I made a resolution for 2020 to be less reliant on Google by the end of the year. This post is an update on where I ended up in that process.
This one was actually pretty easy as e-mail has increasingly become less important to me over the years, but I ended up paying the $5 a month for FastMail. Absolutely no regrets here, they’re good at importing all your GMail, great Android app with dark mode, better privacy, does everything I need.
Technically could probably replace Google Calendar with this as well, but I haven’t tried that yet.
I ended up using Standard Notes all year. This is not an overly impressive notes app by normal standards, I’m really just using it as an online text editor, but the kicker that has kept me on it is the local encryption. This is such a rare and wonderful feature that I really don’t want to try anything else. Standard Notes is also open source and thus I could self-host it and import one of my backups if there were ever a problem with their service. The decryption is fast enough and seldom noticable in browser or on Android.
I singled out Google Photos as my biggest uphill battle in my post at the start of this year because I really love it, to me it’s about the perfect photo management app. There are dozens of notable open source alternatives but they all either a side project with little momentum, lacking an Android app, or look just awful.
However I did end up finding a solution that’s been working for me for months that I think is a bit interesting. I bought a Galaxy S20 earlier in the year and realized a couple things. (1) My phone now has an SD card that can expand storage up to 1TB, (2) I only have about 50GB of photos/videos spanning the last 20 years, and (3) I really only ever browse this data on my phone. I basically just setup syncing from my phone to my laptop and now store my entire photo collection on my phone.
My syncing process is not fully refined yet and I don’t want to document it too much as I think it could be a lot better. I wanted to use Syncthing for this but there’s a big problem with SD cards, because it’s written in Go and not Java, they can’t get appropriate permissions to fully manage a directory on an SD card and from what I’ve read, it would need a full rewrite. I had to fall back to non-open source and FolderSync to do a bi-directional sync between the two devices. Syncthing syncs my DCIM latest photos to my laptop. From there I periodically run phockup to rename those and sort them into their final directories by year. I then sync back to the phone’s SD card with FolderSync. (like I said, too convoluted) I’d like to write up a small Android app someday to rename photos by date, sort into directories, and move to SD card. Then it would just be a matter of FolderSync to sync them to with my laptop.
I’m pretty happy with the overall approach of having the entire collection on my phone, it works really well with a performant local Android photo gallery app. Samsung’s handles my amount of data without even any issues.
Sharing with family is still not fully solved. My wife and I are trying to use a shared Syncthing dir to send things to each other, but this isn’t scalable to get things to my family. Still more work to do here.
I’m still fully invested in Firefox, though I have to confess I’ve had a few problems on Android. I love the design overhaul they’ve now rolled out to stable, but I have had some trouble with battery life. It seems its not great at suspending rogue tabs, and I believe depending on what I’ve had open at the time, it can eat up a lot of CPU in the background. Not a deal breaker yet and I love what they do so I’m still sticking with it, and most days it’s not an issue and very pleasant to use.
This wasn’t on my original list but like many, I’m still traumatized by the loss of Google Reader so many years ago. Something special died that day. I’ve struggled to host my own Tiny Tiny RSS instance for years, it’s quite nice to use but not fun to keep running. I seldom used it and eventually broke it pretty bad this year.
However again I realized, I don’t ever read RSS on my laptop, it’s always my phone, why bother with self-hosting a web server and database?
I hunted around for a good Android RSS client and found a few decent open source options, but landed on using Palabre for now. It’s a little clunky with feed management and a lot of the feeds I imported from OPML show up without any indication of the title of the site, which I cannot seem to edit. However for the most part it lands my must-haves: local only, OPML import, dark mode, and mark read on scroll. I’m actually enjoying consuming news this way instead of just relying on Twitter and Reddit as I have been lately.
RSS feeds are still out there. Bring back RSS!
This has been completely unsuccessful. DuckDuckGo is a decent search engine, but the results just don’t compare to Google’s especially for technical things at work. I’m 100% still using Google search.
This too has been unsuccessful, I have some other maps apps on my phone (Maps.me, OSMAnd+), but I really don’t use them very often. Need to explore more here but it’s hard to compete with Google’s knowledge of local business and navigation.
Overall I am feeling a lot less reliant on Google and that I’ve reclaimed a little bit of my privacy. This process surprisingly became less about self-hosting, which involves quite a bit of work, and more about better leveraging my devices and syncing between them.