9. Dezember 2019

My personal Google alternatives – You do not need Google

Over the past few weeks, I've been thinking about privacy and data security on the internet. I am not a big fan of Google but much of my work is relying on a lot of their services. Recently I decided to step out of the Google ecosystem and with this blog post I want to show you, that you can do that too. I went on the hunt after some Google alternatives.

Feeding Google with data

Once part of the Google ecosystem, unencrypted plain date hovers over their servers. Several articles in the past have revealed that Google has repeatedly worked with the FBI and the NSA on user data. Although I've been using Google products for a long time (especially Gmail and Drive), that's no reason to completely ignore my privacy on the Internet. Even now, I can still take the first step and tear myself away from the Google ecosystem. In this blog post, I want to show what Google alternatives there are, and how they integrate into my current workflow.

Gmail and its 1.5 billion active users

One of the most well-known and most-used products of Google is (besides their search engine of course) Gmail. The email service has 1.5 billion active users. I started my email adventure with Outlook. More specifically with Hotmail, which integrated into Outlook in 2012. One year later, people got aware that Outlook, like other email providers, reads emails and stores them unencrypted on their servers. Apart from hat Outlook have their headquarters and thus their servers in the US. And they are known to have no strict privacy policies. If you want to have more security regarding emails with Outlook, you have to pay for it (Office 365).

Do not get me wrong, I also like to spend money on it if my data security is more granted to me. But before I give my money to a group like Microsoft, I prefer to look for an alternative that really values my privacy.

Getting rid of Chrome

In my early years, I did not care that my data is not safe in a multi-trillion dollar US corporation. That's why I set up a Gmail address as well. If we anticipate the year 2019, I am not so happy with my decision at the time. I try step by step to get rid of the individual Google products. One page that was and still is very helpful to me is Nomoregoogle. The project by Pieter Levels is an overview of the individual services, with suggestions for Google alternatives.

Through this page, I became aware of Firefox again. I'm a Chrome Poweruser, I use a lot of extensions and add-ons. Chrome always made me feel faster than any other browser. So I did not care about the competition, nor test any new browsers. However, when I downloaded the latest version of Firefox, I was extremely surprised. The user interface was clean and the design looked appealing. I found myself thinking that the UI actually looked better than Chrome's.

Switching to Firefox

However, before I finally got the hang of it, I had to be sure that the individual extensions that I use in Chrome are also available as addons in Firefox. And indeed, I found every single one in the Firefox addon store (but still searching for an Workona alternative). At the time, I felt a bit bad, as I've always believed that Chrome is by far the best browser, and everyone else is miles away in terms of features. In fact, I lived under a rock. Firefox is a great browser that does a lot better than Google Chrome, first and foremost Privacy. It took a few hours with Firefox and it already felt like I had never used another browser. Other alternatives for Google Chrome would include Opera, Brave or Vivaldi.

Can you replace Google Search?

Next up was Google Search on my list. Google tracks every single search query and then also each of your next steps. Within a short time, Google knows in this way, what you were looking for, what search results you clicked on and finally what you did on this page. It's sometimes scary that Google is more likely to know about our user behavior than we think. WIRED wrote an exciting article about how we are getting tracked by Google. There are already some search engines on the market that do not track a single click from you.

Unfortunately, many do not provide numerous and accurate results that Google often provides. Startpage.com was the best solution in my opinion. The company is based in the Netherlands and has servers in the US as well as in the EU. Startpage will provide you with all search results you would have received with Google. However, with the small and subtle difference that not a single click is getting tracked. Once you do a search through Startpage, Google has no chance to continue to follow you online.

Google alternatives when it comes to search

Probably the best-known alternative to Google in terms of security is DuckDuckGo. Maybe you wonder now why I did not resort to this search. DuckDuckGo gets a lot of media attention and it turns out that they are safer than Google but not really better. Why? DuckDuckGo is based in America, has its servers there and is thus subject to the Patriot Act (as well as Google). In addition, they host on Amazon servers, which is not known to be the best solution for data security. For more information on this, I recommend the following blog post "I found this flaw in DuckDuckGo". So if you want to search Google privately and securely, you should rely on the service of Startpage.

Update 13.2.2020: Back in November 2019 Startpage got bought by System1, a company that focuses on targeted advertising. There hasn't been any statement about whether Startpage will still focus on their privacy-first approach. Therefore I would suggest using services like Qwant or Ecosia, which are both good private search engines.

