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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Google Everything and some alternatives

Search cat by zenera from flickr (CC-SA)
Do you feel a bit uncomfortable using countless web services all operated by a single company? I can feel your pain. Here's a list of things I use (or tried but didn't like), and some alternatives if I know any.

Google Search

It used to be the case that Google Search was vastly better than anything else. Not longer so.
Don't believe me? Try the Blind Search - it searches the same term in Google, Yahoo, and Bing, then you can vote for the winner. Most of the time the results are extremely similar, and the scores are Google - 41%, Bing - 31%, Yahoo - 28%. Google still leads but not overwhelmingly.

While with text searches there's no reason to switch away from Google, Bing Images and especially Bing Video is quite significantly better than Google equivalents. Bing is simply a better search engine for porn than Google, they know it, and even advertise this fact:

I recommend we start using the word "to bing" as "to search Internet for video porn", just like "to google" means "to search Internet for textual websites".

Google Mail

I tried plenty of other webmail providers, and plenty of offline email programs. Even some Intranet email solutions like Zimbra and Exchange. Google Mail is so overwhelmingly better than anything else it's not even funny.

Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail, which I tried as throwaway spam accounts, are just too painful to use. There are no alternatives, it's Google or pain.

Google Maps

Google Maps was quite revolutionary when it first appeared. Unlike with Google Mail, here the competition did catch up quite successfully. Yahoo Maps, Bing Maps, MultiMap, StreetMap (well, that one's UK-only), and probably some others, are all quite usable for directions, and all suck for searching local businesses.

I've heard some drivers having preferences for one or the other, but as a public transport user/occasional cyclist, I'm still waiting for the first to offer decent TFL integration.


YouTube annoys me considerably - they don't want to host anything even remotely risky. They limit access to videos by geography, remove those that include some copyrighted music in the background to unrelated funny thing.

On the other hand they have no problem hosting this video of a brutal rape (NSFW).

There are some alternatives, none anywhere near the size of YouTube. Not counting the porn tube of course. I have limited experience with them, so no in-depth comparison here.

Google Chrome

It's nowhere near being the most popular browser. I'm also not sure what's its main selling point, other than tab sandboxing, which Firefox badly needs.

Other than that, Firefox is vastly better. It has countless useful plugins. It has Greasemonkey, and Greasefire. It has Firebug. It has AdBlockPlus. Chrome isn't even close.

Not like I'm complaining, if it can get even one user away from IE, it's a win.


Let's face it - Blogger is a pretty crappy blogging platform. But then I haven't heard users of any other being happy about theirs, so perhaps all are equally bad. And effort of moving the blog somewhere else (plus losing the URL) seems too big for me to bother.

In particular the way they handle spam comments is simply atrociously bad. I get a notification of a comment, and then it's about ten clicks to remove it if it's spam, instead of just one or two.

Google Reader

It's basically an online RSS reader. What I hate about most desktop RSS readers is that they tend to push notifications onto you, and don't live inside the most natural place possible - the browser.

With Google Reader Watcher, Firefox tells me how many unread items there are, and which website they're for. Which is exactly as much notification as I need.

I think the only thing left to want is "open every new item in a fresh tab" function, but there's probably some Greasemonkey script for that, or if not it would be pretty simple to write it.

I don't see much need for alternatives.

Google Talk

The main problem with IM programs is that everyone is on a different network, so you need way too many programs to talk with everyone. Adium has most of them. Except Skype. And the most basic functionality only - not webcams, no microphones, not even all the icons.

I don't have particular problems with Google Talk, but I'm going to use this unique opportunity to rant about Skype a bit. OSX version of Skype doesn't seem to have any way of disabling text notifications of contacts becoming available or unavailable. So it constantly spams me with irrelevant garbage. It's not possible to use Skype network from other programs even for IM chats. Many networks try this restriction - and abuse their control over access to other users, but Skype seems to be the only one which did it successfully. Would you be happy if you needed an iPhone to call a person using iPhone, a Nokia phone to call a person using a Nokia phone, and basically 20 different phones to speak with everyone you want to? Me neither, so why are we allowing exactly the same thing in the IM world?

Google News

I don't see Google News as solving any real problem. My main problem with news is that they focus on events of the day, while the important things are usually long ongoing processes, with little need for daily updates. And if you're away for a week or two, there's no easy way to look back at this time and see if anything important happened.

As far as I can tell, it's equally true for all alternatives. If you know a good way to follow important news, tell me about it in comments.

Google Docs

Google Docs is a pretty cool webapp for editing documents together. I have irrational hatred towards WYSIWYGs, especially web WYSIWYGs, so don't ask me about fancy advanced features, but it solves the basic need well enough, and I don't see what could be the big selling point for its alternatives.

Google Code

Google Code is a nice hosting service for Open Source projects. It supports Subversion (obviously), and Mercurial, but not git.

Some of the alternatives are SourceForge (both Subversion, and git, also some other VCSs I don't care about), github (only git, duh). I'm not sure how bad github's limitation of 300MB per open source repository is - my personal code repository's .git is easily bigger than that, but then I freely store binaries and stuff in it (like font files for jrpg).

Overall I don't really see any major advantage for Google Code over it's countless competitors, and it's not even particularly big.

Google Analytics

I'm going to be pretty clueless about it, as Google Analytics is the only one I tried.

Good things - it gives you pretty decent overview of traffic, and is really easy to install.

Bad things - no decent API (screen scrapping possible but quite painful), no access to raw data, I'm not a big fan of their interface, which seems to be focused on all the wrong things.

If I started a website these days, I would definitely try something else, if only to see if it's any better. Switching an existing site would probably not be worth the effort, as all historical data would get lost.


These are just some of Google services and programs I tried. It's scary in two ways. First, a single company has way too much control over the Internet, and over people's often private data. Google has been relatively well-behaved as far as huge soulless corporations go.

Second, and perhaps more important problem is - what the fuck is the entire competition doing? The only reason people use Google Absolutely Everything is because most of everything else sucks so much. Google didn't succeed just once or twice, it had long stream of spectacular successes where everyone else failed (search, maps), and often even failed to catch up years later (webmail, text ads). Seriously, how difficult is it to innovate a bit online? Difficult enough that a single company does most of it? Hardly anything good on the web ever came from Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, Sun, and countless other huge Internet companies in ages. The only other major company that seems to be doing anything interesting is Amazon. A damn bookstore. A damn bookstore is doing more web innovation than all the software and web giants put together.

Yes, there are still startups doing the cool stuff, but most of them stop as soon as they get bought. Like, which was revolutionary, but then got bought by Yahoo, and is stagnant ever since.


Jacqui said...

I love the idea that bing is the porn specialist!

rkj said...

As for "webapp for editing documents together" etherpad is much better.