A few hundred thousand (numbers range from 150k to 500K) Gmail and Google Apps users had the scary experience of losing ALL their email content yesterday. Their account was accidentally “reset”. Google acknowledged the error, and issued a statement that they are working on restoring “lost” content.
Let’s stop and think here a minute. Is your lifetime’s worth of information sitting in email? Do you have redundant backups / copies? (there is a difference, as we’ll see). If not… stop everything, and rush to fix it.
There are a few steps anyone can take easily to have redundant copies of their entire email account – I don’t mean just backup to restore from, but live copies you can switch to any time.
- Keep an offline copy in an email client. I don’t use email clients anymore, much prefer the native Gmail UI. But even if you don’t normally use email clients, you can still occasionally start Outlook, Thunderbird, Mac email…etc. Fetch everything via IMAP, then make redundant copies.
- Auto-copy to another Google account. Set up an account you won’t actively use – its sole purpose is to fetch email from all your other email accounts (Google or external) via POP and serve as an archive.
Import your auto-filter rules from the source accounts, so the archive can have the same folder/label structure you have over there.
Important: set up the archive account to be able to send email in the name of the source accounts – this takes a few steps of authentication between the accounts, but should the source accounts go down, you’ll be able to switch over here easily. Also, this is how Gmail will know what should go in the Sent label (more on this below.)Now, you might say: where’s safety in copying from Google to Google? Let’s face it, most data disasters won’t happen to ALL Google accounts, rather to specific ones. Or put it this way: when Google messes up big time, they will fix it – see current case. But if you’re the only one in trouble, you’re stuck - it’s close to impossible to get proper support out of Google.
- Auto-copy to a non-Google account. This is an obvious extension of #2 above. I’ve for years had my Google email duplicated to Zoho Mail this way, and both Yahoo and Hotmail offer POP fetching from external accounts, so you have a choice.A word on Inbound vs. Outbound email. POP-ing email typically only fetches inbound, but when the source is Google, you get both. Except it all shows up in your Inbox, which can be quite confusing. When the archive is a Gmail account itself, the trick is to set up all “sender” accounts as I pointed out in #2 above: this will allow Google to display anything “From: Sender” in the Sent email label.
With other non-Google email systems your mileage will vary. Using Zoho Mail I was able to set auto-filters to move everything by certain accounts into the “Sent” folder – not all mail systems allow this.
Finally, on backup vs. live copy: all these methods give you more then a backup: an actual live copy of your email account that you can switch over to temporarily during temporary outages. In fact a few times when only Web access went down, client access to Gmail via POP remained available, so I ended up using Zoho as an front-end “client” (in reality it’s a web service) accessing the Gmail account directly.
#1 above requires some manual effort and the worst part is you need to remember. But you get peace of mind .. the cozy (?) feeling of having your data offline. #2 and #3 are set-once-then-forget auto-options.
What are you waiting for?
Update: I’ve just realized I wrote a similar post a year ago: Ma.Gnolia Data Loss, What Have We Learned?
- Google nukes thousands of Gmail accounts (money.cnn.com)
- Gmail in the midst of service interruption (slashgear.com)
- Gmail outage passes 24 hours for some (updated) (fortune.com)
- Update: Google Gmail outage leaves thousands of users without e-mail (computerworld.com)
- Gmail Access (& Emails) To Be Restored “Soon” to All Those Impacted By Yesterday’s Outage (readwriteweb.com)
- Gmail back soon for everyone (gmailblog.blogspot.com)
- Gmail’s disappearing act: Blame the storage software update (zdnet.com)
- Google Apps and Gmail outage outrage: Problem NOT resolved (computerworld.com)