cloudHQ – fantastic cloud syncing tool

I’ve just found a tool that is making some of my biggest Google woes go away!

It’s called cloudHQ, and it’s really cool. You give it access to your cloud storage accounts – such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, Evernote and so on; and it enables you to transfer files between them – whether on a one-off basis or as a continuous synchronisation.

You can also add details of more than one account for the same service, which is dead handy.

There is a free trial, and if all you are doing are one-off transfers you might get away with just using that. I’ve signed up for a Pro account which gives me unlimited data transfers, so I can leave it whirring away in the background.

Here is what I am using it for at the moment:

  1. Transferring all the files in my old Google Drive account into my new one (this was one of my biggest headaches!)
  2. Copying all the photos I have in Dropbox into Google Drive (which I can then make accessible in Google+ and on the photo gallery app on my phone)
  3. Copying all the notes I have in Evernote into a folder on Google Drive as a backup

Here’s a video explaining it better than I can.

Hurrah for cloudHQ!

Backblaze – cloud backups made easy

backblaze

I worry about backups. Do you worry about backups?

The best way to have backups is to ensure you have three copies of everything important and one of those ought to be somewhere other than where your computers are kept. These days, that means the cloud.

I have a fairly standard Seagate 3TB external hard drive connected to the somewhat old and crumbly iMac on my desk. This machine worries me more than any, largely because it has our archive of family digital photos on it, going back some ten years. I use Time Machine on the mac to ensure it takes regular backups automatically, which sorts out the local copy.

For cloud backup, I chose Backblaze which is a great little cloud backup service which gives you unlimited space to backup your macs or PCs, at the remarkable cost of $5 a month per computer. It runs in the background keeping everything up to date without me needing to worry about it.

Of course a lot of my working documents are stored in Dropbox, which means I have a further copy of them. But for those big libraries of thousands of priceless digital photos, the combination of automated local backup to a hard disk and the cloud storage offered by Backblaze seems to be working ok for me.

Whose content is it, anyway?

Lloyd Davis has a thoughtful post on his blog about all the content he has been putting online for the last decade and a half:

I want to take stock and put it all in some order. It’s one of those things that really needs doing. I think I know pretty much what I’m doing here now – there’s writey stuff, there’s visual stuff and there’s audio stuff and sometimes it all gets mixed up but that’s about the size of it…

I hate the way that these are all differently integrated – ideally, I mean in that ideal world where I had a team of people to sort this out for me, I’d have everything also hosted independently and from today I’d not be using any of these services as the primary channel/home for anything.

I think Lloyd is right to be concerned – as he sees value in his content he wants to ensure he has some control, or ownership over it.

For a lot of people, of course, this won’t matter at all – perhaps they don’t consider their online output to have that much long term value. Indeed, for some people it will depend on the medium. I’m not overly fussed about my Tweets, for instance.

There are bits of my digital footprint that I work hard to ensure won’t disappear though. Take this blog for instance. I’ve been writing it since 2004 and there are nearly 2,500 posts on it. Not all – or even any – has that much value, but I’d be sad if I ever lost it.

So, I run my own server, with my own version of WordPress rather than relying on a third party service. I also back the whole thing up in three different places – locally on the server, on Amazon’s cloud and on my laptop.

Then there are the photos. My Flickr stream is full of them of course, which were either taken on a digital camera – in which case a copy must sit on a computer somewhere, from which I uploaded them, or a smartphone – in which case they might well be lost.

Photos I upload to Instagram via my phone automatically get sent to Flickr via IFTTT now, so there’s two copies of those, and anything uploaded to Flickr subsequently gets added to Dropbox, which then downloads to my laptop, preserving another copy.

Of course, there are loads of photos on my laptop, thousands, going back years, that aren’t online anywhere and are therefore at risk should something happen to my computer! Hence, backups to a local device (an Apple Time Capsule). I ought to sort out a cloud backup service like Carbonite too.

