In my attempt to ween myself off Google, I've found some rather nice alternatives to Google products. I should note that the only Google products I now use are Google Talk and Google.com for search. I've managed to replace their other products and post some mini-reviews of the services I'm replacing them with.
From Google Reader to Fever
From Google Analytics to Mint
From Google Apps to iCloud and Hosting Provider Email
Fever ($30 USD, feedafever.com)
Fever is a different kind of feed aggregator. It looks at your own slice of the web and presents in a trending topic sort of way. Fever helps me stay on top of the tech industry and it is great for any blogger that wants to stay on top of their chosen subject matter. Unlike many other readers, it doesn't constantly nag you about unread items, but rather, uses those items to determine what's hot among your subscribed feeds.
Licensing for Fever is purchased on a per-domain basis, meaning one installation per domain is allowed. Because you are given un-obfuscated source code when you download Fever after purchase, refunds are not being granted by the developer. Also because of this, a free trial is not available. I was initially hesitant to invest $30 - a hefty sum for a student like myself - but after installing Fever (which is a breeze, by the way) and toying with it for about a week or so, I was able to see the benefit and the purchase price was justified.
It's certainly a great alternative to the boring "hear-are-your-feeds" layout of Google Reader. If you're running a Mac, you can download Conceited Software's Chill Pill which will allow you to stylize Fever with a few different style sheets for a different layout and it's compatible with Growl. Pop this baby into full screen mode and Fever really begins to light up. Macworld rated it at 4 mice and I think it is well worth the $1.99 I paid (on sale in the Mac App Store, $2.99 regular price). If you're running Windows, you can try Mozilla's Prism stand-alone edition for a desktop feel to the web app.
Mint ($30 USD, haveamint.com)
For the longest time, I've been looking for alternatives to Google Analytics. I hate the fact that Google knows exactly what I know about my website. Tracking web stats is a rather precarious ability and if I'm going to capture traffic patterns on my blog to I can better determine what my readers want in the future, I really don't want to share that information with a company that uses advertising as its main revenue source. Enter Mint.
Created by the same developer as Fever, Mint gives me a one-page listing of all the stats a webmaster could or would want to know about their site. For complete transparency, you can even open up your Mint installation to allow anyone on the Internet to view it. Plugins for Mint are called Peppers and can add a lot of additional functionality with other systems (like MailChimp) so you can get a bigger picture of your blog's presence.
Licensing for Mint is still per-domain and no refunds are offered (again, due to the PHP nature of the beast), but it does offer a compatibility check prior to purchase, so if you're not afraid to get your hands dirty with a little mySQL action, you'll be guaranteed it will run on your shared hosting provider or VPS.
I have yet to find a stand-alone application specifically for Mint, however, on the Mac you can use Fluid.app to run Mint as a desktop application, provided you have an Internet connection (of course!). The standard version of Fluid will have some features held back. Upgrading to the full version for $4.99 USD will enable additional features like fullscreen mode. Again, if you're running Windows, your go-to application for desktop viewing is Mozilla Prism.
I love being able to host my own analytics system so I know that only I have access to the information it's tracking. The web is a scary place enough at times, so why risk exposing the most valuable asset you as a blogger have - your readers?
Apple iCloud (Free, icloud.com) and Hosting Provider Email (Pricing varies)
Ever since starting in 2007 with .Mac and then throughout the transition to MobileMe a few years later, I've been digging the ability to keep my personal emails separate from my public email account (the one attached to this blog). With iCloud I have the ability to do just that. All my personal contacts use a private email account that I don't give out willy-nilly on the Internet to social networking services and the like, and I have the benefit of backed up calendars, contacts and now, iPhone/iPad data. It's just for people I know. I was using Google Apps for my domain email (@classicyuppie.com), but this got to be more feature rich than I needed.
I was using the personal edition which is free - at the cost of Google displaying ads all over my email. While you could argue that using a desktop email client would eliminate seeing the ads, one thing that worried me was that Google essentially reads your ads (they call it scanning for keywords) so they can provide you with "targeted" ads they hope you'll find "interesting". Using a desktop client to avoid ads on gmail.com is rather like hiding your face behind your hands when the schoolyard bully goes to punch you. You're still going to get hit (or in other words, Google is still going to read your email because it's on their servers). What's worse, is that you can't opt out: by choosing the free service, you are actually opting in to having ads spewed all over your email interface. Disgusting, but I guess everything has a price.
I also decided that I didn't need the 4 bazillion features that comes with Google Apps personal edition: calendar, instant messaging, contacts, YouTube, Google +, Picasa and the million other services that Google controls. Enough was enough. I decided that all I needed to get by with my domain was an email account. One account, no aliases, no calendar, no IM account. Just a plain old IMAP email account.
Fortunately, most hosting providers offer at least one email account for free with paid hosting. I know at least GoDaddy does, for those insane enough to say with them after their latest round of shenanigans. If you're with another hosting provider (hopefully!), check their policy on them hosting an IMAP (you don't want POP) email account for you. On the off chance that your hosting provider makes you pay for the option to have email accounts hosted with them, check out Dreamhost. I'll admit this is a shameless plug, but I have hardly any problems with Dreamhost's service. On the off chance I do have an issue, they're very good at ironing out all the issues. Anyone wanting to try Dreamhost's service can use promo code 'switch2DH' to have the normal $49.95 activation fee waived. The only thing I get in return is a credit that ensures The Classic Yuppie will remain on the Internet, and after all, doesn't that really benefit you more than me, hmm?
I dumped Gmail a long time ago (I think when it was still in beta…) and deleted my Google Apps account for my domain yesterday. Simplified personal and domain email accounts. Now that's the spirit!.