Adieu, Gmail

(Crossposted from lucidfox.org)

Normally, I don’t care for Google+, or Facebook, or other similar “social” noise. I once had a Facebook profile before it became, well, the Facebook of today and was still a relatively low-profile place which I could conveniently use for my and other people’s contact details.

Normally, I also pay little attention to the privacy concerns surrounding Google’s web services since pretty much their inception.

However, the recent pseudonymity controversy demonstrated that Google’s “don’t be evil” motto did not pass a reality check. Google has demonstrated that it would rather allow the jerkassery to continue than listen to the concerns of the very community Google+ is supposed to be supporting. Typically for a corporation, money — in this case, advertising revenue — won over civility and common sense.

It is always sad to see a corporation damage its popular support through bulldozing tactics, because ultimately it harms both the corporation and the community. When Wikia, capitalizing on the success of the wiki model, unilaterally imposed its new skin on hosted wikis against the wishes of their contributions, it caused many of them to fork the projects — including the flagship, WoWWiki — and move elsewhere. The result was dissipation, confusion, and the reduction of Wikia’s role as the leading host for specialized wikis. The remains of forked projects remained as rotting carcasses — again against the wishes of the community. Wikia would rather profit from advertisements on dead but popularly visited wikis than put them out of their misery.

Google, likewise, had the potential to be a great all-in-one Internet company, trusted by casual users and power users alike. There were a few things about its web services that made me raise an eyebrow in the past: increasingly obtrusive integration (no, please, don’t add annoying useless “features” to Gmail unless I enable them explicitly), censorship on YouTube (which I left earlier, seeing how many videos were blocked in Russia or vice versa, enabled _only_ on Russia), personal censorship of search results, Gmail privacy concerns, and so on. Instead, they chose the path of alienating themselves — the corporate equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and saying “la la la, not listening”. It’s a tragedy — both for Google and for the users.

So be it, then. As I said, I wouldn’t use Google+ even without the real name policy, since I don’t care about that particular site, but the trend is worrying and Google’s behavior — from addressing the wrong problem to silencing its own employees — is extremely offputting. I find it better to jump ship now than later regret postponing it too much.

Under different circumstances, I wouldn’t consider leaving Gmail. From a technical perspective, it’s a fast, reliable, and highly flexible mail service. If I only cared about the technical perspective, I’d stay and recommend it to others. But I care about ethics. Luckily, I used my ubuntu.com email address almost exclusively, rather than my Gmail address directly, so all it required was pointing my Launchpad account to the newly enabled account managed by my hosting provider.

Here’s a possible lesson to be learned: keep your online identity in your own hands. Count on the possibility you’ll want to switch services, and manage your online handles in a way that they can be easily redirected to another service provider, if needed. In programming terms, keep the interface separate from the implementation.