How I tried to replace Gmail, and somehow succeeded

My email activities happen, as mentioned earlier, in Gmail. Accordingly, I also use a Gmail address. Google has long ago admitted that for advertising purposes, they monitored users' email activity. Since the 2017/18, Google stopped doing this espionage work. Third-party email clients, such as Spark, Edison, Newton, etc. can still read along with your emails. A report by the Wallstreet Journal revealed this fact (App developers sifting through your gmail). One company that was mentioned in the media over and over again was Return Path. It could be confirmed that the employees of this company have read over 8,000 emails of their users. Sadly, with services like Spark, user data is collected and eventually sold.

If you google for named email clients and add "privacy issues" to your search you will be overwhelmed with numerous results. If you want to securely write and manage emails, you should use the stock email apps of the respective operating systems. But what if I do not like the UX? Or do I need functions that many other email clients have implemented? At the time of writing this blog post, there is no real answer. Unless you take certain circumstances to complete.

Is this the safest email service? Introducing ProtonMail

During my search for an alternative for Gmail, I became aware of ProtonMail. ProtonMail is located in Switzerland. A country that has a very strict privacy policy. With ProtonMail all emails are encrypted end-to-end. If the recipient does not use ProtonMail, then you can add the encryption manually. The company was founded in 2013 by Jason Stockman, Andy Yen and Wei Sun. All of them are employees at the CERN research facility. With ProtonMail, you get a completely new email domain. If you want to use a custom domain, you have to pay for a ProtonMail Plus Account. ProtonMail is basically free.

Free but limited

However, the free version of the email provider has certain disadvantages. The memory amounts to 500 MB and 150 emails a day can be sent maximum. The paid subscriptions start at 5 € per month or 48 € per year. But you get 5 GB of memory, 1000 emails a day, 200 folders/labels, 1 custom domain, and normal support.

If you need more storage you can top it up for 1 € per month or 9 € per year per GB. Likewise, if you want to use more custom domains, you can buy them for $ 2 a month or $ 18 a year per domain. A memory of 500 MB is not much and will not be enough for most users. So someone who writes a little more emails than the average a day, already access the paid subscription. 5 GB are available for this. Compared to the 15 GB that everyone gets free at Gmail. In return, ProtonMail offers some security provisions. On the one hand, this includes the already mentioned end-to-end encryption.

Free does not mean free

In addition, ProtonMail has no access to your encrypted user data. The company uses proven and trusted algorithms for these encryptions. The hard drives used by ProtonMail are also fully encrypted and stored in secure data centers. So far so good. ProtonMail offers everything you are looking for when it comes to security in your emails. You realize how often the saying "If the product is free, you are the product" is true. Every time I discover a new email client that advertises, among other things, being free, the alarm bells ring. Because in most cases you pay with your personal data. So if you put a lot of emphasis on data security, you should be ready to pay for it. Because often it is smaller companies that try to fight against corporations like Google and to provide more security on the Internet.

Why I still have to use Gmail

With a new email via ProtonMail, however, I personally face another problem. I currently use Superhuman as my email client. Superhuman currently supports only Gmail and Gsuite accounts. Of course, I could use my new Custom Email from ProtonMail inside Gmail. Because over each Gmail account you can call up and send other emails. That happens, for whatever reason, with the deprecated service POP3. In addition, retrieving and sending emails via POP3 within Gmail does not really work in my favor. It is extremely slow and the emails are also retrieved irregularly. This situation "forced" me into a workflow that I appreciate more and more recently. My main smartphone is an Android Phone. S

Superhuman Mobile is currently only available on iOS. So I am not tempted to constantly look at my emails on my smartphone. I focus much more on my work and know, once I'm at home, I can handle all my emails on my MacBook with Superhuman. Of course, I use Gmail on my Android Phone and still have access to emails in emergencies on my smartphone. My basic plan is currently hosting my private emails via ProtonMail. In order to use my email client, I have to integrate these email addresses into existing Google accounts. As soon as Superhuman stops concentrating on Google and Gsuite accounts, but also offers the possibility to create IMAP accounts, there is no reason for me to use Gmail for my email traffic any more. Which also separates me from this Google service.

