As part of the blog clean-up, I spent a fair amount of time cleaning up plugins and figuring out what I really want my little corner of the Interwebs to do. My mission with bringing blogging back is to own more of my own content, and after the announced closure of Google Reader and subsequent good experiences with Tiny Tiny RSS, I found myself wondering if I really wanted to keep on using more Google services to power my blog. Inevitably, I came to the decision that while I like many of Google’s services, the ones I used here needed to go.
The most obvious removal is FeedBurner. After Google purchased it years ago, they’ve more-or-less sat on it without making much in the way of improvements. It seems to keep on going down for no explainable reason, and an inexplicably high number of subscribers don’t end up verifying their email subscriptions. There’s also no good way to notify them that, hey, you need to do something else too. With Google’s war on RSS in favor of trapping you in the Google+ walled garden, it’s got a clear target on it.
While there are a number of email subscription options (including one built into the Jetpack plugin for WordPress), I ultimately decided that no matter how good the service may be, I can’t let someone else control it even when I’m paying for it. What if the service ends and I’m left scrambling for an alternative, possibly without my data? I can’t chance that. The Subscribe2 plugin has many of the same email features of FeedBurner, but I can control all of the data. So what if I’m not getting stats? They’re all vanity items for a blogger like me. And the feeds? Well, the default ones work just fine, thanks.
Then I picked a more unlikely target for elimination: Google Analytics. “Wait, what?”, you might say. Yes, I know that Analytics is widely regarded as a good service. That said, I’ve found it to be incredibly frustrating. On one of my sites, it simply will not collect data even though I can verify that the script loads. There’s no support, so I have to find the wherewithal to tinker with it over, again, vanity data. Who needs that?
This is one of those cases where Jetpack fits the bill. It provides more-or-less the same information as Analytics and sits in the WordPress dashboard. I also installed WP Social Stats to get an idea of which articles are popular and where. Combined, they actually give me more useful data on engagement than Google ever has. What am I getting out of Analytics?
And really, that’s the entirety of the problem. When I give up data to someone, I should be getting a great return on my investment. Instead, I’ve found that Google is getting a much better deal than I am. In exchange for an ever-increasing amount of my data, they’re delivering increasingly stagnant products. By taking control of my subscriber lists, feeds, and stats, I’ve actually gotten better products with little to no data being given up in exchange.
Something made Google go from being filled with digital Willy Wonkas with dozens of crazy, interesting, and useful engineering toys to the stuffed suit trying to make users accommodate The Vision™. I don’t know what it was, but I think it makes a case for paring down my relationship with Big G to just those things that provide more value than I provide data.