, and that was fine, but we’d sometimes see odd issues now and then. I looked around, and at the end of 2009, as I blogged, I moved to Google Apps. In those days, Google Apps was pretty much free for everyone, and you could even use Gmail as a web front end.

Over the years, they reduced the number of mailboxes each domain could have and originally at least, it wasn’t simple having multiple domains under one account. I could understand that – this was still a free service.

Last December, they killed the free option, and now it’s pay only, and I’m fine with that, I just wanted to put some back story in there as I’m grandfathered in with the 5 mailboxes per domain for free.

For a while now, I’ve not liked the ads on the web interface, or that theoretically my mail was analyzed for that mail targeting / profiling. Again, this is free, and when it’s free *you* are the product, as the old saying goes. I’m not a tinfoil hat fanatic, but I do like privacy, and decided it was time to pay for my email hosting again.

I looked at the Google (Apps) paid option – 5 USD a month for my 5 users. I then looked around and had a look at what MS is doing with Outlook on custom domains, and also at other hosting companies like Pair, and finally Rackspace.

It was tempting to stay with Google and Apps, but I don’t use the other Apps, just the email, and the way Google does things with it’s ‘AllMail’ philosophy irks some people, and there’s a whole post’s worth there on configs I’ve tried from app setup, to subscriptions and quite a few other things to improve that – but basically, I’m a simple Inbox n folder person. There are definitely upsides to the AllMail approach, but in my situation, people are preferring things in folders.

I decided to pitch a move to Rackspace on Twitter with a #rackspace hashtag, and quickly received several positive responses from users (and former employees) and a couple of contact people, who I followed up with, and who answered a few of my queries on quirks of my setup.

A couple of months ago, I signed up with Rackspace for a trial two weeks. Their product seems to be what I need – I can hold my two domains under a single Rackspace account, and each mailbox will cost me 2USD / month with a minimum of 5 (10USD / month). This actually works as I have 5 main mailboxes to move!

They support migration of data from various services via a migration assistant including GMail. I should note that this did not work for me from Google Apps using a preset, as my actual mail server was googlemail.com, not gmail.com. Not a problem – the manual setup worked fine. Having uploaded my from & to details in a provided spreadsheet, the script went to work, effectively logging in to Google as me, and copying the data across, and being reformatted by Rackspace.

Moving email hosts, like moving houses/apartments also gives you the opportunity to get to those things you’d been meaning to do, but never did. For me, it meant killing a few mailboxes, and rolling them in as aliases to my core addresses, meaning I have an ‘address’ for each of my two twitter accounts and a few other things, and they route into my core account, which means fewer accounts to own/check, no forwarding, and I can see where addresses have somehow attracted spam. Keeps it simple.

The web interface is very clean, very simple, and though I did need to set up some contacts, it wasn’t arduous at all. As far as my usual window onto my email – Thunderbird – it was all fine, and it pulled all my email down and let me re-sync it, so I’ve been tidying that all up as well, and slowly removing the AllMail. All in all, it’s been painless for me, and transparent to family members using their accounts, once we’d gone through phones and setup draft, sent and trash folders correctly!

It’s odd that in parallel, I’ve been moving my RSS reading habits from the soon to be retired Google Reader, to Newsblur. On my iPhone4, I used to use a syncd Reeder app with my Google account, but now just use that as a local RSS / OPML reader, as well as playing with the Newsblur app.

So, a few months on, I use Google products to very little extent – an email drop, and the odd G+ post. No more ‘core mail’ or RSS involvement, and I rarely even use the search any more (Twitter & Pocket pretty much take up my link following time). It seems a bit odd, but yes, I’m very happy with the move, and that I’ve actually managed to make it simpler.