This has maybe gotten out of hand. Sure, I work in the online industry, but multiple computers, handheld devices, etc. Do I really need all this stuff? Maybe not. Maybe I could trim down a bit. But as much trouble as all the updates and management, etc. is, I think overall I get more value than it costs me. And the good news? It’s getting easier, not harder. Today’s more consumer focused Software as a Service (SaaS) options mean I don’t have to do as much really effort filled tasks as I used to for the same goals. Everyone has their own needs, but I thought I’d share some of my current strategies for managing my personal data items.

If you’re facing similar issues, personally or family wide, maybe some of these strategies are useful to you.

Basic File Management and Backup

I use SugarSync to synchronize selected folders and files across multiple computers, and iPad / iPhone if necessary. I’ve got a Windows 7 Desktop, a Macbook Laptop for personal use and I use another Macbook at work. Besides wanting my personal and personal business files available on Desktop and Laptop, I want some work files synced to all  computers so I can work anywhere. (Some companies would never allow such things. Since I work for a ‘we work however we need to in order to get stuff done’ in my case this is different.) There’s a number of ways to synchronize files across computers. One way is to not bother at all, and just log in remotely. Another is sneakernet, (i.e., copy to portable hard drive, thumb drives, etc.) But I find SugarSync makes most sense. SugarSync is one of sever such services, (another popular one is Dropbox; I just happen to like SugarSync better). The end result is I have an online, (“Cloud”), backup of my files, plus files on all 3 of my computers, and accessible via iPad or any ‘net connected computer if necessary. SugarSync has a free version, but if doing this seriously, chances are it’s going to run you $5 – $10 month. Pricing is here so check it out for your own needs.

Offline File Backup

Even with paid for Cloud Based backup, I use a Seagate Free Agent drive to store everything every few months. Basically, I trust that between having my data on three PCs and a cloud based service, I’m pretty much ok. There is, however, a small risk that a bad synchronization or major failure of a file synchronization provider could wipe data on all systems. As a result, I’ve decided that my cost / benefit / risk is such that I could live with losing 3 months of data. So every quarter or so, I back up the same critical files that go to my cloud backup to an external hard drive. And that drive just gets stored in our Sentry Fire Safe along with other critical papers.

Password Management

My choice is SplashID for both ID and Password management as well as storage of account information and more. There are a lot of password managers out there. And a bunch of them on the web so you can get to them from anywhere. But this is an area where I’m rather paranoid and don’t want this stuff in an online type service. SplashID lets me put the software on my PC, my Mac and both iPad and iPhone. I can synchronize the database using WiFi for the portable devices. And use the backup / restore file feature to synch the computers. As well, the backup files can be stored in the cloud. What’s that? Didn’t I just say I didn’t want this stuff on a server? Sort of. I don’t want the whole service on a server. But an encrypted file that’s not usable without the right software and credentials is ok with me. It’s just a different sort of risk profile.

Contact Management

For now I’m using Windows Contacts, which sync with both iPhone and iPad, and the files get backed up with SugarSync mentioned earlier. This is one area I’m not really thrilled with. Years ago, I used a PalmPilot for this. The great thing about that was the files were in a very easy to get to format. The way Windows and Apple products store this info is just a bit opaque. You really have to be concerned about syncing with Windows iTunes to Mac products and such. Based on my own problems I’ve had with this and seeing the troubles of others in various forums when I’ve sought help; I think this needs more work. But for now, it seems secure enough with a means to recover, albeit with a bit of a hassle.

Family Calendar & Some Shared Docs

This is simply handled with shared Google Calendars and Google Docs. While Google may have enough information about me simply based on my search habits, the cost / benefit and privacy concerns I have are not so much I feel compelled to have a paid or complicated solution to this. I could install calendar software on my own server, but really, Google Calendars are great. They sync with multiple devices, can be shared easily, can add other public calendars like public holidays, religious holidays and more. By sharing calendars like this, I can no longer get in trouble for forgetting we had plans for some weekend or another. (Only for either not checking the calendar or willfully ignoring it!) Same thing for docs. We can put our “To Get for House” lists on a shared doc, etc.

Notes & To Do Lists

One Word. Evernote. Evernote allows me to save what I need to, and sync with multiple computers, portable devices and the cloud. I’m not overly worried about the security here. If a burglar hacks my account and somehow learns that I’ve got, “Get Grout Removal tool and sanded grout to fix master bath shower cracks,” I can live with that. So far, I’ve not felt compelled to upgrade to a paid version. Their paid version does allow for offline use on portable devices though.  I’m not sure I’d want to pay subscription for that though at their current prices. SplashData has other solutions that might work as well for ToDo lists, etc. (Of course, Evernote is way more than ToDo lists, but that’s my primary personal use so I don’t personally need their paid version.)

Blogs & Newsfeeds

Google Reader and Feedler. I subscribe to tons of blogs. Too many. Using Google as my RSS compilation gives me a repository to call on. I can view this from any browser in the world of course, but I find the under $10 Pro version of Feedler for both iPad and iPhone to be the fastest way to consume this content during my commuting time. There is one potential risk for the paranoid with regards to Feedler. It does need your Google id/pw to get your feed info. So technically, if someone there was a bad guy or they got hacked, your Google Account could be compromised. For me, this one is a low risk as the worst thing that happens here is someone trashes my calendar and subscriptions. (I don’t use Gmail so my contacts aren’t at risk.) If I really cared a lot, I could backup my OPML file with my subscriptions, but this is a low risk, low concern area for me.

Email

One word: IMAP. Since I use IMAP for email for something like 8 different addresses and have Thunderbird installed on multiple computers, I’m not too worried about losing data here. I’ve got 20 years of Email in an older Eudora format when I was using primarily POP3 to access email, but with Eudora no longer supported, it was time to do something else. Just using IMAP and backing up downloaded files covers Email. [Update] One tip I’d offer for using Imap based mail clients is to Extract or Delete file attachments. Typically, I’ll have a folder structure for my emails and something similar on my hard drive. And then for attachments I want to keep I’ll remove them from the email. This way, there’s not Gigabytes of files potentially clogging up a mail server. True, this can cause a little bit of a disconnect if either an email or file goes missing and you’re historically trying to find something. But as inexpensive and expansive as most storage plans are, large file sizes in a growing collection can still potentially cause problems on a mail server.

That’s It!

So there may be other little apps I’ve got or procedures I like, but these are the big things that let me have some confidence all the digital artifacts I’ve generated or collected over the years are safe and sound.