So, the answer is backups and lots of them. Not just local ones, either, but in the cloud somewhere too just in case your own hardware fails. My other advice, if you’re worried about this stuff (don’t bother if not), is to have a play with something like WordPress, get some web hosting, try importing content into it. Even if you don’t tell anyone about it, use it as an archiving service – where pretty much everything is under your control.

In other words, own your own destiny wherever you can. Where you host stuff on the web, make sure you have a local copy; and try to have a copy of content you treasure in the cloud too, just in case. Services like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Pinterest – all of them – don’t owe you anything and you shouldn’t trust them to always be there or to always do the right thing with your content.

ifttt – an absurdly useful little tool

If this…then that (commonly known as ifttt) is a ridiculously brilliant little thing.

It allows you to set automated tasks based on your activities online – and is as easy to use as clicking a few buttons – no complicated wrangling with the likes of Yahoo! Pipes here.

Here’s an example. You can tell ifttt that when you post a photo on your phone to Instagram, it should copy it across and post it in your Flickr stream too.

Or. you could tell ifttt that when you save a bookmark in Pinboard, it should also create a link post in your Tumblr site.

The ‘recipes’ page on the ifttt site is full of examples of how users are stitching together loads of online services to create something new.

I set something up recently that made me feel a bit better about the photos I share online. I already have my Instagram photos sent to Flickr – and Flickr remains my main online photo archive. So, I added a rule to ifttt to save any photos that appear on Flickr to my Dropbox account.

Of course, Dropbox syncs files automatically with all my computers, so this means I get a local copy of my photos saved, giving a bit more peace of mind.

Now, I’ll admit my use of ifttt is pretty boring. Anyone doing anything more exciting?

Living on a cloud

While despatched on a mission of digital mercy a few weeks ago Mr Briggs (of this parish) and I fell to comparing our computers. Or rather he fell to ridiculing my rather ancient Samsung laptop (seven years old I think, it doesn’t like to process video, original power supply fell apart and it now boasts a rather lovely Maplin back up device). Apple fans do tend to look upon me with fear tinged with pity when I unpack the machine.

I explained to Dave that all I really need is an OS to show me a browser because I live in the cloud. He’s become slightly cloud obsessed lately with visions of Chromebooks floating before his eyes. When he challenged me to write a blog post about my online working I realised that that I’m still not quite there.

The Basics

I do rely heavily on those lovely people at Google. They handle my mail for a start. A huge variety of email addresses are sent into my email account (or collected by GMail from mailboxes) and the system handles them smoothly. I virtually never see any spam and it is rare (though not unheard of) for real mail to get caught in the spam filter. I have a couple of Android devices that sync happily with the big G’s servers and lo: mail wherever I need it.

And I make a lot of use of Google Docs. Or Google Drive as we must now call it (what are they going to call the self-directed cars then?). The word processor meets my day to day needs.

Google Spreadsheets meet my fairly simple requirements perfectly well. There was a time when I demanded much of my spreadsheets but those days are mostly behind me. And for the days when they aren’t I have Google Fusion Tables.

Paying for stuff

Mountain View doesn’t seem to be able to deliver a decent task manager. For this I must turn to the excellent Remember The Milk. It’s idiosyncratic but it is fast, in the cloud and it has a cow logo which is nice.

For presentations I am inexorably drawn to SlideRocket. This is NOT cheap but it does make slideshows look good and its library system is easy to understand and flexible. If, like me, you create a lot of slideshows and then embed them all over the place it is probably worth the money. I guess it must be worth the money or I wouldn’t pay. I wish it cost less money though.

I use Hootsuite to help me manage my extensive social media real estate. I even pay them a little.

Other toys

I do use Dropbox but I haven’t fallen in love with it.

I’m more enthusiastic about Evernote. Especially since its Android app has got so good.

Google Reader is quite annoying but I haven’t found anything better for subscribing to blogs and other sites via their RSS feeds. And it handles my podcasts quite well.

