Tech Links: Gmail downtime; back up your mail, or live without it
Google's Gmail electronic mail service was disrupted for some users on February 27, and service outages continued for those users until late on February 28, according to the Google Apps Status Dashboard. An account from Google VP Ben Treynor, posted on the official Gmail blog, described an unusual software bug that caused the inboxes of 0.02% of mail users to disappear. Accounts were being restored from backup tapes that had been kept offline.
The University of Michigan has announced that it is migrating most campus collaboration tools to Google, including a plan which will consolidate more than 40 email and calendar services onto the Google platform. This outage affected at least one existing Google account at a library on campus, with a report that a calendar and a custom Google widget had gone offline.
Former Ann Arbor resident Fred Posner, now a Florida resident, reported via electronic mail that he lost everything: "my account, lost my contacts on the Droid, my google talk, my google voice, my calendar, analytics access,places access, and not sure what else yet."
When Gmail went down yesterday, people who had substantial parts of their life and online livelihood installed in the cloud had to scramble. Here's some of the backup suggestions that emerged yesterday so that if the unthinkable happened and you lost all of your electronic mail, that you could re-emerge on the other side.
Backing up your Gmail
The first set of suggestions that emerged were to point people at tools that would allow them to download their Gmail inbox and store it locally, so that there was a usable backup of their correspondence.
Sparrow is a Gmail client for the Macintosh which uses the IMAP protocol to fetch a copy of your inbox and store it on your local system. A free version includes ads for Sparrow in every message you send, and the paid version dispenses with ads for $9.99.
Google has instructions for configuring Apple Mail to work with Gmail.
For Linux users who are handy with a compiler, Google SEO expert Matt Cutts has a recipe for How to back up your Gmail on Linux in four easy steps.
The web site Gmail-backup.com is the top search result for a search for "Gmail backup", but it's not reachable at this writing. A 2008 review on Lifehacker describes it as easy to use and free, and that it works on Windows, Mac and Linux.
Inbox zero and life without email
Merlin Mann wrote a series of posts on the weblog 43 Folders in 2006 about Inbox zero, a productivity regime in which you the diligent correspondent would manage your correspondence so that you would never have a backlog of email.
In 2004, author and legal scholar Lawrence Lessig declared email bankruptcy, sending out an automated message to all of his correspondents who had pending messages that he was not going to be able to acknowledge their messages and would not answer them.
Umberto Eco: "I don't even have an E-mail address. I have reached an age where my main purpose is not to receive messages." (The New Yorker, 1995)
Stanford professor Donald Knuth has been a happy man since January 1, 1990, when he gave up email: "I'd used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime." You can still get ahold of him by snail mail, where his secretary sorts through the messages and gives him a batch to look at once every three months or so.