Is your Contacts List at the mercy of your webmail service?

Email "@" signs falling from the Cloud into a laptop

It’s well worth saving your Contacts information locally if it only exists in The Cloud.

“Webmail” is the method of accessing email that works via a browser (eg Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera). There is no “program” on your computer that is dedicated to dealing with your email. All of the necessary programming is provided via the web browser.

If you use webmail to send and receive emails then it’s possible that the only “contacts list” you have is intimately bound up with that email account. This contacts list (also known as an “address book”) may be just the email addresses of your correspondents, but it may also include postal addresses and many other items of contact information.

When you use webmail, the information that you are looking at (email content, contact information etc) is normally only stored on the servers of whoever is providing your service. Now, I know that there is an argument that says “So what? Microsoft/Gmail/AOL/Yahoo all know what they are doing and they will take better care of my data than I ever would. I never take backups“. Call me a control freak, but I would not be at all happy to think that 200-1000 email addresses might be at the mercy of an organisation over which I have absolutely no influence. And although you might be right that these large companies have better data backup procedures than you do, that does not mean that they are entirely reliable.

Here are two ways in which computer clients of mine have lost their contact information:

  • Last summer a client of mine lost control of his Gmail account when it was hacked by someone correctly guessing his password – see this blog on Gmail Passwords for the full story.
  • Very recently a (different) client had problems with his Hotmail account. Microsoft told him that there appeared to have been attempts to hack into his account and they made him jump through all kinds of hoops to get it back. He was luckier than the Gmail client in that he did get back into his account, but all his contact information has disappeared.

Despite these occasional problems, there are definitely arguments in favour of using webmail, so can you do something to reduce this vulnerability? Yes, you can. If you use any of the main webmail services (eg AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo) then you have the ability to “export” your contacts list. It would be too tedious to describe the process for each webmail client (ie each webmail service), but the general advice is to click wherever necessary to get your contacts list in front of you and then look for an option that includes the magic word “export”. This may be a sub-option of an option called “manage contacts” or something like that. See the illustration for an example from a Yahoo webmail account.

Webmail Data Export Options

These are the options for exporting Contacts information from Yahoo webmail. The circled option is the one to go for.

You will probably be offered a selection of different formats in which the exported data can be saved, but we needn’t get too distracted by that. If it’s offered, take the “csv” option (which means “comma separated values”). If there’s no “csv” option apparent then take another option such as “Outlook” or “Thunderbird”. The main thing here is that we are saving a copy of your data onto your own computer so that it could be made available in the case of an emergency. Even if it’s in the wrong format a bit of “data massage” will probably put it to rights and you’ll certainly be better off than if you had no local copy at all.

When you’ve completed the process you will have a file on your computer that might be called something like “contacts.csv”. This is a local backup of your contacts data. It can be useful in several ways:

  • To restore contact data back into an existing account.
  • To transfer the data into a new account from the same webmail service.
  • To transfer the data to a completely different account with a different webmail service.

If you do use webmail and decide to spend a little time doing something “techie” and well worthwhile, then have a go at this.

Have you ever had trouble sending a large email attachment? If you try to send an attachment that is too big then you may find that it bounces back to you (ie you receive a message saying that the message could not be delivered). The limiting factor may be in the recipient’s email system or in a system that the email (with attachment) has passed through on the way to the recipient.

You are not likely to encounter this problem if you are just sending average-sized spreadsheets, word processing documents or pdf files, but “media files” such as video clips, sound files, and many high-resolution picture files can very easily be far too big to send as attachments.

Large AttachmentsHow do I know the size of an attachment? This depends on the email system you are using. In Hotmail, for example, after you have added the attachment to the email you can hover your mouse over the attachment and a small box will pop up that includes the file size (eg 273kb). With most other systems the size of the attachment is shown in brackets after the name of the attachment.

What is the maximum size of an attachment? Hotmail is supposed to be able to receive 10mb attachments, Yahoo and Gmail have a limit of 25mb. These are all webmail systems. If you are using POP-based email (eg you check your email using Outlook or Windows Live Mail) then there is probably a limit set by the email servers you are using. If you have your own domain name then you are probably using your domain host’s email servers. Otherwise, you will be using your ISP’s servers. The limit they impose can be as low as 5mb. Also, the theoretical limit of a Gmail attachment is 25mb but the actual file sent through cyberspace is larger than your original file by up to about 20% so Gmail’s actual maximum is probably nearer to 20mb. Anyway, even if you know the limits of your own system, that doesn’t help in telling you what your correspondent can receive as that depends on their system rather than yours. Personally, I would not assume that an attachment of over 5mb is going to go through without trouble. I always check with the recipient that they have received anything I have sent bigger than 5mb. Note: there are 1024kb in 1mb, so if your attachment size is expressed in kb rather than mb then anything less than about 5000kb is less than 5mb and will probably be delivered without problem.

What can I do if my attachment is too big? There are several options:

  • split the file up into smaller pieces. There is software available for splitting and rejoining files. I don’t recommend this method.
  • compress the file into a (smaller) zip file. This can work very well for some file types (eg tif files) but not have very much effect on others (eg jpg picture files, that are already optimised for the trade-off between size and quality). Zip files are a good idea, by the way, if you are sending many attachments as they can all be sent in one zip file for unpacking at the recipient’s end.
  • use an online service such as www.goaruna.com

Using GoAruna, you don’t even have to register if you just wish to send a single file. All you need to do is enter your own and the recipient’s email addresses and upload the file you wish to attach. The recipient is then sent an email with a link so that they can download the file. Although there is a time limit (seven days) on the availability of the download, this method does have the advantage that the download is under the control of the recipient. This can be better than having their email system tied up while a large attachment download takes place (although this is becoming less important as internet connections become faster). A single file sent this way by GoAruna can be up to 100mb. By registering with Aruna, you can also have 2gb of online storage. This can be used for backups and/or making files available to other people that may otherwise have needed to be sent as email attachments. Note: just as there are 1024kb in 1mb, there are 1024mb in 1gb.

There are other services similar to GoAruna. You may like to look at these:

http://www.yousendit.com
http://www.gigasize.com/index.php

© 2011-2017 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
Privacy Policy Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha