Reason one: I need my email to work, whether I follow the rules on Google Plus or not
For starters, I think it is a dangerous and insensitive policy to require all users to use their real names on the Internet, but putting that aside, I don’t want to risk having all my emails deleted and being unable to contact anyone because of some Murph / Benjamin confusion on Google Plus.
Reason two: it’s actually not okay for Google to read my email
Google never made it a secret that they read everyone’s email. Do you remember when you first started seeing the targeted ads in your Gmail? I bet you called a friend over to look. ”Look at this,” you said, “we were just talking about getting sushi tonight, and now there’s an ad for Montréal Sushi in my mailbox! That’s so creepy,” you said.
And then you both laughed. Maybe you made a joke about 1984. Over time, you got comfortable with the fact that Google wasn’t even hiding the fact that they read your mail. Or maybe you never really made the connexion between the ads and the content of your email. Maybe you thought, “I have nothing to hide,” and shrugged it off, or did some mental calculation that the convenience of your Gmail was worth the invasion of privacy.
I guess over time I changed my mind about being okay with it.
And no, this isn’t because I have some huge terrible secret, or because I’m a criminal or anything like that. I just don’t want to send the message that I’m okay with this sort of invasion of privacy anymore. Google’s unspoken challenge to anyone who questions their targeted ads scheme has always been, This the price you pay for a free service like Gmail. If you don’t like it, you can leave.
This is me saying, I don’t like it. I’m leaving.
Reason three: Gmail isn’t even that good anymore
When I signed up for Gmail, there were three things that set it apart:
- Tag and archive emails—forget folders!
- 10 gigabytes of space—never delete an email again!
- Web-based interface—access it from anywhere!
I’ll deal with each of these in turn.
1. Tagging was fun, but it only really works in the Gmail web interface, or in an app specifically designed for use with Gmail. Unfortunately, Gmail just doesn’t play nicely with other email apps, like the one in Mac OS X, or Mail on the iPhone or the BlackBerry. You could make it work through IMAP, having it tell your mail client that each tag was a folder, but it was always a bit screwy, and I never figured out how to put something in two tags through a 3rd-party app or mobile device.
The value of being able to organise emails by simultaneously having them in two categories is outweighed by the fact that I couldn’t access this functionality except through the browser.
2. The amount of space that Gmail provides for emails is not very much these days. I have a website (you may have guessed) and it comes with unlimited disc space for web hosting and emails. 10 gigabytes is just not that big a deal anymore.
3. I can do this with my self-hosted email as well, and I don’t have to suffer through an interface change (“upgrade”) just because Google says so.
So what’s the alternative?
Full disclosure: I haven’t shut down my Google account. I’m forwarding my Gmail to my self-hosted email account, so people who had my old Gmail account can still contact me there for the foreseeable future. I am also still using a number of other Google products, like the Calendar and Google Plus, but my life would not go down in flames quite so quickly if those stopped working as compared to a loss of email access.
Basically, I am moving as many “mission critical” aspects of my life away from Google as I can, to keep my technological eggs in a few more baskets. Email, for example, will be handled by my web host, of which I make backups on a regular basis.
I’m not trying to go cold-turkey on Google. I’m just not going to pretend to be as comfortable as I used to be as a guest on Google’s servers.
Update (2013 Nov 18)
I switched back to the Thunderbird email client a couple weeks ago. It supports tagging and archiving, just like Gmail.