Posthumous Posterous: the importance of the exit strategy
Posted by David Watson
I this post I discuss the imminent closure of the Posterous blogging service, and the wider topic of what happens to your data when a tool you rely on is killed off (or, perhaps, you grow out of it and want to move elsewhere). I’ll take a look at the export options for various major online tools that researchers may be likely to use, and suggest a few things to check for when you’re starting out (or if you’re already knee-deep in published content).
We’ve mentioned Posterous in a few of our social media training sessions. It was designed as a simple, email-friendly tool where you could ignore the usual hassle of browser-based blogging and just post updates from your inbox, wherever you were. Over time it morphed into the more Tumblr-like Posterous Spaces, emphasising social sharing and photographic features, but it remained at heart a very usable and useful free blogging option.
Last year the service was purchased by Twitter, and they’ve just announced that they’re shutting it down at the end of April, having presumably taken what they need from the company’s pool of talent.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, you’re probably remembering Miggie’s recent post about the decision to shut down Connotea.
Posterous have made an export tool available, and many services have dedicated tools to import Posterous sites (here’s an example from WordPress), but this is still bad news for anyone who has invested time in building a substantial archive of content on Posterous – unless you’ve paid for your own domain, your web address will change, the look of your blog will most likely have to change, and there are bound to be difficulties in transferring a large body of work, particularly with images and file attachments.
The founders of the original Posterous service have launched a new blogging tool, Posthaven, which they pledge will (for a small fee) ‘last forever’. Whether or not to judge them on their past performance is an exercise for the reader.
What’s the lesson here? Always make sure you have an exit strategy for your online data. All the other hassle aside, Posterous has provided one for its users. But before investing time (or money) in any online service, it’s a good idea to research their export options. Most of the major players have clear guides:
Google has a dedicated team and site for this – the Data Liberation Front. They provide a tool called Google Takeout that makes it very easy to export either all your data (which is a one-click job) or selected data from a number of their services, including Drive / Docs, Blogger, YouTube, Pages, Picasa, Reader and others. Separate guides are offered for services like Gmail.
WordPress has an online guide to its export options – they’re robust, but the page notes that users may have to put in extra effort to handle uploads and images. Again, you can export everything or just selected items.
In Facebook, you can download a copy of your ‘Facebook data’ from the General Account Settings page. This only exports content you’ve personally shared, which may or may not be useful depending on how you use Facebook. It won’t for example, include items from other people that you’ve been tagged in, or comments you’ve made on other people’s content. There are third party tools that will attempt to work around this – for example, PhotoGrabber will download photos you’ve been tagged in – but these tools are often forced to play catch-up with developments on Facebook. Facebook also has an export help page.
If you’re using Tumblr, you’ll find it’s very easy to delete all your content, but not to export it. There’s a beta-stage Mac app that may or may not still be supported, and third-party solutions exist – for example, WordPress will walk you through importing from Tumblr into a new WordPress blog – but basically, it sounds like Tumblr may give you an export headache.
Here’s a recent guide to creating a PDF export of your LinkedIn profile.
Delicious has had a checkered history of late, and at the time of writing it’s not easy to find the export option – but it is there. You need to head to your Settings page and click Import Links, where you’ll find a very small ‘Export bookmarks’ link. Unsurprisingly, it’s much easier to import your data into Delicious.
Evernote can export your notebooks or notes to HTML files, with attachments such as images and PDFs included – the Evernote site has instructions for Windows, but I just checked on my Mac and the options are the same there.
It’s never been that easy to view your entire history on Twitter – posts seem to have a habit of being hard to find after a while (the disappearing web in action). However, they’ve recently added a ‘Request your archive’ button to your Account page, which you can use to “request a file containing your information, starting with your first Tweet.”
I just searched Flickr‘s help pages for ‘export’: nothing was found. Third-party tools have been created to export your Flickr content, but Flickr has been known to block use of them. Usually you’ll be uploading images to Flickr that you already have on your PC, but this is something to bear in mind: you can get them in but, short of manually downloading every image, you might not be able to get them out (and of course you may be adding significant data to the images once they’re on Flickr).
For Flickr and other image hosts, it may be worth bookmarking Migratr, a tool for moving your photos and metadata from one service to another.
Obviously there are many, many other services out there. If you’re thinking of using one, take a look through the help pages to see if there’s a guide to exporting your data – and if there isn’t, proceed with caution.
Export formats: what am I supposed to do with this?
The format your export takes will depend on the service – Google Drive documents export to Office format or plain text easily enough, for example, but a WordPress export, having to incorporate assorted blogging and categorisation features, exports to an XML file. This will be of little use to you as a human being – you’ll need a computer to fit it into a suitable system (i.e. another blogging platform) to get at your content easily.
Some services (such as Facebook) use microformats for a compromise between human and machine readability. Again, if you’re planning to make serious use of a service, it’s a good idea to test the export process and see what you end up with – will it be usable and meaningful to you, or a mass of data that you might as well not have at all? If it’s designed to help you migrate your data, can you actually import it into another service? Better to discover any problems with a single test post at the outset than after three years of hard work.
Closer to home
If you’re thinking of using a blog to support your research, bear in mind that the University provides all users with their own WordPress environment via MyPad. You can create multliple private or public blogs, and take advantage of features that free WordPress accounts don’t come with, such as wiki and form plugins. Data can be exported in the same way as any other WordPress blog, so it’s easy to take your data with you if you decide to move on.