Alternatives for Google Docs & Google Sheets

I've never used Google Docs or Google Sheets great. Therefore, it was not difficult for me to find alternatives. If you're a hardcore Google Sheets user looking for an alternative, check out Airtable. Partly spreadsheets and partly databases, Airtable acts as an excellent tool to easily organize anything, with anyone, anywhere. Among other things, I use Airtable as a database for the content that I share in my weekly newsletter, Creativerly. So I always have the opportunity to check if I want to share something which I have posted before. If you want to know about my weekly newsletter you can check out my blog post about it. But now let's get back to some Google alternatives.

As for Google Docs, I prefer Notion. I was a year-long Evernote user. Until I finally switched to Notion a year ago. For me, Notion is an all-in-one workspace where everything comes together. I do not use it primarily as a simple notes app, as well as I've used Evernote. Rather, it serves as a project management tool to give structure to my projects. Of these notes can be a part. For quick and intuitive writing, however, Workflowy is my favorite. At the beginning of 2019, I started Bullet Journaling. Workflowy is based on a bulleting system, which makes it my absolute favorite for quick notes. So for my use-case Airtable and Notion are the perfect Google Alternatives, when it comes to Docs and Sheets.

Moving on to Cloud storage

As a cloud service, I use Dropbox. Google Drive was never my first choice as the Mac app "Backup & Sync" was extremely slow and took up a lot of my RAM. When it comes to privacy and security also Dropbox was already in the criticism. Still, Dropbox cloud storage is one of the safest. Over the past week, I wondered if I should not switch to an even safer option. The reason for this is the fact that I prefer the data and data centers of such services to be located in Europe, or even in my home country. Nextcloud provides an interesting alternative in this respect. Nextcloud provides free software that allows data to be stored on its own server.

It is a perfect alternative to commercial products such as Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive. By installing Nextcloud on a private server or webspace (which, happens at no extra cost), users are always in control of their data. When Frank Karlitschek announced Nextcloud as a fork of ownCloud on June 2, 2016, he aimed to make users independent of service providers on the Internet. We all know that many vendors market their users commercially. A certain privacy or data security is not given. Nextcloud enables completely own data sovereignty. Meanwhile, the Informationstechnikzentrum Bund (Germany), as well as authorities from France, Sweden, and the Netherlands are enthusiastic about this data sovereignty, so they use Nextcloud for the file exchange.

Conclusion

So I found an alternative for every single Google product I have used. Only to Gmail I still hold on. However, I am in good spirits that Superhuman will soon enable the use of other email services as well. As soon as this is possible, I can also turn my back on Gmail.

Just because I no longer use Google services does not mean that my data is protected on the Internet. However, I have made a huge step in the right direction. Let me know which Google alternatives you are using.


Disclaimer: My posts may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links you won't pay a penny more, but I'll get a small commission, which supports this blog and also my side-projects. So considering buying something through my links. Thank you!


You are a forward-thinking creative mind and you are interested in new apps, tools, software, resources to boost your workflow and productivity? Well, you should definitely consider subscribing to my weekly digest Creativerly. Every Sunday I drop you a nicely and carefully curated email, packed with useful tools, apps, software, resources, books, blog post, for creative folks. If you want to get a taste of it, you can scroll through the archive or just go ahead and subscribe.

21. November 2019

How I started to build designsupplies – a collection of design resources

In my first blog post, I have already announced my latest side-project, designsupplies, a collection of design resources and tools for creative people. In this update, I'd like to go into a bit more detail on how the idea came about. Likewise, this blog post is also about the status quo of the project.

The idea for designsupplies came from my love for Content Curation. Through my weekly newsletter, Creativerly, I'm already following that love. I collect tools, apps, software, design resources, books, podcasts. Those may not only be of interest to me but to creative minds in general. Creativerly is a medium through which readers can increase their creativity and productivity. Every Sunday, the newsletter reaches 55 subscribers. My goal is to generate 100 subscribers within 12 months. I only have four months left for this goal. The number of subscribers stagnated recently. Therefore, I had to think about what tactics I use to still crack the 100 subscribers. Read more about this in my separate blog post "Growing my Newsletter to 100 Subscribers - my journey so far". So, back to designsupplies.

Building up an archive of design resources

Through the constant collection of design resources, I created a huge archive over the years. I used several resources from that archive in the course of various projects. Now I want to make this archive public. Designsupplies aims to support many designers and creative minds in their next project. I'm aware that there are already many websites that provide design resources. However, I noticed that most of those websites display the same resources over and over again.

