Backup Everything You Did Last Year

January 02, 2012 at 08:58 AM

A habit I’ve developed over the last few years is to backup all of my online artifacts and identities once the year ends. Maybe I’m just a bit paranoid, but in this day and age with more and more things being stored in the cloud, control and access to your data is being shifted to faceless servers and scripts that can disconnect you quite easily with little recourse. Whether it’s a TOS violation, a change in a company’s policy, or just something else screwy, it’s not something to worry about daily, but it’s better to be prepared.

It’s not all gloom and doom: having a local backup of your data is great for searching and viewing in ways that the original provider didn’t think about. I think it’s cool to be able see how emails I get year over year. A benefit of being in this day and age is that storage is cheap: storing everything you’ve ever created and done online is entirely possible.

What To Backup

I started out with emails and figuring out to organize things. I then moved onto email contacts, chat logs, Delicious bookmarks, and social site data. As of late, I’ve been working on receipts and finances, trying to move to toward existing entirely paper free! Here are some ideas, feel free to add suggestions in the comments.

  • Email
  • Contacts (from GMail, Facebook, or LinkedIn)
  • Chatlogs (Adium)
  • Bookmarks (Delicious, Pinboard)
  • Social site data (Twitter, FB, LinkedIn, Google+, Reddit)
  • Pictures (Flickr, Picasa)

How To Backup

Having a simple way to backup your data and having easy access to your data from a website is also another important social topic that has come up the last couple years. Having open APIs and an easy way to export your data is something you should look for and if a website doesn’t have one, you should ask why not. Facebook didn’t even have an export ability until the middle of 2010. Here some sites and tools that I’ve been using to help me:

  • Google Mail: is my recommended tool for backing up GMail. Unfortunately it’s closed source but the site has been around for years and the software has seemed reputable enough. It has a simple GUI or CLI interface that allows you to select date ranges to backup; all email from 2010, and it works for me.

    Once you download the 0.107 version, you can backup all 2011 email with a command like this: (you might need an app password if you have 2-step auth enabled)

    $ ./ backup email-2011 <EMAIL> <PASSWORD> 20110101 20111231

  • Gmail Contacts: While logged into GMail, you can go to the Contacts window and export your contacts in multiple formats.

  • All your Google data: Google is quite good about being open, but has a wide range of services, which don’t all have the same ease of exportability. While logged in, go to and you should be able to backup your G+, Picasa, and most other data Google has on you.

  • Adium is an open source OSX chat client which keeps XML logs of all your conversations, which includes your FB and GChat accounts if you have them enabled. All logs should be kept at ~/Library/Application Support/Adium 2.0/Users/Default/Logs. Since it’s hard to pull out specific date ranged logs, I just back the whole log folder each year.

  • Pinboard: I switched from Delicious this year and have been quite happy with Pinboard for my online bookmarking needs. To export, go to

For most social sites, there is a lot of money in owning your data and every site has a different obtuse backup policy. My friend Jeremy has created a one stop shop for easily and safely backing up your data from FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, Gowalla, and Google+ which I would recommend:

Another interesting idea for controlling your online data is what Greplin provides: simple instant search of all your online data. You can easily look across all of your data, although I don’t think exporting that data is something they offer.

Final Thoughts

Once you have all this data, don’t skimp on your own physical backups. Storing all of your financial and personal data unencrypted in one place is a hacker’s dream. This is something I am still exploring: I use OSX’s built-in DMG encryption, but that is not too portable.

Also look into Dropbox for having access to your data across all your machines or Backblaze for having a simple external backup of everything on your laptop.

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