What I still don’t do in the cloud.

Serious document prep. When I have a big report to prepare I will do the grunt work in Google Drive but I’ll apply the final formatting offline in Libre Office because it packs a lot more formatting oomph. And Scribus and InkScape are still my go-to guys for what we used to call DTP.

Stills and video editing. Actually simple edits are now pretty easy to do on things like Picnik (now integrated into Google+ of course). For stills there’s the GIMP for video there’s Kdenlive and for sound Audacity, natch.

When the rain comes

There are two big risks with leaving your stuff lying on random servers scattered around the world:

  • other people might see the data without my permission
  • the data might vanish or be locked away from me

So I fret a quite a bit about security. Google has good tools and I try to keep an eye on account activity, change passwords and use 2-factor authentication and so on. As to people being allowed in without my knowledge. I try not to think about that. This does make moving between machines less than frictionless but it seems to be sensible.

And I regularly take copies of my data and documents out of the internet and hide them in a lovely little Buffalo Terastation where they nestle quietly on a RAID. Google’s Data Liberation Front is a bit marvellous in this regard.

Luckily no-one asks me to do any heavy coding, design or other things that require a sooper-dooper machine. I suppose I could do that on a virtual box but that’s hardly the same.

But the crucial question is, when the old laptop finally gives up the ghost should I buy a shiny Chromebook or just shove Linux on a passing laptop?

Back up your Flickr photos!

Following the announcement that Yahoo! don’t care too much for Delicious anymore, I’ve been worrying away about Flickr. I know a few others have been too.

Phil Bradley points out that a great tool exists for backing up all your Flickr photos, so if Yahoo! decides to flickr the switch to off, you still have all those memories.

It’s called Flickredit and is an open source effort, and well worth trying out.

While you’re at it, think about the content you have on other services and have a look for ways of backing it all up, just in case.

Bookmarks for August 18th through September 8th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

  • Civic Commons code-sharing initiative bids to reduce government IT costs – "Around the United States, city governments have created a multitude of software. Unfortunately, most of the time the code from those projects is not shared between municipalities, which results in duplication of effort and redundant, static software."
  • Anonymity, trust and openness on the social intranet – "In some organisations, the cloak of anonymity could help to establish the first part of that trust relationship, and reassure colleagues that leaders are, in fact, really listening; once it exists, it’s easier to step out of the shadows with a greater degree of trust and openness."
  • The end of history – "History will, of course, look after itself. It always has. But the future history of our time will be different from our histories of past times, and that will not be because we have an eye to the future, but because we are always relentless focused on the present."
  • Why aren’t we all working for Learning Organisations? – "…the authors suggest a way for managers to switch from a ‘command and control’ to a ‘systems thinking’ mindset in order to achieve genuine organisational learning."
  • Quixly – Cool way to host and deliver paid-for content, such as e-books.
  • Understanding Marin County’s $30 million ERP failure – It's not just UK government that cocks up IT projects.
  • Google Wave open source next steps: "Wave in a Box" – "We will expand upon the 200K lines of code we've already open sourced (detailed at waveprotocol.org) to flesh out the existing example Wave server and web client into a more complete application or "Wave in a Box.""
  • Should Governments Legislate a Preference for Open Source? – "It's easy to legislate a preference for Open Source, and difficult to implement a level playing field upon which Open Source and proprietary software could compete fairly. Thus, a number of governments have enacted the preference as an easy-to-legislate way of solving the problem, but I submit not optimally. Having a preference gives proprietary software an opening to portray themselves as the "injured party", when the reality is that historically there has been a preference for proprietary software in both legislation and internal process of government purchasers, and this still exists today."
  • Wiki life – "The point, in the end, is that Wikimedia by its DNA operates in public and benefits accrue — not just as product and engagement and promotion and distribution but also as strategy. That’s the next step in creating the truly public company or organization."
  • First Impressions: VaultPress (WordPress Backup) – Nice summary of the premium backup service for WordPress (sadly just in beta at the moment).
  • Sink or Swim – Donald Clark on the birth of Learning Pool and why the public sector needs it more than ever.
  • Damien Katz: Getting Your Open Source Project to 1.0 – Great notes on successful open source development.
  • Harold Jarche » The Evolving Social Organization – "For decades, organizational growth has been viewed as a positive development, but it has come at a cost."
  • O’Reilly, Open Government and the Ingenuity of Enthusiasm – "It is quite clear that performance management and procurement, as well as many other government processes, need to be revised, reformed or radically changed. But this won’t happen unless we recognize that government and its employees need to remain in charge, need to stay as the custodians of neutrality and transparency, and we, the people, developers or users, can just help them do a better job but not replace them in any way."
  • Research findings and recommendations for Councils – Some fantastic shared learning here from Michele.
  • sigil – "Sigil is a multi-platform WYSIWYG ebook editor. It is designed to edit books in ePub format."
  • Enterprise 2.0 Perceived Risks: Myth or Reality? – "…security is a personal thing, a personal trait that everyone needs to nurture and treasure accordingly."
  • Using Free, Open-Source Software in Local Governments – "…how is it that local governments have failed to capitalize on the cost-saving and productivity-enhancing benefits of using open source software, especially given the budget crises they face?"
  • Open Government Data – "This event will bring together movers and shakers from the world of open government data — including government representatives, policymakers, lawyers, technologists, academics, advocates, citizens, journalists and reusers."
  • WordPress › Email Users « WordPress Plugins – "A plugin for wordpress which allows you to send an email to the registered blog users."

