Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Should you backup your blog?

Today we are getting hammered with about half a foot of snow, so it is a good time to curl up in my office with some concentrated time to do my backups.

Earlier in the week, when it was still above freezing, I was working with some friends who have a small development shop here in town. I was helping them figure out their own backup strategy. They are smart folks, doing some cool things with computers, and have plenty of technical expertise when it comes to writing code and understanding how PCs work. What was surprising was how long our conversation took to understand their requirements, figure out what products they wanted to continue to use, and chart a course that would cover their data assets with enough redundancy but still be something that they would actually use on a regular basis.

When you think about it, backups are still far too hard. You need basic anti-virus/anti-spyware/personal firewall protection on each machine. You have to create bootable images, in case your drive goes south or gets corrupted with something that that collection of products doesn’t catch. You want a shared network data repository and backups offside of this information, in case a meteor hits your office (or a tornado, more likely around these parts). You want a spare laptop in case someone’s tanks or gets stolen. When you add up all these elements, backups could be a full-time job.

I have a rather complex backup routine that I use for my own data protection, and there isn’t anyone else in my office (most of the time) and most of my data resides on one computer. So I fully anticipated that it would be a lot more complex for my friends who have multiple computers. The hard part is to make it easy enough so that they could be motivated to follow through on a regular basis.

I will admit that my own backups are a chore that I don’t enjoy doing and only motivate myself to do it because I recall the consequences of an office fire many years (in my building, luckily both I and my office were untouched) or a stolen laptop from the trunk of my car in a Seattle shopping center. And as I was describing my own processes to my friends, I realized that there is still one place that I don’t have adequate backups. Actually, two places, and both because I use Web resources for creating some of my corporate mission-critical content: my Wordpress blog and my Gmail address book. In the very unlikely situation that either of these companies go out of business or remove my data accidentally, I am totally toast.

Actually, part of my Gmail contacts did disappear for a little while last summer while the Google Guys were working on some update or something. For a day or so, I lost the use of the contact groups to organize my peeps. I could still see the individual contacts, but none of the group membership structure.

I realized then (and now) that there is no easy way to replicate this group structure, even if I do an export to a CSV of my entire contact list: all I get from doing that is just the contacts without any group memberships. After the disappearing group lists, I spent a few hours taking screenshots of each group list, realizing that I probably would never do that again and it was far too painful to be useful, but I did feel that I did something to prevent it from happening again. I was right: those screenshots were a one-time deal. I still don't have a solution. Google, please get this fixed soon.

But the Strominator.com Wordpress blog is more troubling, because there are lots of links and lots of content that I have created over the years and if that goes away, I don’t have much recourse and don’t even want to think about re-creating that stuff. So what to do?

One thought I had was to cross-post all my blog entries on another free blogging service, such as on Blogger or LiveJournal. It would be nice if one of them would be able to import an XML file or RSS feed and replicate the entire Strominator blog automatically, but alas that isn’t possible. None of the services will import the comments on my Wordpress site – which could be a benefit for those of you that want to start with a clean slate. None of them will import the static pages of content that I have created, which are essentially links to my published archive. I guess I could cut and paste the HTML and save it as a local file on my desktop, but that seems so 1990s.

Multiply.com does have the ability to import blog entries from a bunch of different blogging services (including Blogger and LiveJournal), but not Wordpress. Too bad.

Sigh. So I will have to go back and copy and paste my posts, which is a tedious process considering that I have several hundred posts on the darn thing. I did replicate last year's just to see what it took, and I guess from now going forward I will cross-post for backup's sake. But which service should I use?

One thought I had was to cross-post my old content on sites that have some social-networking patina so I can get some leverage and readership out of the effort. Scribd.com is one such site, but they are more geared towards uploading documents rather than straight HTML – I not only lose the comments but the embedded links with this service. Google's Blogger is probably not going away, but do I want to trust Yet Another Googlicious Service for my content? Not sure about that. And LiveJournal has an extra step to get posts to be dated properly.

So nothing is perfect. I welcome your thoughts as always. At least my words are preserved on a few places around the Internet.

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About Me

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David Strom has looked at hundreds of computer products over a more than 20 year career in IT and computer journalism. He was the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, and now writes for Baseline, Information Security, Tom's Hardware, and the New York Times.