For those of you who haven’t already heard, Google Reader has been discontinued. If you haven’t heard of Google Reader, you can read a quick writeup I did from 2009. In short. Google Reader is an aggregator that keeps tabs on all the news sites, blogs, and web sites that I read regularly, and presents a concise list of new updates that appear on those sites. When I wrote that article in 2009, I had already been using it for years and years, so you can imagine how sad it is to lose something that’s become such a big part of how I use the Internet.
I don’t dispute Google’s right to shut down a project like Google Reader — especially in light of the fact that it’s a free service that I haven’t paid a penny for. But the loss of Google Reader has absolutely taught me a valuable lesson: Things worth having are worth paying for.
This lesson goes counter to pretty much everything we have come to expect from the Internet today. Everything is free. Facebook, Gmail, Spotify, Maps, YouTube, Wikipedia. There’s a wealth of entertainment, news, and information at our fingertips that we expect to be there completely free of charge. I’m not against using these free services, but I’ve come to believe that there ought to be a line at which we ought to expect to pay for services that are essential to our lives. Since Google’s announcement, I’ve been gradually working to switch myself from these free options to competitors that charge for the same services. Here’s what I’ve gone with.
Google Reader replacement: Feedbin
First priority, of course, was getting set up with a Google Reader competitor. There are lots and lots of alternatives that have popped up over the past few months, vying to take Google Reader’s place. Lots of them are free, but it was important to me to switch to one that has a viable business model in place where I can pay for the service, rather than just hoping they’ll stick around under a free model. Feedbin offered a modest $2/month or $20/year subscription, which is more than reasonable for something I use multiple times a day, every day. As a bonus, the iPhone app that I used to connect to my Google Reader account also works with Feedbin, so my day-to-day workflow hasn’t changed at all.
Google Apps replacement: Media Temple hosting
This one was a big problem. All of my email addresses were being hosted on free Google Apps services. Around the same time Google announced that they were discontinuing Google Reader, they also announced that they weren’t going to offer free Google Apps accounts anymore. People who were already using free accounts were to be grandfathered in, but I’m not at all comfortable keeping something as important as my email on a service that may decide to discontinue it at some point in the future. Fortunately, the web hosting service that I use for all my web sites — Media Temple — does have mail service included in the $20/month fee that I already pay. Switching all of my email addresses over to new servers was certainly a time consuming activity, but one that gives me better peace of mind.
Google Analytics replacement: GoSquared
If you run your own business web site, you know how important it is to see how your visitors are using your site. Installing Google Analytics — a free web visitor analysis tool — was always one of the first things I did when setting up a new site. It’s free, easy to install, and works great. I wasn’t aware of too many competitors, but when I started looking around I found GoSquared analytics. It’s a bit more simplified than Google Analytics, but that’s one of the things I actually really like about it. It also shows real time stats about who is on your site right now, which Google Analytics doesn’t offer. They do have a free plan, but I opted for the Premium, $9/month plan that keeps stats for up to 3 sites.
Facebook Photos replacement: Flickr?
It seems like most people are perfectly content keeping their family photos on Facebook and nowhere else, but this has always been bothersome to me. Not only are there no assurances that Facebook will be around forever, but there is actually no way to extract your photos in bulk if you did want to move them somewhere else. I’ve always felt pretty strongly about this, which is why we’ve been Flickr Pro members for years and years. for $25/year, you can keep as many photos as you like in the highest resolution possible. Unfortunately, this option has gotten a little less appealing over the past few months as Flickr has changed their business model to a mostly-free version. You can still pay, but you’re only paying to remove ads — which to me indicates that you’re not really paying for extra storage or reassurance that it will be around for a while. Flickr is still a better, more stable option than Facebook, but I will definitely be looking for a new, premium paid option in the future.
YouTube replacement: Vimeo
Like photos, the videos we take are really important and I don’t want to trust them to a site where I’m not paying something to ensure they’re archived properly. So rather than upload them to YouTube or Facebook, we keep our videos on a Vimeo account. A Vimeo+ membership is $60/year, which isn’t cheap, but that subscription ensures you can keep an unlimited number of HD videos and stream / embed them wherever you like, not to mention gives me peace of mind that they aren’t just going to disappear someday. Additionally, instead of being compressed, Vimeo keeps your original, full-resolution video file as long as you maintain your Plus membership.
Google Voice replacement: Grasshopper
Google Voice is actually a really neat service, if you haven’t heard of it yet. They basically give you a phone number in your area code that you can give out, typically as your business number. When people call it, they are forwarded to your cell phone and you have the option of screening their calls and sending them to voicemail. It also supports automatic voicemail transcriptions and can receive text messages at the same number. This is a great service, and something we’ve been using to handle phone calls at The Salt Mines. The problem is, it’s free, and I don’t see how Google plans to make any money off of it any time soon. As a result, I don’t have a lot of confidence in its continued existance. After a bit of searching, I did find Grasshopper which offers a very similar service for a very reasonable $12/month. It’s actually quite a bit more flexible than Google Voice, allowing multiple destination phones to ring at once and including support for virtual extensions and incoming faxes. We recently switched our Google Voice number over to Grasshopper, and I’m eager to see how we can use these new features.
I realize that this article may come across as very anti-Google. I assure you, that isn’t the case. I still use Google search, Chrome is my primary browser, and some of my sites continue to use Google Adsense for advertising. But these are services that I don’t necessarily rely on, and that I wouldn’t be in risk of losing information if they went away tomorrow. I just feel that if a service is essential to you — especially to your business — it’s important to pay for it to have a little more insurance that it will stick around and be able to continue running.
What about you? What services are so essential that you would have to make big changes if they went away? Are you paying for them? Switching from free to pay services isn’t cheap — all told, I’m paying an extra $38/month to replace other free services — but isn’t the peace of mind worth a few bucks?