Removing myself from the conversation- subtracting google+

If you have been reading this blog you have probably already figured out that I like to talk about myself.  While there is this blog and others, most of the time I am not talking about anything that really stands alone as information.  Most of the time what I am looking for is more like a conversation.
Personal chatter and sharing is what I tend to put on social platforms.  I never really adopted facebook for much.  I did use buzz and reader.  I use livejournal/dreamwidth and I have a twitter account.

Until I just wrote that all out I didn’t see how many different places I have this information about what I am up to.  I was very excited about google plus because it looked like this might be one platform where everything can go.

Since I am leaving Plus in just two days I need to take a look at what I am using and get serious about what I want to do with personal chatter.

This has less to do with requirements, it is not so much about the software as it is the community.  Even clunktastic software is something I will use if it gives me access to a thoughtful community that offers valuable interaction.

I have boiled it down to a few options

  • Facebook- This is the obvious other option.  It has the advantage of being a place where I can find people I know, and the disadvantage that it has everyone I know on it.  There are privacy controls, but I have not used them much and sorting my friends list looks like a PITA.  On the other hand it is easy to share webpages and there is a android web app that doesn’t suck.  If I was totally logical this is where I would probably go.  But I am not.  I just don’t like the “flavor” of facebook, it seems like a place that fosters light social chit chat rather than deeper, more engaged conversation.
  • Dreamwidth/Livejournal- This has the advantage of being a platform that I like and use already.  It is older and shows its age, but I have things set up for privacy and filtering and I love the ethics of dreamwidth.  This is what I use for the stuff that is closer to my heart.  This is where I hold forth about stuff that I am sorting, and not a place that I do much quick what I am up to sort of stuff.  There is not an app I like, but I post by email to dreamwidth and let it repost to LJ .  I am keeping this for now, but it could eventually move on .  The real key for me here is the community, I feel comfortable talking about closer to the quick stuff here and I can use it.
  • Diaspora-  This one is new to me.  I am still getting used to it, but the interface is the beautiful thing I loved with google+.  It has aspects so I can limit my distribution, I can autoshare with facebook and twitter.  I am still poking at it, but I think I am moving here for short updates.  It isn’t something I can use for everything yet, it doesn’t work right on my phone yet.  This is where I want small nonsense and filter so I don’t bore.  That is where I am going with my personal stuff and I might move some of the LJ stuff as I get more comfortable with that community.  I will also share to twitter and facebook, but not originate much there.

I don’t see a big answer here yet, but these are the thinks I am patching together.

My Days are Numbered- Hanging up on Google Voice

Google has my phone number.  In fact my number dates back to Grand Central before the Google buyout.

I have had one phone number for a long time and the thought of changing it scares me.  Also I am still at con so this is a pure research post for now, changing my number can’t happen until later.

Basically I hate the phone and I loved how voice let me often get around actually using the phone most of the time.  Also overseas and long distance are non-issues for me with my cell plan.

My needs:

  • Needs to ring my phone
  • Need to send transcribed voicemail to email
  • Would like to be able to remap it to ring other phones

Products  considered were Skype, Frig, Line2 and Jumblo.  You know what, I am not going to do a detailed review because none of these will actually solve my problem, they are designed to get around long distance rates.  A useful tool but not what I need.

So this is lame but what I am going to do is use my cell phone pretty normally, including the number I have.

The only wrinkle is using either the terribly named fusion voice mail plus or youmail to get visual voicemail functionality for free and possibly paying for transcription with youmail if visual voicemail plus’s free offering doesn’t do what I want.   It isn’t that the other services are not good, they seem fine, but they are just not offering a solution for my problem, which is not wanting to actually talk to people on the phone.

So I will try both of these and update you when I know more about which works with actual calls.

Chipping off the old Docs- Dropping Docs

Along with voice and gmail there is another product I use almost every day, Google Docs.  I use it to track my time at work.  And to keep my resume.   And all my training certs.

Yea there are a lot of things.

This is one where I don’t have a final solution for yet, but I do have a stopgap that is working pretty well for me.

I like Libre Office and it has been my other solution for word processing, spreadsheets and the like.

For now I am downloading all my Google Documents, putting them in Dropbox so they have the same availability. (well almost, it isn’t as good on the phone)

I am not sure this is a final solution, but it is working for me for now.

Spreading the Word- Replacing SMS via Voice

Sometimes replacements are actually better.

SMS is a great way to send quick short messages, but usually only to one person.

I can use  a interesting  android app to send SMS messages with my GMX account,  I admit I have not tried this yet, but it is my plan to replace “normal” texting.

But today is the first day of Dragon*Con and coordinating with a group is going to be important, so I am setting up a GroupMe number to text everyone in our group.  This gives us a unique number- send a text there and everyone in the group gets it with attribution.  You can also call that number and it creates a conference call.  You can set the number up to persist or to end and dissolve the group at a specific time.

This is not a complete replacement for voice, but I found that it was something that I used often once I had it and that I am turning to more now that I am turning away from voice.

