Switching from GMail to FastMail

I'm beginning a switch from GMail to my own hosted IMAP service at FastMail.fm. This represents a larger shift in my online presence that began over a year ago. It started with a move away from Blogger to my own hosted WordPress blog, and is representative of my desire to have more control over my data. "Control" isn't the right word - I am becoming more selective over who I choose to allow access to my data. I've been avoiding it for some time now - about 6 months, in fact. Google came out with Google+, their half-assed attempt at a social networking. Their effort to force me to be social in the way I search has been getting creepier and creepier the whole time, at once collecting more information while making it harder and harder to use their services. A combination of recent changes to their site designs and services, and an explanation by Marco Arment about how he would switch if he were on GMail, finally got me to take the plunge.

All of my GMail inbound mail is forwarded to ash@ashfurrow.com. I was going to go with "me@ashfurrow.com", but Paddy and Jason pointed out that, from their perspective, it really should be "you@ashfurrow.com", so I've avoided pronouns altogether.

It's a different feeling. I own my data. Yes, I am responsible for it, but I'm the only person who can read my email.

I'm having GMail retain a copy of forwarded messages for now to make sure everything is working correctly. I'll be using 1Password to determine which sites I use my old GMail address to log in with and change those profiles. Hopefully, by the end of March, I'll be ready to have GMail delete all forwarded messages. I also want to move any archived mail to a personal IMAP backup. By the end of 2012, I'm planning on being able to delete my Google Account altogether.

Why so long? Because it's not just mail: it's my Google Analytics for my websites and iOS apps; It's the Google Documents that I share with my wife; It's our monthly budget that Google has access to. It's everything they have.

Let me be perfectly clear here: Google has never let me down. For years - as long as I've been a user - they have provided improvement after improvement and haven't asked for a dollar in return. They kept making their services better and better, and I've never once had a problem getting access to my data. But lately, they've been creeping me out: removing features from Google Documents without any prior notice, for instance. They can just make a decision and it could affect any part of my life. That kind of stresses me out, man! If I host my own mail, yes it's a pain, but it's also a delight to know that I am bound only to a domain to which I own the rights.

If you're thinking of making the switch and moving to FastMail, please use my affiliate link. Their user interface isn't exactly great, but I managed to figure out what to do. These instructions are for changing from GMail to FastMail at a custom domain you already own:

  1. Create an account. To use email at an existing domain, like I'm doing, you'll need their "Enhanced" plan. It's $40/year and includes 10GB of email storage, full access to POP/IMAP/SMTP/Jabber, and lots of other features (like using your own host).
  2. Options -> Virtual Domains -> Add Domain. In my case, this was ashfurrow.com.
  3. Options -> Virtual Domains -> Add Alias. Here you set up the email address at which you want to receive mail. Wildcards are acceptable here, as well.
  4. If you're currently using Google Accountshttp://google.com/a/cpanel/ashfurrow.com, replacing my domain with yours and delete all of your users and then under Account Settings, delete your account.
  5. Add custom MX records to your DNS provider. I host over Dreamhost, so I logged into the Panel, clicked "Mail" to open their sidebar menu, clicked "Custom MX/Gmail" and finally "edit" beside my domain. You want to add "Custom MX Records." Do not change your name server DNS records unless you want to host your website with FastMail, too. The MX records are:
    • in1-smtp.messagingengine.com, priority=10
    • in2-smtp.messagingengine.com, priority=20
  6. Wait.
  7. Eventually, FastMail will email you to let you know the transfer was successful. At this point, you can set up your mail client using their settings.
  8. Start forwarding any email to your new address.

In a month's time, I'll let you know how I'm faring.