Google Exodus


I’ve been using Google Reader daily since December, 2006. I use it to read web sites that interest me. Although some people have complained that it hasn’t been updated in a long time, or that it lacks meaningful social aspects, I’ve been perfectly happy with it.

I don’t generally read the news on my mobile device. Any sharing of news I might do would likely occur manually through email or Twitter, rather than some button on the Google Reader site. The lack of new features is actually something I like: it’s a product that works well, and has continued to satisfy my very modest needs.

But like all good things, Google Reader is coming to an end. There’s a general scrambling amongst Reader users who are looking for alternatives, and there are a number of solid contenders out there. Most of the current crop are offering features that Google lacked, which means they’re not features in which I have a strong interest. I expect I’ll wait a little longer to see what options mature in the time before Reader officially shuts down.

I think my preferred solution will be to run my own RSS aggregator again. Although the format hasn’t advanced substantially in the half-decade that I’ve been using it, I think the tools available to produce and consume RSS have matured quite a bit.

Just a year after adopting Google Reader, I went all-in with Google for Domains. I updated my DNS MX records, and handed control of all of my email to Google. I eventually switched from using a desktop email client to using Google’s web interface exclusively. On the whole, since November 2007, I’ve been pretty happy. The Google experience is perfectly acceptable.

But the shuttering of Google Reader has me asking: “What else?” It’s extremely unlikely that Google would retire their mail service, but what if? Since I’m expecting to run my own RSS aggregator in the near future, does it make any sense to reclaim any other services back from Google?

Way back when, the big draw to Google Mail – for many, including me – was the superb web-based experience. From any computer with a web browser, I could access my email. Self-hosted web-mail solutions like SquirrelMail, Roundcube, and Citadel all valiantly tried to compete, and I’m sure they each have a healthy following; but they didn’t do it for me.

In today’s world, with the proliferation of smartphones, I have convenient access to any email solution, whether mine or someone else’s. Web mail is no longer a strong distinguishing factor for a self-hosted email solution. I suspect I could get by without web mail at all by using my phone. If I’m not using web mail for on-the-go access, it makes little sense to use web mail for desktop access. It’s been a long time since I’ve used Thunderbird – or any other desktop email client – but I suspect the learning curve would be mild.

Over time, Google’s integration of their calendar function and their chat functions made the Google Mail web interface even more useful. And of course, there’s Google’s superb search backing up all that email. If I were to bring email back from Google, I’d need to tackle the first of those two issues. (Search is largely a non-issue for me, as I very rarely keep my email, let alone search it.)

I’ve used Zimbra in the past, and could use a full-fledged collaboration suite, if I wanted to. I think things like Zimbra and Citadel and the like all scratch itches I don’t have though. I mostly need email, and a decent calendar and contact manager. ownCloud offers the latter in a very nice package, so that would probably be my first stop.

It’s been a long while since I last ran my own mail server, so I’ve got a lot of learning to do should I pursue this.

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