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. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Welcome to Nolichucky Roots. While I am not actively blogging now, I am still most interested in communicating with those researching the families I've been tracing. If you find anything of interest here please email me. There is a link in the column to the right. I have other information I'd be delighted to share.

Best of luck in your research efforts!