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I need backup!

May 12th, 2010

I have invested a lot of time and energy into Twitter and Facebook. You probably have as well. Think about it. On Twitter, you have the (probably carefully managed) list of people you follow, as well as your favorite Tweets, followers and other leavings. On Facebook, you have your friends lists, your profile, and of course all of your notes and Wall postings…not to mention photos.
As a computer user, you always back up your important files (right?) With services like Twitter and Facebook, it’s not so easy, since all the data and settings live in “the cloud.” Imagine if a glitch on Twitter or Facebook destroyed your account, or even worse, if your account were compromised and actively vandalized. In a worse-case scenario, as with any data loss, you would have to manually reconstruct what was there before.

Luckily, there are some pretty easy ways you can backup your online presence. I decided to backup my three most important cloud services, Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail.

For Facebook, I tried two free services. Both of these services act as Facebook API applications, so you have to give them permission in your Facebook account, the same way you do when you use, say Farmville. The first app is called Give Me My Data and it is barebones and geeky. It issues commands to the Facebook API that return various data objects such as your Wall history, profile, friend lists, groups and so on. The data gets returned in a variety of formats such as raw text, CSV, or XML (your choice), which you can then copy and paste into a local document.
Give Me My Data is pretty thorough, but the data’s raw format isn’t for everyone.

A slightly more user friendly but less thorough app is Disco Explorer which sucks down the entire history of your Wall — all the links and bon mots you’ve shared over the years, plus friends’ comments and so forth. Disco Explorer uses the local database functionality of modern browsers (like Safari) to save the entire Wall as a locally cached web page, which you can then return to later. It automatically updates with your latest wall posts too. You can save the page as a webarchive in Safari and back that up also.

Between Disco Explorer and Give Me My Data, I am pretty comfortable that most of the content of my Facebook account is backed up. However, neither of these apps backs up photos. I am embarrassed to say that I backed my photos up manually, which actually only took about 15 minutes of clicking an dragging. There is a commercial app that does this (see below) but I didn’t want to spend any money.

On to Twitter. Here the choice is easy. There are several free webapps that backup the exact same data, which is made available via the Twitter API. You basically can back up your timeline (all your Tweets), the list of your favorite Tweets, your friends, followers, and direct messages. The two services I used were TweetScan Twitter Backup which will backup Twitter for you and send you a link to download an Excel spreadsheet with all the data, and Tweetake which does the exact same thing, but gives you the option of a CSV file. Both of these apps authenticate to Twitter using the normal Twitter OAuth API.

Finally, Gmail. You can always be lazy and download from Gmail using POP (assuming you set your account up to support it) but I went with Gmail Backup which has a free command-line app for the Mac, and a GUI for Windows to backup all the Gmail messages, as well as the Gmail labels for each message and any attachments. It took about half an hour to suck down the couple gigs I have on Gmail.

I should also note two solutions I did not use but you might find useful. First, there’s the commercial service, BackUpMy.Net which offers one-stop backup solutions for Gmail, Twitter, online photos, and blogs (it doesn’t do Facebook). Filling that hole is SocialSafe which offers comprehensive Facebook backups, including photos. So if you want to spend a bit of money, you can combine those two services for a truly comprehensive backup. I didn’t go this route, preferring the slightly more complicated but free services.

By the way, you might wonder, how to I back up the clous service that is this blog? SSH into my hosting provider and backup the mySQL database behind the blog, then download the database dump to my Mac (where it gets integrated into my local backup). The static pages I download manually and backup the same way. Both of these could easily be automated.

However you do it, you should back up your online presence. I’ve never met anyone sorry they didn’t back up enough stuff, but I have heard the opposite many times.

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  1. May 12th, 2010 at 00:12 | #1

    I should probably add that these services are not “true” backups because there is not automatic way to do a full restore. For both Facebook and Twitter, to recreate an account from a backup, you still need to manually re-friend people, etc. Doing it this way is still better then trying to do it from memory, though!

  2. May 12th, 2010 at 16:07 | #2

    What about backupify? It’s automatic and worth a look. Does Flickr too.

  3. May 12th, 2010 at 16:34 | #3

    Do you use backupify? What services. I’m especially curious about Facebook because that it the most “heavyweight” of all the services as far as the amount and complexity of the data involved (i.e. wall posts, status info, photos, friend lists, etc.)

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