Backing up contacts from Facebook

People are starting to realize it’s wise to backup information stored on online services like Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, etc. Just as backing up family photos stored on your home PC to a separate disk is a good idea, so is backing up family photos stored on the internet to a disk that’s in your control.

Why? No, your home computer isn’t as reliable as Facebook or Google’s or Microsoft’s servers… but these services “crash” in ways your home computer can’t:

  • Your information’s used in a way you didn’t expect & you want to quit
  • Business changes occur you don’t agree with & you want to quit
  • Online applications you hoped would stand forever disappear& you’re forced to quit

Keeping your information backed up along the way makes it possible to deal with all these scenarios.

Here’s a way to back up contacts from Facebook into a CSV file (“comma separated values”.) We’re using Windows Live to import contacts from Facebook, then exporting from Windows Live to CSV file. The CSV file is convenient because you can open it in Microsoft Excel or any text editing program. Email applications can often import CSV files as well.

A warning: Using this technique, as far as I know, will send an email to each contact’s address inviting that person to also use Windows Live. This appears to be its cost. This is not stated clearly by Windows Live, so I’m warning you here, and I’m hoping Windows Live clarifies & provides opt-out option in the future. I still think it’s worth doing.

Here are the steps:

1) Sign in or sign up at http://people.live.com.

2) On the main screen at http://people.live.com, click “Add People”

 image

3) Select “Facebook” from pull-down list, then click the big arrow.

4) A window containing a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/login.php…) appears asking for your permission to read contacts from Facebook. Yes,  this is what you came here to do, and if you did these steps, yes, that’s really Facebook, not a malicious site.

5) You may have to repeat step 3 and 4; I’m not sure why.

6) Windows Live itself breaks import into 3 Steps, 2 of which are easy: click “Next” on Step 1 of 3, and “Next” on Step 2 of 3.

7) In Step 3 of 3,  I recommend unchecking “Add these people to Windows Live Messenger” and “Also show these people on my profile page”. These options have benefits, but you can always go back into Windows Live contact list & do these things later once you understand what they mean. Regardless of what you check, this is the step that may “Send Invitation”  emails to your friends. Click “Send Invitation” once everything’s just so:

 image 

9) If this isn’t the first time you’ve done this, or you use Windows Live for contact management already, now’s the time to use “Merge” (under “Manage”) to merge any duplicates created by the process back into single contacts. I’ll leave this step up to you; Windows Live makes it easy.

10) Now to export your Windows Live contacts to a CSV file: Click “Export”, under “Manage”:

 image

11) Pass the “are you human?” test:

image

13) Save the CSV file.

There may be some other technique, but this is what I do. I’d love to hear how you do it.

Working around Google Voice number portability concerns

In July I wrote about Google Voice’s inadequacy as a personal cell voicemail system: YouMail is a better solution for me on a number of points.

The biggest nail in the coffin are N+1 live phone numbers to use Google Voice, when YouMail works with N, and only 1 number will get callers to the Google Voice system. There’s no silver bullet here other than porting a current number, which I hear Google’s working on, but I expect several bullets will be needed (who know how carriers & regulators will accidentally collude to mess up Google’s aim.)

But I did some more digging, and found that for YouMail-equivalence (except for MP3 email delivery) you can use your current numbers with Google Voice & at least the Google Voicemail system until something better comes along. Here’s an honest-to-goodness, you-can-do-this-right-now, workaround:

  • Don’t give anyone your Google Voice number! Yes, I know your new Google number is shiny. Just think, your number’s reclaimed from failed suburbia and still has that “partially finished subdivision” smell on it. It’ll help you cope.
  • Turn on “Do Not Disturb” on your Google Voice account.
  • Set your Google Voice number as your no-answer/busy transfer number for your other numbers.

Step 1 is easy, I won’t explain it any further.

Step 2: In the Google Voice web application, go to “Settings”, and under the “General” tab, enable “Do Not Disturb”:

image

This causes calls to your Google Voice number to go immediately to Google Voice voicemail, avoiding any audio disturbances, temporal displacements, or painful feedback loops.

Step 3:  On Verizon Wireless, I type *71 immediately followed by my (10-digit) Google Voice number, then hit send.  Wait for confirmation tone, then hang up. I believe the AT&T equivalent is  *61, but don’t blame me if that toasts your iPhone; I didn’t get a chance to test it. T-Mobile, Sprint, Cricket, and other carrier folks… you’re on your own. Help me out if you like.

In closing, this lets you get around lack of number portability for some scenarios, specifically replacing existing voicemail systems with Google Voice. Hopefully this is helpful to you.

(I owe Engadget Mobile for reminding me no-answer/busy transfer is also how YouMail works, and so is a workaround here.)