Posted on 5 mins read

I’ve made some big changes to my personal tech ecosystem over the last few years and discovered some great applications along the way. Here are a few standouts.


Paid for by the user

Replacement for: Google search, which I’ve used since at least 2004.

If you’ve noticed your Google results have been getting steadily worse—or if you’re getting sick of having to scroll down below the fold to even see your results—you should sign up for a free trial of Kagi (rhymes with “doggy”), a search engine whose biggest con is also its biggest pro: you have to pay for it.

It’s a pretty good pro, though. Google gets paid by advertisers, so they want what advertisers want (tons of ads, links to sites that run ads, results that prioritize online shopping). Kagi gets paid by you, so they want what you want (no ads, relevant results only). Considering how much time I spend searching for things online, the fee of $10/month is pretty reasonable.

So far I’ve only gone back to Google a few times. Google is better if you’re shopping for a PS5. But Kagi has held its own in every other respect, especially programming questions. And it makes me happy to know that the only person paying for my search results is me.


Open-source, self-hosted

Replacement for: Google Photos, which I’ve used since 2011, and iCloud, which I’ve used since 2021.

Google Photos pulled a very predictable bait-and-switch on their “unlimited free photo storage” offering in 2021, and iCloud uses several dirty tricks (storing low-quality versions of photos on your iPhone to “optimize storage;” making it impossible to download all your iCloud photos at once) to lock up your pictures in the cloud so you’ll feel forced to pay for expanded storage.

I’m never going to have fewer photos than I have now, so I saw where this was going: a never-ending spiral of higher and higher monthly storage fees. So I bought a cheap home server with a couple terabytes of disk space, installed Docker, and spun up an Immich instance. And it’s been great. The mobile app syncs my photos behind the scenes and they’re all accessible from a LAN server, no Internet connection required.


Open-source, self-hosted

Replacement for: Dropbox, which I’ve used since 2010.

Dropbox was pretty cool when it first launched. The app was slick, it was the only game in town, and there were tons of ways to get extra free storage. I relied on it all the way through college.

These days the free tier is more restrictive and the company seems to have lost its way. (What do they even do anymore? Why don’t their ads make any sense? Why did they make a Microsoft Word overlay that’s so hard to turn off? Darned if I know.) I was getting tired of cleaning out old files every time I wanted to move a 1 GB zip archive around, so I set up SyncThing on my home server and switched all my files over in about 30 minutes. It’s been a flawless plug-and-play replacement ever since.

SyncThing is free, but if you want file access on your iPhone you’ll need Mobius Sync, which costs $5—once, not monthly.



Replacement for: Google Chrome, which I’ve used since 2008.

I wish I had some big noble reason for switching to Firefox, like privacy or stickin’ it to the man. But if we’re being honest, I switched because Chrome crashed while I was at work one day and I couldn’t get it to start up again. So I used Microsoft Edge for its one true purpose: downloading Firefox.

Firefox is great, though, and I have no regrets. It’s neck and neck with Chrome in the latest benchmarks and, as a bonus, isn’t planning to force-delete your adblocker next year.

OTP Auth

Paid for by the user

Replacement for: Google Authenticator, which I’ve used since at least 2015.

Every 2-factor authentication app is essentially the same. However, Google Authenticator has an extra special feature: it stores your auth keys in a proprietary format which prevents you from exporting them anywhere else unless you’re willing to clone a community-supported tool from GitHub and mess around on the command line for a while.

Which I was.

OTP Auth is a great replacement and it works with your Apple Watch, so you can get your two-factor codes without even pulling out your phone. If that isn’t luxury, I don’t know what is.


Open-source, decentralized

Replacement for: Twitter, which I’ve used since 2015.

Mastodon is literally just “what if Twitter/Threads/Bluesky/Tumblr worked like email, so you could join whatever server you want and still follow all your friends?” Super simple.

Like Kagi, this is a case of incentive alignment. If a big tech company runs your social media, they’re going to sell you out as often as they can, for as much money as they can. If Steve (who you met at a conference one time) runs your social media, he’s probably too busy at his day job to be thinking about how to sell your data.

(You should tip Steve, he does a great job.)



Replacement for: Edward, a writing app I launched in 2018 and discontinued in 2021.

Running a B2C app for novelists was great fun but extremely unprofitable. Luckily, after shutting it down I discovered Obsidian, a local-first Markdown editor with an impressive plugin ecosystem. And the one missing feature (word count in the file tree) was easy to implement on my own.

Now I do most of my writing in Obsidian, which gets better with every release. And it’s great being able to keep all my files on my computer in an open format, so even if the app dies someday, I won’t lose anything.

What’s next?

I’d love to use even more self-hosted, open-source, and/or paid-for-by-the-user products in 2024. (Does anyone know how to leave Gmail and take your email address with you? …No? Oh well.)

What are your favorites?