Friday, December 16, 2011

Noodling on Google

After a Google induced nightmare yesterday I am interrupting my blogging hiatus with a few thoughts on life with Google.

Yesterday, with no notice and with no subsequent explanation, my genealogy Google account was disabled. One minute I was posting some insignificant comment about my day on G+; the next minute I was banished. I had a very unpleasant few hours as I realized just how much of my virtual genealogy life and actual life was tied to this account.

  • This blog disappeared from the web. I wish I'd kept a screen shot of the notice that appeared. Only the knowledge that I had a recent (though not comprehensive) backup kept me from complete insanity. 
  • While my genealogy photographs are backed up locally and on Flickr, all the blog posts are linked to a Google Picasa account. I don't know if I would be able to access them should I ever completely lose this account.
  • My G+ profile, my posts and comments disappeared from the platform.
  • My primary gmail account for genealogy and all contacts were inaccessible.
  • My personal calendar, linked to my genealogy account because that's where I spend the most time, vanished. 
  • Neither I, nor anyone I had shared with, could access my Google Documents
  • A genealogy website I am developing was inaccessible. 
  • UPDATE - I also lost access to my Google Reader account, my preferred way of keeping on blog reading and my iGoogle pages of links and rss feeds.
I was eventually able to restore my account by "verifying" my identity to Google via text message to my cell phone. Nothing was lost. All was restored.

I had been very reluctant to share my cell phone number with Google, but did so on the genealogy account because it was so fundamental to my work. A blessing that I did, but finding the link to verify the account was far from simple. If Google suspected my account was being improperly used, there should have been an immediate link to the verification process. Not the case. Not by a long shot.

I tried at least 50 different times to log in to the account - from all of the linked accounts - before I was finally able to access the verification page. The Gmail account ultimately proved the charm. In the process I sent several messages to Google requesting an explanation of why the accounts had been disabled. No response. At least not to date. 

My decision to rely so heavily on Google was deliberate. It seemed the best way to assure access to all my data (ironic, no?) while I was traveling last summer. I invested in an Android smart phone, transferred my calendar and all my contacts, moved some data to Google Docs and took off on my genealogy dream trip. And it worked perfectly! Flawless. 

I'm not certain if I will change my reliance on Google. I understand the need to guard against spam and hijacked accounts. But I was really, really unhappy yesterday (such an understatement). And I still am. I don't know if I did something to trigger this or if it was an attempt to hijack one of the accounts. I don't understand why it was so difficult to find my way to the verification page that restored me to Google's good graces. It's hard to escape the feeling that this could happen again. 

My takeaways from this? There are several. 

First, Geneabloggers are the best! I reached out via Twitter, Facebook and email and was immediately enveloped in a wave of support and sympathy. I can't overstate how much those expressions helped. 

Second, I'm rethinking my all eggs in Google's basket approach. I joked yesterday that I was looking for omelet recipes. Too true. The blog was backed up, but without access to my account I had no way to restore it. My calendar and contacts were synced with programs on my Mac desktop computer, but it is on its last legs. They were not synced with programs on my Windows laptop. As of today I have
  • exported this blog to a shadow blog on WordPress. I will do so at least monthly when actively blogging.
  • changed delivery of emailed copies of the blog from Tabbloid to a non-gmail address. (More than a few expletives were uttered yesterday when I realized my failsafe backup plan was tied to a Google account.)
  • installed Thunderbird and the Lightening add-on on my laptop, downloaded all my emails, contacts, and set up automatic backups of my calendar (see this blog for step by step directions on backing up Google Calendar). 
  • put current back-ups of this blog and its template in Dropbox.
  • downloaded copies of all Google Docs. For now they're in Dropbox. 
Third, I still love the my Android phone. That's where I found email addresses for some of the Geneabloggers I know. 

Fourth, for all the negative things I've said about Facebook this fall, I reinstated my account there in a split second when I was locked out of G+. I won't spend much time there, but I will not be deleting my account. Social networks need backups, too.

There is still work to do, but Christmas is but a week away. First on my list for 2012 resolutions -
  • Blogger's pages did not export to WordPress. They are backed up, but I need to format the WordPress blog to include them. 
  • Rethink the Google website. Weebly has been getting lots of good press. I may use that. 
  • Make sure that if I do continue using all the Google accounts that I have a backup or alternative account for each of them. 
And now, back to elf duty and my hiatus. I'll be back sometime in 2012! Until then, best wishes to all. 

20 comments:

  1. Wow, even though a lot of what you did sounds like Greek to me (I'm not very "techy") I am definitely going to try some, if not all of your steps. I was surprised to hear that even your Google docs and Picasa, as well as your email, calendar, etc. were all affected. I even use Chrome, too, another Google product. So much for putting all my eggs in one basket....

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  2. Golly. Not too long ago, I had to verify my identity with Google. I never thought to check to see if my blog and other materials were still online.

    Happy elfing. --GJ

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  3. Scary! I guess I need to back up my blog too. Not sure how...looks like I need to do some research. I'm glad you were able to solve the problem!
    CeCe

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  4. hmmm, hadn't thought about the photos being moved from picassa. i moved all my posts, comments etc. to a wordpress blog on a private server. i am in the process of fixing the links so they don't go back to the google page. hope to be fully changed and operating from that blog soon. the only down point so far is that i see no way to have a follow button.

