There’s been a huge amount of fuss rasied about Google shutting down its free Reader service, and for good reason. Whichever way you cut it, this is a real wake up call for anyone who’s using online services to store their data. The reality is, these cloud services can shut down on a whim and there’s nothing we users can do about it.
What this move has done is made people think again about their blind acceptance of every cool new online service that pops up. As this Economist article so rightly says, “…adoption behavior for newly offered services will change in response to Google’s observed penchant for cancelling beloved products.”
So what to do? Well for one thing it may be wise to plan ahead from now on, assuming that there is at least a possibility that an online service will disappear, start charging unacceptable fees or otherwise become too onerous to continue using. If you keep this in mind every time you sign up for something, then at least you will be covering off on potential headaches down the line. Call it a ‘contingency approach’ to new service adoption.
For those of us already wedded to online services, whether it be apps, email or work based tools, now’s the time to take stock of a) how you can get your data out and archived safely off-service and b) how you can quickly and seamlessly replace what you are using with another service should the need arise.
In that regard one of the first things worth checking is to see how easy it is to migrate off Google Mail, and apps like Google Drive and others. As we said recently one of the first port of calls for anyone should be Google Takeout, which will help with moving your data out of Reader, Picasa photos, Google docs, and Blogger. However this service does not offer email migration, nor is it a one click solution, which makes it clumsier than three alternatives we’ve found for some of your Google data export needs.
[Note that with all of these apps, if you have a large email database it will probably take several attempts to download the full set of messages to overcome Google’s security throttle].
1. Gmail Keeper
Yes you can download all of your email messages to your computer by setting up a local email client like Thunderbird or even Outlook and using IMAP, but these methods are cumbersome as we said before, and offer no automation. They also assume that you want to change your whole way of working, whereas you probably just need an insurance policy while you continue using Gmail. This program offers all the things you’ll need to maintain a running backup of your messages, complete with labels and folders.
What’s more, it comes with a complete restore function, can handle multiple accounts (including Google Apps accounts) and stores the data in open formats which can be read by standard email clients such as Thunderbird or Outlook. The program costs $19.95 and there’s a trial version which backs up a maximum of 300 messages.
This is a slightly more sophisticated product in that it will not only backup Gmail, but also Google Drive, Calendar and Contacts, which should mean you’re covered for most of your Google activities in one move. The program runs on Linux, Mac and Windows computers and again uses standard backup file formats such as .eml for messages, .csv for contacts and .ics for calendar data. The software also makes incremental backups and because you can set a schedule, this makes it easy to store a safe local copy of your Google data while continuing to work with the cloud based services.
The program doesn’t need any login information for your Google accounts, as it uses OAuth2, but at the current time there is no inbuilt restore function provided. The idea is you use the generic import routines in most applications to import your data when and if needed. The next version of the program promises to provide an integrated restore function. The program starts at $29 a year for up to 10 accounts, and the free trial version is fully functional for 15 days.
It’s free of charge, but you’ll need to pay with some tech skills and a love of command line functions to tackle this program. If you know what you’re doing then this is as good a choice as any, but for ordinary mortals this is probably not the best option. The program is open source, so we’re a little surprised that no-one has delivered a nice friendly front end interface, but maybe it’s coming? On the positive side, it runs on Linux, Mac and Windows, and if you are cool with command lines, doing a backup is as simple as clicking on the icon to pop up the command line box, and typing ‘gmvault sync email@example.com’ .
But you know, it’s 2013 guys. A black box with green text? Really? Seriously?
So there are three options for those of you who may have wondered how easy it was to migrate from the world’s largest cloud company. The answer is, it is easy, and surprisingly doesn’t cost too much if you know what you’re doing. If you have any alternatives to our suggestions please sound off in the comments.