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Thoughts on Online Services

February 24th, 2019 · 5 min read

I recently looked back at my 15 years on the Internet and reviewed all the online services I’ve been using till now (and still haven’t been “sunset” yet). In chronological order:

  1. Gmail: I started looking for a Gmail invite the day it came out on April 1st, 2004. I got an account to call mine some time in 2005 and have been using it as my primary email address ever since. The two biggest benefits are still the same: generous free storage and exceptional spam filter. I mostly interact with this account via IMAP clients, so their web UI with all the new “improvements” is largely invisible to me. With a growing number of sunset services, I’m not surprised if Google will kill Gmail or make it a paid-only service someday. When the time comes, I’d switch full time to my vanity email address at this domain, which is currently hosted at Zoho.
  2. Facebook: I created my account upon entering university in 2007. Over the years Facebook has grown into a big time sink for me, demanding my attention at its endless algorithmic newsfeed every single day. Looking at Screen Time reports, I was horrified by the amount of time I wasted on Facebook and decided to aggressively cut down my time-on-app1. For now I’m pleased with a hard limit of 15 minute screen time per day and will gradually reduce it further.
  3. Twitter: My favorite social network since 2007. I can curate my following list, and (for now) have total control of what I see everyday in strict reversed chronological order. No feed ranking craps as long as I stick to third-party clients like Tweetbot or Twitterrific. Some niceties like streaming and polls are exclusive to the official client, but the app’s so bad that I’d rather enjoy Twitter without those features.
  4. Dropbox: As an early 2008 user, I was able to enjoy 30GB of free storage by maxing out my referrals. Dropbox’s ease of use, third-party support, and versioning feature are pretty much unmatched. Unfortunately it has become much more user hostile these days, so I’m looking into iCloud Drive as a replacement.
  5. 1password: Having a password manager is simply a must these days. Since I bought the iPhone version in 2008, 1password’s list of useful features has been growing non stop: PC/Android/Web versions, Have I Been Pwned integration, weak/reused/vulnerable password detection, two-factor authentication support, just to name a few. Hopefully they’ll soon copy their competitor Dashlane’s ability to change passwords for certain sites quickly; it sounds really convenient.
  6. Foursquare/Swarm: One of the genuinely good guys in the list. I enjoyed checking into different places wherever I went, and earning badges just for the fun of it. Swarm’s animations and attention to details were so delightful and nicely done that I kept showing them to friends and asked them to give the service a try.
  7. Instapaper: The app has been on my iPhone home screen for the last 11 years. Couple of times I tried to switch to similar apps like Readability and Pocket for a change, but always had to go back to Instapaper because of its simplicity and superior reading experience. I’m quite worried about Instapaper’s repeated owner changes, but luckily the UX has never changed for the worse. Also I’m able to export my data and take it elsewhere at any time, so it’s at least a reassurance.
  8. Instagram: Simply playing with different photo filters was my original reason to download Instagram in 2010. Over the years, this has become my Facebook replacement: a smaller, more private space with more positive vibes. However, knowing that Facebook owns the product, has been messing around with Instagram’s algorithmic feed since 2016, and planned to blur the line between its different properties, I fully expect to delete my account one day, just like Facebook itself2.
  9. Pinboard: Another good guy that I’ve been relying on. I kept renewing my account with bookmark archival since 2010 to privately store all interesting links I came across along with their snapshots. Right now I’ve got ~13,000 bookmarks consuming 13GB of disk space, and full text search makes it so easy to find exactly what I need.
  10. Backblaze: My offsite backup solution of choice since 2010. The biggest advantage is its fast upload speed, no matter where I live. NAS support has always been on my wishlist, but with unlimited storage being offered at a relatively low price, I doubt it will ever come.
  11. iCloud Drive: I mostly use iCloud Drive for photo storage. I first registered for the 200GB plan in 2014, then upgraded to the biggest tier at 2TB when I had my first kid 3 years later. iCloud has become my favorite private “social network” to share photos with family members. It, however, still lacks advanced features like file versioning, folder sharing, finer control of which folders to sync, etc. I doubt Apple would ever add them, though.

  1. Deactivating/Deleting my Facebook account outright isn’t really an option, as I still rely on it to catch up with my family and friends. Being away from home at least half of the time sucks. 

  2. Another thing that freaks me out about Facebook/Instagram is the increasingly-precise ad targeting. When I first started using the mobile version, the ads were terrible but easy to skip. Now they (un)surprisingly match my taste and more often than not, attract at least one click from me. This is so creepy.