Mirco Wilhelm, the poor guy whose Flickr account was mistakenly wiped out, along with the 4,000 photos, comments, and working hyperlinks in it, could have saved himself some amount of heartache had he signed up for Backupify, a handy utility that backs up social and cloud-based services to ensure against just this type of thing. Backupify is much more than backup, though--more on that in a second.
Wilhelm got lucky. A day after the error at the Yahoo photo-sharing site that led to the deletion of his account, Flickr figured out how to restore his data. The story ended happily, and has the advantage of serving as a reminder to all of us that the "cloud" can leak. Our data on a Google, Yahoo, or other online services might be safer than it is on a hard drive in our home, but it's not absolutely safe. It pays to keep backups, and that's just what Backupify does. The Wilhelm incident was also served as priceless advertising for Backupify.
Most cloud data problems are user error, Backupify CEO Rob May tells me. With his service, you can undo your own errors. Or, as in the Wilhelm case, your provider's. Services supported include Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Google Docs, and several others. Support for LinkedIn will be announced next week.
Backupify is easy to use: Point it at your online accounts, authorize it to access them, and then periodically, Backupify goes in, slurps your data out, and stores it on its own cloud servers. Yes, it backs up the cloud into another cloud. The option to back up to your own hardware is coming later, possibly via Dropbox sync, which would be pretty cool.
Restoring deleted data, though, is another kettle of fish. For some services, like Google Docs, it's easy to pump Backupify archives back into the service, either to un-delete an erroneously erased file, or to transfer information in bulk from one account to another. But in other cases, restore doesn't work quite so cleanly. You cannot restore a Twitter account, for example, since the Twitter API doesn't provide a way to push a status update into the Twitter system with anything but the current date and time. A restored Twitter account would have all your tweets looking like they were posted milliseconds apart. But you do get a usable, potentially searchable archive of your Twitter activity, which you will eventually be able to scan with other apps. Currently, you can ask the service to send you a PDF of everything that Backupify can grab.
It is the searchability of the Backupify service, and its capability to put multiple cloud and social databases together in one place for users, that the company is pegging its future on.
In the business world, Backupify can be used for legal compliance, as an archiving service for companies that need to keep records of what employees do during work time or on company-sponsored accounts. Likewise, Backupify can be used in discovery; it's easier (and more complete) to search through Backupify archives than to try to coordinate research into several different services, some of which may not keep perpetual, easily searchable archives. (I'm looking at you, Twitter.)
But more interesting is the potential to use Backupify in daily production, as way to see, perhaps, all the interactions you've had with a person on all of the social networks and cloud storage systems you've used. Xobni, which scans Facebook, LinkedIn, and other services whenever you open an e-mail from a person, does a limited version of this. This search and analytics capability can keep Backupify relevant even if, as Facebook has done, the social services add their own backup or export features.
In other words, Backupify could give users a much deeper and useful view into their "social graph" than any one service can provide. Backupify may do that itself, or, when it eventually launches its own API, other companies could draw out the utility meaning from its data stores.
Backupify is poorly named. Nobody gets excited about backup. But the capability to mine your own network of people and ideas, or to use that kind of information for sales or marketing -- that's a service with day-to-day value.