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  5. Interesting and some good ideas to backup. I was locked out of Facebook a few months back because (they told me) someone tried to hijack my account (don't know why and never got information). It took 3 weeks for Facebook to get back with me and in the meantime I set up another account. So just to show, sometimes there is no good reason and it takes time - it sounds like your situation was of shorter duration but of more importance than mine. Glad you are back at it!

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  6. Back before I had a Blogger blog or blog of any kind, I had Picassa and used it for my family photos (both the desktop and web versions). Then when I set-up my Blogger blog, it naturally continued to host the blog photos in Picassa, but I soon hit my 'free' limit. So then I scouted around and started a Flikr account and a Photobucket account. I like and use Photobucket for hosting my Blogger blogs' images. It's definitely best to spread your eggs around to many baskets.

    And as far as Google customer service is concerned, I'm not surprised. When it comes to Blogger issues, I've found that searching the Blogger help forums is best. There hasn't been anything that I couldn't find where something similar had happened to another user. And they are all a lot of techie geeks who also have guesses as to why the problem is occurring and possible solutions.

    So glad to hear that everything was restored!! Yay!

    ~C

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  7. I don't suppose it will be much comfort for you, Susan, to hear that this might have been a very widespread problem for the Google empire. I had trouble accessing a number of Google tools yesterday, for several hours. It is, indeed, more than frustrating. Your suggestions and intentions, however, are excellent points for all of us to put into practice.

    Several months ago, I read an article warning against the "eggs in one basket" danger, but taking a different approach. Remember GeoCities? The article talked about seeing a much bigger picture in planning one's approach to preserving digital records. That article made enough of an impression on me, in my little family history world, that I blogged about it, the book and the concept--at http://afamilytapestry.blogspot.com/2011/06/into-ether.html

    We are indeed liable of being held hostage by our corporate hosts. But instead of being sure to back up our work in more iterations of the same medium, we need to take the broader perspective of multiple media outlets. Kinda puts a different spin on the furor about books at RootsTech!

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  8. Just last week I was talking with another genealogist about why I am against "cloud computing." My explanation was "What if I don't have access to the Internet for some reason?"

    I never considered the "What if I can't access my own accounts?" facet of the issue. This experience is a perfect example of why I keep everything backed up in several locations and on paper where possible.

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  9. I'm going to have to look into some of these options as well - especially backing my blog up on Wordpress. Perhaps when you get back to active blogging you could post a step-by-step description of how that was done. And I definitely need to be making greater use of Dropbox.

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  10. What an ordeal, Susan! I'm glad it ended well (after much work on your part). I'm going to try some of your strategies for backing up, even though some of it sounds techno-challenging. I'm so glad we didn't really lose you! Your blog is a true treasure.

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  11. What a nightmare, Susan. I'm sorry it happened to you-- and (perhaps selfishly) I hope it never happens to me. I need to take some of the precautions you suggest. Thanks for posting about the problem. I think it encourages all of us to give a little more thought to possible problems.

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  12. Susan, I am so glad that you're back online and everything is (seemingly) back to normal. I have taken your advice and copied my Blogger blog onto Wordpress (easy-peasy with their "import from Blogger" feature) and just set it as private. I even got to keep the same name!

    Of note - there is a way to set up an alternate, or back-up, email on Gmail - though I can't remember how I did it. However, I know that in the event of an emergency (supposedly), Gmail can reach me at my yahoo email account.

    I certainly hope that Google fixes whatever is wrong with their spam-detection system. And soon!

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  13. Finally getting around to reading this in the wee hours Susan. I've been busy working on my new Weebly website the last 2 days. I'd been thinking about it for some time and finally took the plunge and it was easier than I thought.

    This whole mess you have been through makes me think a bit more seriously about another thing I've wanted to do, get my blog into a couple of blurb books.

    But, I'll have to think of that after Christmas. So much to do and so little time! I've got to get away from this computer a bit. Sigh. It's hard.

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  14. Well that gives me lots to think about- especially about my email account. Thanks for the reminder about backing up and not putting all of our eggs in one basket!

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  15. How awful - you must have been panicking. I use Google services for email and a lot of other things, so need to have a re-think, just in case. Glad all is safely restored now! Jo

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  16. Thanks for outlining what you have done to protect yourself. I like the idea of backing up your blog in WordPress and am going to look into the tools for backing up email. That one really worries me.

    I'm with Michael when it comes to cloud computing. I'm not totally in love with the concept because there are times when I don't have access to the internet for long periods. Like Michael though I hadn't even contemplated not being able to access my accounts!

    Remember the LOCKSS principle - Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe.

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  17. Thank you for posting this, it was very instructional. I too have experienced the same thing, no explanation, no warning, and it took a long time to figure out to reinstate my account, I lost one of my blogs in the process, no explanations. Yhankfully it was not one of my main blogs, but it certainly taught me to back up my account. Too bad we always wait with that until something happens.

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  18. Oh wow. I have always been terrified I would read something like this. That's why all my stuff is spread out all over the place - no one service gets everything from me - and backed up on a series of flash drives.

    I am so glad you were able to finally get to your stuff.

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  19. Unless you're planning to move to WordPress.com permanently, there's no point importing your Blogger export file to it. A regular backup of the xml file to your hard-drive will suffice.

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  20. The same thing is happening to me today! Thanks a million for this post, although I Have No Idea how I surfed into it. I don't have that much on Google and now I never will.

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