Gmail and Google Calendar Are Now Downloadable (Just Not Your Brain — Yet)

Love letters, job offers and cat video confabs, check, check and check.

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Somewhere in a computer file system folder, tucked within a series of folders, locked in an archive compressed to a fraction of its original size (inside an encryption riddle, wrapped in a digital mystery) are all my old email files from when I used to use Lotus Notes, now known as IBM Notes. Lotus Notes! I realize some of you still use it, and this is not me chuckling quietly.

No, this is just me letting you know that Google in 2013 is finally going to catch back up with a program that’s been around since the late 1980s: until today, you couldn’t extract Gmail or Google Calendar information for archiving vis-a-vis an intuitive (and more importantly, native) Gmail or Google Calendar switch. You had to either trust Google to keep your stuff safe and backed up somewhere, or play a kind of digital version of Twister to extract said information by forwarding it to another email address, or doing the old single-client, multi-account drag-and-drop (followed by nerve-wracking seconds, minutes or hours, volume depending, for the copy operation to complete, sometimes with everything properly rolled over, sometimes not).

No more. Log into your Google account as of today, and under the “Account” section at left, you’ll spy a new “Download your data” option. Pick that, and you’ll have the option to create an archive that can include not only Gmail or Google Calendar but a smorgasbord of Google services, including Google Drive, YouTube, Blogger, Hangouts, Google+ stuff and so on. Once you’ve created the archive — it takes a few moments, depending on size and how many services you’ve selected — you can download it direct from the webpage. If you can’t be bothered to hang around for the archive to coalesce, Google will fire over a reminder email notifying you when it’s ready; click the email link and you’re whisked off to an overview of all current archives.

How long does an archive stick around? One week, looks like: I created one today, and it’s available through December 12. So you needn’t worry about archive-overflow or manually deleting archives you’ve created.

“Having access to your data and being able to take it with you is important, especially if that data contains precious memories like old love letters, your first job offer, or that 100-message thread discussing the merits of various cat videos,” wrote Google software engineer Nick Piepmeier in a blog note Thursday. “Starting today we’re rolling out the ability to export a copy of your Gmail and Google Calendar data, making it easy to back up your data or move to another service.”

Piepmeier notes that Gmail message downloading will have a staggered rollout through January, while Calendar is available to everyone immediately. As of this post, I’m apparently in the Calendar-only group.

The upside of the move: We now have simple, direct control of our Google-related data, no longer incentivized to leave it lingering in the cloud pointlessly. There’s still something to be said for firewalling and backing up your data in a place no one else can access it, even if the lion’s share of that data does indeed turn out to be love letters, job offers and philosophical ruminating on the eminence of feline cinematography.