There was a time when Gmail accounts were seemingly scarce and required an invitation. Chances are you most likely would have had an AOL, Yahoo!, or maybe an email from your Internet provider. Through invitations in the limited beta release and the eventual release, Gmail became the go-to for email.
The Ubiquitous Google
- Phone and laptop hardware
- Digital and contact-less payments
- Push Notifications
- Chat apps
- Conference apps
- Web Browsing
- Web Hosting
- Web Search
- General Document Storage (ala Dropbox)
Google naturally expanded to all the above, and more, in the past decade plus. I see it as a case of too many eggs in one basket. If I were to lose access to my Google Account, whether through hijacking or some violation of Google’s Terms of Service, I’d be losing access to a huge part of my life. Email alone is the main component to make accounts in other services outside of Google. Due to this, it’s the most sticky product that Google has. Luckily, there are alternatives.
Email has become all but synonymous with Gmail. If you’re trading contact information with most people, you’ll likely be exchanging a Gmail or GSuite connected emails. Gmail is not the only option. Here are a few alternatives I’ve tried out, both of which you’ll have to pay for but will grant you some privileges that a regular Gmail doesn’t bear.
No matter what service you seek, a good tip is to buy and register your own domain to have some ownership and add personality to your email. You can, for example, have an email of the form [first_name]@[last_name].com if you register a domain [last_name].com In addition, having your own domain allows you to move between services, giving you freedom from being tied to one service like Gmail. You just need to make sure to pay the bills for the domain and email services.
Based in Melbourne, Australia, Fastmail comes with three primary products: email, contacts, and calendar. They have a great browser interface along with native phone apps and the price point is affordable. You can selectively use email only and ignore the other two if you want your current service (Google or other) to continue covering them. You can try it for 30 days for free then either drop it or start paying for the service to maintain the account.
I’m currently using it as my primary email within the Standard tier as it allows for a custom domain. This way, I can receive email through addresses tied to the @aavina.com
As a side-note, Fastmail is the founder of the open JMAP protocol. It’s an attempt to get away from proprietary email protocols such as those hooked into Gmail.
ProtonMail’s main pitch is end-to-end encrypted emails. While a bit pricier than other email services, you do get the nifty built-in encryption with some caveats. Emails sent between ProtonMail accounts will automatically be E2E encrypted, but most of the cases may be sending emails to non-ProtonMail addresses. In the latter case the sender will have the option of sending the message in plain text or encrypting it but with a key that would have to be communicated to the receiver. ProtonMail provides a free tier that’ll let you test drive the experience.
While I appreciate ProtonMail’s ease of use with their encryption, it has to bank on user adoption to truly foster. Ultimately one can encrypt any message and send it through whichever service without the need of a ProtonMail. In addition, users of encrypted channels may not want to have a copy of their messages, encrypted or no, stored in Protonmail servers.
Google Hangouts Alternatives
Google Hangouts (previously gTalk) has been around for sometime and picked up a following when it was integrated into Gmail. It has since become stale in comparison to other messaging services. Its future is unclear with how Google is shuffling around their applications.
Started by Nikolai and Pavel Durov, these brothers founded VK, the “Russian Facebook”, prior to setting up Telegram. They’ve refused to cooperate with governments in giving them back door access to the service and thus are banned in countries such as China and Russia. Much like WhatsApp, signing up requires a phone number.
Features include the following:
- Group chats
- Channels to broadcast 1 to many messages
- Great, customizable UI
- Optional 1-to-1, end-to-end encrypted messages
- Encrypted voice calls
- Open source but with caveat of Telegram servers storing contacts, non-E2E messages, and media on their servers with decryption keys
- ..and more!
I’ve chosen Telegram as my primary messenger service since it has a great UI along with being feature-rich. This makes it easier to draw people in to use it!
Working within the new federated Matrix protocol, Riot.im provides an IRC like experience while bringing modern features like end-to-end group + individual chat, video, and file sharing while allowing the user to connect to any server they please. They have plenty of clients ranging from desktop to mobile phones. It’s also a great alternative to proprietary services like Slack or Discord.
Riot.im gives the user freedom in controlling their private keys for end-to-end encryption. A con of this is less tech-savvy people may struggle with configurations related to encryption, but Riot does a great job at abstracting it out while having it available for power users. Signing up for servers via Riot.im is liberating as it only requires you to sign up with a user name while keeping email optional, though an email makes it easier for friends to find you.
Try it out via the Riot.im browser app! Just make up a user name and password, then use their explore feature to find a room you may be interested in. Search for a hobby or interest and have fun. Feel free to send me a message at @riotacon:matrix.org
I hope this helps provide some clarity in alternative options to Google services. Have a great time exploring what’s out there! If you want to chat about any of these or have questions, you can reach out to me via email (bottom of this post) or on my Riot.im account (bottom of Riot.im section).