Wrapping Up My Inbox- Sending GMail Away.

Of all the things I have dreaded about this process GMail is one of the biggest bears I set myself up to wrestle with (the phone is the only bigger problem).

I have been waffling about this one.  EMail is such a big part of your online identity and I have had my GMail address for a very long time- I got it in 2005 or 2006.   I am also sentimental about it.  My first message there was an “I Love You” from my late husband who gave me the invite and wanted to start my account off right.  I admit I don’t want another email that can’t have the same first message.

So yea, I might not be able to give this one up completely, but it is time to try.

What I need:

  • Free- if I am gonna pay I need at least my own domain name
  • Lots of storage – ok well maybe not a lot, I am using .7 GB on gmail now, but I don’t want to worry about storage like I used to have to
  • Ideally it would be free
  • I want my name
  • As clean an interface as possible
  • Help with switching over
  • Strong spam filtering

I looked at three services

  • MailQuatro

MailQuatro – This came from a recommendation by Steve Bogart and it was a good one overall . This is a business oriented service and some of the features are strongly informed by that.  Each account has the opportunity for multiple addresses that are centrally monitored and given a subdomain.  They only keep email for a year. The interface is clean and simple- reminiscent of outlook and the one I liked the best.  If I had kids I might like the spy on them feature, but it was enough to creep me out and make this not a choice.  The losing everything over a year old also was a huge minus. 5GB free- This is my favorite address, so it has that advantage.  I find the interface a little clunky and reminiscent of the slings and arrows of old myspace pages, too many icons.   The service seems solid enough and they have some extras and offer instructions on  importing your contacts, setting up your pop account and the like.

I should also note that they will do hosting for free on your own domain, you just need to edit the MX registry.

There is nothing wrong that I can see with and it does give you the most memorable email address, but it will not be my choice. 5GB free- I saw this recommended by Madeline Grey.  While I had seen it before I was under the impression it was just a forwarding service and not a full mailhost. I was wrong.

The sign up is easy and non-intrusive.  The design is fairly clean and easy to change to my preferred black and white scheme.   The service walks you through linking your emails in the most user friendly way I have seen.  You can also have alias addresses that work with the same account. Checking the forwarding from GMail it seems to get to that inbox at almost the same time.

GMX is a good service on it’s own and might have won out on that alone, but it has a X factor that means it wins for me.  Their servers run on green energy which would not be a deciding factor for be but is enough to clearly tip the scales for me.

Falling off the Blog – Writing Off Blogger

This whole project has resulted in a new identity for me, a daily blogger.  I don’t know if I can sustain it, but blogging often has made me more sensitive to the needs of the regular blogger, but I am not an experienced voice or a high volume blogger.    I am also not popular so changing my URL instead of remapping was something I could do.

Let me start by explaining what I did not need.  I have an account on Dreamwidth that I use for very personal posts.  I like the community, the philosophy and I feel comfortable there.  So I didn’t need a place to share personal stuff.. well sort of.

I use blogs for things I want to share publicly,  and I have wanted to share with some privacy.  I have reconciled myself to some loss of personal privacy in this endeavor, but  I am still embarrassed to admit that my other blog is about manners.   Yea, sorry about that.

I decided to share because I want to show what my two options actually looked like before and after. This is the before.  The afters are coming.

But before that these were my requirements:

  • Easy to use- that means a rich text editor and set up that doesn’t take long.
  • Custom URL- yea I don’t need it but I want it
  • Post from phone
  • Post from email

As you can see this is not a huge list of requirements, so I had a lot of options.  I did not consider Tunblr because danah boyd had a really bad experience with them not respecting her namespace.  I did consider posterous and wordpress.

Posterous- the import of the posts was handled automatically but took almost 24 hours, the about pages did not import.  I was able to pick a theme and apply a custom stylesheet to remove authorship information.  They have an andriod app and email posting works well.  I have not tested it but I believe images import with local storage as well.  Overall this is a clean, modern site with a lot of options and support.  It was pretty easy to get the sort of clean look I like.  You can see the results here

Overall posterous might be the better option but the long import time was a huge drawback.  I decided to not use it for reasons that mostly have to do with convenience.  I did not buy a custom URL but that interface looks clean, a year is $25 but there are reductions for making a longer commitment and it includes 10 email addresses.

WordPress- This is where goodbye google lives so it had a huge advantage in that I did not have to learn something new.  The import was much faster with wordpress, but like Posterous it did not import the pages.  I was not able to remove authorship information and could not use a different name without having an additional account, a headache I do not want.  This normally would have been enough for me to not use wordpress, but I knew I was coming out of the manners closet anyway so I decided to live with it.  The look could use more work, but it was easy to get a basic clean look.  You can see the results here.

I did buy a URL though wordpress.  The URL was reasonable at $4 a year, the mapping was $12 and I would have had to pay that even if I had owned the domain.  If I wanted private registration, something most companies offer by default, it was an additional $8 so it would come to about $26, comperable with posterious but without email addresses.

