I am a heavy user of online services. Social networks, photo sharing, bookmarking, RSS reader, email, etc. – all of these tools help me organize and communicate. However, I think we all are a little too trusting of the providers of these services. Also, most seem to provide many ways to get data in, without offering ways to get the data back out – either for backup or for portability. In this post, and probably a few more to come, I’ll discuss what I have done, and what I need to do, to better secure my data and to become more independent of any one service.
Google Apps Standard Edition
I’ve setup a Google Apps domain for my family as an easy way to keep email, calendars, and other data independent from the domain of my ISP. Therefore, the Google cloud is storing much of our information online. Luckily, Google also makes it pretty easy to pull data out in a usable format.
Here’s one system where I’m ahead of the curve. About two years ago, I setup a job on my home server that downloads all of my email messages via the provided POP3 interface. Running once each day, all of the new traffic is stored locally. Furthermore, this file is included in the server backup each night. I probably wouldn’t be easy to import into a new email service, but it certainly is possible.
Note: This is the only backup I currently have automated.
Google offers an easy export of contact information into several useful formats. I have used this on a couple of occasions without incident.
I don’t use the tasks feature of GMail very often, which is probably good since I haven’t yet found a way to backup the data.
I use the Google calendar service, but my family doesn’t seem to share my enthusiasm for the platform. So, it’s mostly me reminding myself of events. I haven’t yet found a way to backup the calendar entries, probably because I haven’t researched it yet. However, I have used the iCalendar feeds to include data from other calendars, and it is possible that the feed could provide at least a partial backup.
There are many articles on the Internet describing how to backup documents from Google Docs. I need to read some of them and get this backup going.
Haven’t used these at all.
Other Google Services
Reader is my preferred choice for processing RSS feeds. One of those reasons is that it provides a simple link to export the feed information into an OPML file, which could then be imported into another account or service very easily. Using the nested outline feature of the OPML format, the tags assigned to the feeds are included. I haven’t yet seen a way to backup starred or shared items, but this may not be that important.
This shares the contacts list with my Google account, so that backup is easy. However, I haven’t used the service long enough to see what other backups are available or if they are necessary. Stay tuned.
Both my wife and I run blogs hosted by Blogger (although they have fallen into neglect of late). There are many published ways to backup the blog content into an XML format – not sure how included images are handled. An easier way that I have used in the past which works well with our sporadic posting schedules is to use a save to HTML function from a browser on the pages that group posts by month. Saving in that format is similar to making a photocopy of a written journal, and is probably sufficient for our needs.
Flickr is probably the tool I use the most online. However, much research is required before I can write in an informed fashion on backing up Flickr data. I have seen utilities that will backup/download photos from the service, but I already have the master copies on my home server. What I’m interested in are the tags, comments, groups, sets, and contacts. I wonder what I’ll find.
Facebook is all about friends. I think that most of the content is pretty disposable, but the connections are not. Is there a way to export or backup Facebook data? Not that I know of.
From my point of view, Twitter and Facebook have very similar backup needs. However, in both cases, the followers and followees (friends) only make sense within the service. How could I export a relationship from Twitter and move it to something like FriendFeed?
Just as with Facebook, I see no reason to backup the tweets I send or those I receive.
I backup my Delicious bookmarks fairly often, because I’m always afraid that it is about to be shut off. How can they be making any money? Unfortunately, the export comes out in HTML format, and doesn’t include the tag information. Tags are the most useful feature of the service, and I hope I can find a way to maintain the tag info.
In future posts, I will chronicle my attempts to backup my online data, and to do so in an automated fashion whenever possible.