Gmail’s New “Restore Contacts” Feature Can Destroy Contact Info

Gmail Restore contacts.png Google just launched a feature which lets users restore their Gmail contacts to a previous state from any time in the past 30 days. This is a great addition to Gmail, and will save users lots of heartache. It’s essentially a big “undo” button for Contacts. But there’s a catch: when it restores old contacts, it destroys newer contacts. Spanning Backup takes a different approach, and restores data non-destructively.

Let’s say you go to a conference, meet a bunch of people, painstakingly enter their contact info into Google Contacts, then throw away their business cards. The next day you notice that you’re missing contact info for one of your friends. Maybe it was lost during a bad sync—who knows?—but it’s gone. You know you had it a week ago.

First let’s say you decide to restore using Gmail’s new feature. You choose “Restore Contacts” from the “More Actions” menu and choose “1 week ago”. Boom! Your missing contact info is back. But all of the contacts you entered from the conference are gone. Why? Because you restored your contact list to its state from before you entered them.

As NPR tech commentator Omar Gallaga tweeted, “Crap, that sounds like the opposite of ‘Restore!’”

Now let’s say that instead of using Gmail’s new restore feature you use Spanning Backup. You find your contacts backup from a week ago and choose to restore the “Friends” group. A new group is created in Google Contacts, called something like “Friends (Restored from 7-Dec-2010)”. You find the missing contact info, move it into your “Friends” group, and delete the newly-created “Restored” group. Now you have contact info for both your missing friend and everyone you met at the conference.

Again, Spanning Backup restores data non-destructively. This is a subtle but very important point.

“Still,” you say, “isn’t this bad news for Spanning Backup? Doesn’t this do part of what your product does?” Well, no and yes.

Yes, Gmail’s new built-in contact restore feature does some of what Spanning Backup does, but no, it’s not bad news for us. Bad news would be Google failing to improve their applications, and instead letting them stagnate and drift. This is the opposite of that—Google is adding a much-needed improvement.

Already, Spanning Backup does a lot more than just restore your contacts to a previous state. It lets you restore specific groups of contacts, and does so non-destructively. It also backs up and restores Google Calendar and Docs. Even so, we’re not sitting still. We’re working on a number of new features to make Spanning Backup even more valuable. Subscribe to the Spanning Backup Blog to make sure you hear about the new features first.

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