My archive contains different categories. Apps, tools, and software. Plugins, browsers, and extensions. General design resources (like UI kits, templates, vector graphics, themes, etc.). Books and blog posts, as well as podcasts and lectures. In addition, technology continues to evolve. More and more apps, tools, and software coming onto the market. So one of my main intentions is to keep designsupplies up to date. I want to make sure that always the latest resources are available to users.

Before I start a new project, I start with thorough research and evaluation. As part of designsupplies, I took a closer look at other resource sites. What interested me most was what these other websites did right. But also what they dig wrong. On top of that, I wanted to know what design resources they advertised. What social media channels they represented. What marketing strategies they followed. How they monetized their website. After this evaluation phase, I decided for myself that it is definitely worth the time and energy to plunge into the new project. The analysis of the "competitors" turned out to me that there are some points that I could improve.

Securing the domain

Another important step for me was to secure the domain as well as the username on social media. I opted for designsupplies.xyz. because .xyz domains are quite cheap and the internet is overflowing with .com domains anyway. Through an offer from Namecheap I got the domain for a price of € 1.16 for the first year. After that, it renews itself for a price of 11,75€. Compared to my .design domain (for my portfolio website philipptemmel.design) it is 30 € less. In most cases, I will decide in the first year if I will continue a project. So, of course, I try to keep the costs as low as possible, so a domain that costs me 1.16€ in the first year is very convenient for me.

How to build a MVP

Next, I had to think about how to finally implement the project online. The CMS WordPress would be obvious in my case. Why? Because I have been working with WordPress for several years. For many of my projects, I have been using WordPress. I am familiar with the setup. Therefore, I am able to not lose any time during the launch because I do not have to learn a new CMS. From the beginning, I can concentrate straight on the content. Of course, I also need a web server/hosting to use WordPress. Because I recently shut down another side-project (read more in my first blog post "Time to kill my side-project and start a new one") I already had a web server. The webserver I currently own at World4You. Their packages start at 4.90€ per month and go up to 14.90€ per month.

Themes or complete custom?

At the time of writing this blog post, I am working on the final Webdesign of designsupplies. I'm still undecided about whether I should actually use WordPress for the implementation. WordPress has a huge number of users. Thus, the community keeps developing the CMS through themes and website builders.

A good example of this are the guys and girls from Elegant Themes and to be more specific, their product Divi. It's one of the most-installed WordPress themes, as it has a distinct advantage. Divi installs like any other WordPress theme. However, you do not use the customizer of WordPress to design the individual pages. But you will have a dedicated website builder from Divi within the theme. Thus, you get your own backend within WordPress. This allows you to create dynamic and modern websites without having to write a single line of code. A particularly large selection of different themes for WordPress is available on Themeforest.

Webflow: the best option to build a website in 2019

Another tool that has been attracting attention for some time is Webflow. Webflow offers users an amazing all-in-one solution. CMS, hosting and one of the most advanced and innovative website builders. Although Webflow has a certain learning curve, you can sign up for free and work on two projects as long as you want.

However, as soon as you want to link a Custom Domain or get more out of your website, you have to switch to a paid model. These start at as low as $ 12 per month (if deducted per year) for the Basic Site Plan. It is impressive to see so many creative minds breaking the barrier of code. Webflow's user base continues to grow. There are resource sites such as Flowbase, which specializes in providing only Webflow resources. The projects can then get cloned. So even inexperienced Webflow users can start with their website project. Webflow itself also provides some user-generated resources. You can use them to get you started in Webflow.

Steep learning curve

In the beginning, I was a little skeptical about Webflow. It seemed like it has a steep learning curve. Because of that, I decided to create my first MVP in the form of a landing page with WordPress. The landing page I created was solely for the benefit of informing interested users of what designsupplies actually is. The user who came to the site for the first time already read in the Hero section that this page is about design resources and tools. Driven by interest, the user was able to move around the site to get more information. To stay in contact and inform interested users I set up a mailing list.

Subscribers to the newsletter will be the first to hear about new blog posts and updates. At the bottom of the landing page, the users found a little description of myself. I also wrote some words about why I started designsupplies. Here I also linked to my blog again, as I am posting updates on my projects. This was my (first) MVP, which I applied to win users before the official launch.

Get early feedback

These then have the added value that they can take part in the entire creation process, as I always inform them in the course of updates. So it is also possible for me to include direct feedback in my project. It is important for me to get to know other perspectives of my project early on. Users usually see the project in very different ways than I do. Sharing with users is therefore essential.