So while posterous was more modern and seemed like a better value I decided to go with wordpress because having all my eggs in once basket is just more convenient.  If I do decide to do hosting later I might move things, but this works for me now.




Going my own way- Leaving Google Maps

This is the product that I was most nervous about and most pleased with the result.

I should start by saying that maps are my business, so my uses for Maps include some unusual needs, I have figured out how to replace those  so here I am just going to be focusing on what I use maps for in my personal life.

There were basically two- Dots on a Map and GPS replacement

Putting dots on a map- You have a spreadsheet with addresses or even lats and longs and you want to see them on a map and maybe even see some data under it.

In the past the options would have been limited.  There is Bing which is just going to Microsoft.  There is the very virtuous Open Street Map which has great ethics but a clunker of an interface.

Luckily there is a fairly new option that does what I want much better ArcGis online is the public webmapping platform created by the worlds largest professional map software company.  The depth shows in the data available, but the interface is easy to use.   To get that spreadsheet up you just pick your basemap and then drag and drop your spreadsheet on to the screen.  This is a good product for this application.

GPS Replacement- I found a product with ethics I can get behind, an interface that is more fun and that meets my requirements for turn by turn navigation from an android app Waze is, so far, all win for me on the GPS replacement front, and it makes just driving around a lot of fun because I can up my score by improving their maps!

I can’t get rid of Google Maps on my phone until I root it, and I am not doing that until after Dragon*Con, but I deleted all my data and downgraded it.   I am ready to get it off my phone now thanks to Waze. 🙂

Tune Time – Google Music

Yea this one is still in beta but I have gotten dependent already.

I listen to music when I am editing data at work, books on tape during road trips and sometimes I walk and listen to one or both of these.

My needs are

  • Cloud storage for a largeish collection that includes a fair number of mash ups.
  • Android app
  • Online app that doesn’t suck
  • Uploading that is not terriable

Looking at it I found two services that might work

  • Amazon Cloud Player- 5GB free, more if I buy space for them.  Upload and webapp.
  • MP3Tunes- 2GB free, uploader and webapp

I am uploading to MP3Tunes right now.  They suit my preference for smaller companies and more importantly for me they were the ones who stood up in court against record labels to allow for this kind of service.  Standing up to restrictive IP regimes makes me want to do business with them.

So far I have been pleased but I will update later after using.

After a day of use I am still pleased, this will probably work for me

Moving Time- Finding a New Calendar

One of the things that I really need is a calendar.  I can bop along fine without it when life is going soothly, but in stressful circumstances I lose track of time.

What I have to have

  • Support for following my derby teams calendar which is still google
  • Being able to share with the other members of my family
  • Being able to integrate with Outlook for work
  • Being able to use it on my phone

What I looked at

  • Yahoo!– This is actually pretty slick and capable, it supports imports and sharing and will text to my phone.  All the same I don’t want to just move from being Google dependent to being yahoo dependent and it doesn’t seem to have a phone app.
  • Zoho– This is capable of everything I need except having a mobile phone app, so it is high on the list.  The design is ok, but really looks like office furniture on your screen.
  • 30 boxes– One of the first social calendering platforms, it is beautiful and clean as a design, and the life stream intergration with other services is nice, but if doesn’t work on my phone like I want.  If the phone thing isn’t important to you this is a good choice with a solid privacy policy.
  • Cozi– This is what I ended up using.  It has everything I had to have and a privacy policy I don’t hate.  The outlook add in is a little flaky, but it works, the phone app works and the sharing works.  Event notices leave something to be desired, but that isn’t a huge complaint.  The biggest problem for me is that this is so obviously mommy wear that I am scared I might be forced to be adorable and crisp (or whatever the adjectives or the moment are) just for using it

Reading Alone- RSS Readers

Today’s Task- A New Newsreader.

The first thing I have come to terms with is that the social features of Google, no one seems to offer that for more than one service.

My other requirements are:

  • Online because I use it at work and home, otherwise I would consider feedemon
  • Not suck on mobile browsers or have an app
  • Work with podcasts

Which doesn’t seem too demanding.

I started with Violet Blue’s solution – News Blur.  This has a lot of things going for it, but I have more then 64 feed and I am not sure I am willing to pay for that.  The interface is nice and it has mobile apps so this is a good choice if you don’t have much in reader.  The import was the slickest here.

Another good option seems like bloglines, but personally I don’t care for tabs as an visual choice and their privacy policy made me very uncomfortable.  It could still be a good choice if you want a desktop format.

Right now I am using feedshow and I think I have a winner here.  The format is clean, the OMPL import worked well, my podcasts play.  The support is in a public forum format linked right to the front page and the developer includes his email. I have even taken my accout out of moth balls in hopes of using the built in buttons to replicate some of the social fun of reader.

On the downside feedshow doesn’t have an an app and the page doesn’t scroll properly on my phone.   These are annoying downsides, but I decided I could live with them.

If you have other suggestions I am all ears.