It was January, 2005. Google had launched its invitation-only beta release of Gmail just a few months ago. The initial storage capacity of 1 GB was dramatic, with its closest competitors offering an anemic 15 or 20 MB. My beta invite had finally arrived and I was in the process of signing up for an account. The excitement was palpable, “It’s email… but by Google! 1 GB of space… who could possibly use that much? And the web interface is so fast!”
Jump ahead ten years to January, 2015 and you’ll find me ditching my Gmail account in favor of FastMail, a move that has been long overdue. “But why ditch Gmail?” you may ask. I have my reasons.
First and most importantly, I’ve come to the conclusion that I want my email to be reasonably private. I just don’t like the idea of Google scanning my email and pulling out little bits of information about my personal life and buying habits. The speed, storage space, and features that Gmail offered used to offset the privacy disadvantage in my mind, but they don’t any longer.
Gmail used to be fast. Really fast. It’s not anymore. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still fairly zippy, but it’s definitely slowed down over the years as the interface has grown increasingly more complex and bloated. I’ve found FastMail to be true to its name: it’s just as fast as Gmail. And the web interface is simple and non-bloated. I like simple.
Another change in Gmail that really bothered me was the introduction of the social tabs. I know these tabs can be disabled now, but I don’t like the way it was initially forced on us. And I definitely don’t like the impact it had on legitimate email marketing. The average user isn’t going to notice their email is suddenly getting filtered into separate tabs, much less figure out how to turn it off.
When it comes down to it, I’d rather pay FastMail for an equal amount of storage space, reliability, and speed as Gmail. I no longer have to deal with the ads, the privacy violations, or the sudden feature changes. Don’t fool yourself: you’re already paying for a free service like Gmail, just not with cash. You yourself are the payment: a consumer to be analyzed and sold to. And Google is very good at doing just that.
And hey, Marco Arment recommends FastMail so it’s got to be good, right? Here’s what he says about the benefit of having an email address ending in a domain name that you control:
For something as important as email, I’ve never trusted everything to a proprietary provider. My email address has never ended in someone else’s domain name, and has never been hosted in any way that would preclude me from easily switching to another provider.
The transition to FastMail was very smooth. It was just a matter of modifying a couple of DNS records and using FastMail’s excellent IMAP import tool to transfer a decade’s worth of email from Gmail (this did take a few hours). I’m still able to check my FastMail account from my iOS devices, and I use their web interface on my desktop through a Fluid app.
If you’re looking for a new email provider comparable to Gmail, I can recommend FastMail without hesitation.