However, this MVP did not last long. I soon discovered that Webflow is definitely the better solution. Not just for the MVP, but for the entire project as well. After a few Youtube tutorials and blog posts, I felt fit to work on my first designs in Webflow. A weekend investment was enough and I released the second version of my MVP, which is still online now.

The status quo of designsupplies

The status quo of the project looks like this: The MVP is online and available in the form of a landing page. Likewise, I have also set up a mailing list or a newsletter. For this I use Mailerlite. I started at Mailchimp with my personal newsletter Creativerly. After several newsletters sent, my account got closed. No warning, neither instructions from Mailchimp how to solve this problem. After several attempts to contact the support, I decided to leave Mailchimp. So I made the switch to Mailerlite. Mailerlite is easy to use and offers great possibilities using blocks and a Drag'n'Drop Editor. So you can design and edit emails to your preferences.

The move from Mailchimp to Mailerlite was as easy as there is an import function. The first 1,000 subscribers, as well as 12,000 emails per month, are free. Great and sufficient for getting started. Through this mailing list, I would like to notify prospects directly if I have updates regarding designsupplies. In addition, I will also prepare special news about apps, software, tools, and design resources only for newsletter subscribers.

Focusing on social media

I also focus on social media. Twitter and Reddit are my go-to's. But also Instagram seems to be a good fit. You wonder why these three channels and why not Facebook? I use Twitter because the design community (especially in the tech sector) has a strong presence on Twitter. That's exactly what I want to achieve in the first place. Instagram has strong creative and design community too. Although a lot of content seems to be generic. More and more sites grew an incredible user base by only sharing user-generated content. Nevertheless, I saw some good engagement rates from previous projects while using Instagram.

Facebook is useless

Facebook turned out to be rather useless for me a few times. Even if a page has collected a certain amount of "Likes" and built up a user base, you can reach only a very small part of the users. If you want to reach all users you have to take a lot of marketing budget into your hands and place ads. At least on Twitter, as well as on Instagram, there is still the possibility to win organic new users. Reddit is somehow an underdog. There are some design related subreddits with a large active user base. Posting a project or blog post to Reddit has also positive effects on SEO. With my newsletter project Creativerly I have made some good experiences posting content to Reddit. If you haven't focused on Reddit, you should definitely try it out.

How to monetize a side-project

In addition, I also wondered what ways exist to monetize the project. While this may not be the first motivation when working on a side project, I like to consider the possibilities right at the beginning. So I know what steps I can take as soon as I reach a certain number of users.

If I realize that the project is well received and therefore there is traffic, I will consider advertising on the one hand. However, I do not want any irrelevant ads, but those concerning the topic of the page. This is possible with carbon ads. Because they aim with their ad network exactly on designers and developers. Another option would be Affiliate Networks. Since domain and hosting providers are also part of designsupplies, I can use affiliate links. A third option would be partnerships. However, this possibility is likely to be an option only when traffic has increased significantly.

The next steps

The next important step, as already mentioned, is to finalize the web design in order to start the implementation in Webflow. Working with Webflow has also brought me into greater contact with the entire no-code movement. A true pioneer in this field is definitely Ben Tossel. With his website makerpad.co he has created a true Eldorado for all makers. Tutorials, templates and a large community. Everyone can learn the skills to implement ideas without code.

I will soon write a blog post about the whole no-code movement, which is growing faster thanks to people like Ben Tossel. The fact that anyone can make a website, a web app or even a mobile app without any technical understanding and without the help of a programmer to design and build is just terrific. But as I said, that's another topic for another blog post. So much to say, I, as a designer, will definitely benefit from the many no-code opportunities that exist now, as I use them in every one of my projects.

On this blog, I'll keep you up to date on the status of designsupplies. You can also subscribe to my newsletter, where I share status updates from time to time.


Disclaimer: My posts may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links you won't pay a penny more, but I'll get a small commission, which supports this blog and also my side-projects. So considering buying something through my links. Thank you!


You are a forward-thinking creative mind and you are interested in new apps, tools, software, resources to boost your workflow and productivity? Well, you should definitely consider subscribing to my weekly digest Creativerly. Every Sunday I drop you a nicely and carefully curated email, packed with useful tools, apps, software, resources, books, blog post, for creative folks. If you want to get a taste of it, you can scroll through the archive or just go ahead and subscribe.