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Backup! Backup!

Computing in the cloud is great: you get to keep all your data somewhere online, which means that you – and anyone you authorise – can get at it wherever you are.

But there can be problems. One is of finance – in these somewhat tricky economic timed, companies are burning out, and taking your data with them. There is also, however, technological problems. We all know we should take regular backups of our own stuff, don’t we? And surely those startups with whom we trust are stuff do the same…

Ma.gnolia users must be feeling pretty bummed right now. The social bookmarking service (think Delicious but, er, slightly different). At the moment, their homepage displays a rather bleak message in black text on a plain white background:

So far, my efforts to recover Ma.gnolia’s data store have been unsuccessful. While I’m continuing to work at it, both from the data store and other sources on the web, I don’t want to raise expectations about our prospects. While certainly unanticipated, I do take responsibility and apologize for this widespread loss of data.

Oh dear. All those bookmarks people had been accumulating over the years, with their descriptions and tags…gone. And it doesn’t seem like they are going to be back, either.

For those lucky enough to have backed up their bookmarks from Ma.gnolia, there might be some good news coming out of the open source project. Let’s hope so.

There are a couple of issues that this raises. One is around the efficacy of hosting data in the cloud. If Ma.gnolia weren’t backing up bookmarks, what about some of the webmail providers? Is Google properly safeguarding our documents? Can we trust PBwiki with our collaborative material? What about all the data inside social networks and Ning communities?

I’d think that we probably can, still, but don’t take any chances. Back up everything you have online locally. Most sites let you export content to a file, those that don’t might mean you have to undertake a tedious cop-and-paste exercise. I’ve started with my bookmarks, which are thankfully hosted with Delicious – if you do too, the export tool is here.

The second issue is whether there is much of a future in social bookmarking. Mashable questioned it last year. I disagree and still believe that social bookmarking is an inherently useful tool to have available. Not least because it is a great introduction to the core social web technology for newbies: tagging, sharing, RSS, mobility – it’s all there and is easily understood, especially in terms of its usefulness.

What appears to have happened at Ma.gnolia is an administrative cockup, which has broken the service irreparably. I don’t think it spells the end of social bookmarking as we know it.

Update: Wired notes that Ma.gnolia folk are using Friendfeed to try and repopulate their database!