Why GigaOm is right (and wrong) about Backupify

cloud computing
Image by Rocío Lara via Flickr

On Monday, Mathew Ingram over at GigaOm offered his reaction to Backupify getting VC funding. Put simply, Ingram was skeptical about the future of our company. He made some fair points. We agree with some of them. Let’s take the criticisms one by one:

“[T]he main problem for Backupify is that it suffers from all of the privacy and reliability concerns that tend to cluster around any cloud-based service — and then some. After all, some users don’t even like storing their documents online with giant players such as Google or Microsoft; why would they want to do so with a tiny startup? And if backing up your desktop data to the cloud takes a leap of faith (due to some high-profile data losses), it’s likely to take an even bigger one to back up data that’s already in the cloud with another cloud-based service.”

Ingram is spot-on; lots of users have some trepidation about putting their traditional data online. By traditional I mean documents and spreadsheets and perhaps even photos and music. But what about non-traditional data, like social profiles? The average Facebook user spends 55 minutes a day online “building” an online presence by populating it with data, and there are 100 million Facebook users in the US alone. I’m not seeing the hesitation to put data online, based on those figures. Users may not view Facebook data with the same eye as business data, but we’re betting that enough users place enough value on it that we can make money keeping it safe.

Also, in some industries, business-centered social profiles are required to back up their data by regulatory bodies. So we don’t have to convince those guys of the need; we just have to convince them we’re the right answer for that need.

So far as convincing the world that they need to put their traditional data online, Microsoft is making a pretty big bet on Office Online and SkyDrive, to say nothing of Google Docs or Zoho Office or Salesforce.com or Flickr. If those guys think online data storage is the future, we won’t apologize for making the same bet. Also, raise your hand if you’re okay with your Gmail, Yahoo Mail, or Hotmail accounts just disappearing. We’re pretty sure lots of folks want to keep their e-mail archive intact.

Yes, we’re a tiny startup. So was Google at one point. Building the credibility of our brand is a long, arduous process, but it’s the same one every startup faces. There’s just no getting around that.

Yes, the big guys have had major data losses. Frankly, we see that as an advertisement for our service, not as a mark against us. We don’t concede that size is equivalent to competence.

So far as a cloud-to-cloud backup, there is definitely a certain multiplier of trepidation going on there. This is a user-education battle we must fight, no doubt. Our bet is that as user comfort with the cloud grows — thanks to the aforementioned efforts by Google and Microsoft — this will diminish.

“Backupify also notes that for some services such as Twitter, it won’t be able to restore the data fully but will simply send you an XML data file that it admits ‘is not easily readable by human eyes’ (the company says it is working on other formats).”

With the data format issue, we made a choice early on that machine-readable data was more important than human-readable data, largely because most of our early adopters wanted data they could easily parse with a SQL query or similar software intermediary. We’re working on the more intelligible output version but, frankly, the demand hasn’t been overwhelming. Nobody is really asking for a way to print out the version history of their Facebook page as a series of screenshots, though we think it would be really cool to offer something like that someday. They just want the data if their boss or FTC/IRS/SEC come asking for it.

So far as the inability to recreate your Twitter stream, that’s a Twitter issue not a Backupify issue. Simply put, the Twitter API won’t let us backdate tweets, so we can’t restore a record to its original state. We’re working with Twitter (and services with similar issues) to find a workaround, but this is really an issue out of our control. If this upsets you, we very much encourage you to let Twitter know it.

“Backupify doesn’t host your data itself, the company points out in a FAQ. Using public APIs, the company extracts your data from various cloud-based services — Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Google Documents, etc. — and sends it to Amazon’s S3 (Simple Storage Service). In other words, Backupify is more or less a middleman that stands between your social web services and Amazon’s cloud storage offering. While this might assuage some concerns about the reliability of the backup, however, it’s likely to raise others, since S3 has been known to have issues itself

First, we’re in the process of setting up a backup of our backups with another cloud storage provider, so we’re not solely reliant on S3 (which actually has a pretty good record, overall). No service is perfect, as Ingram rightly points out, and we’re making sure there’s no single point of failure with our service.

Yes, Backupify is a middleman, and we see no shame in that. Trust us, dumping gigs of Gmail data to S3 isn’t easy– especially in a fashion that doesn’t prompt Google to suspend a Gmail account for “excess activity” — and we think that users are willing to pay the convenience cost if only to avoid retracing the learning curve we’ve been on for the last year. Certainly there are organizations with the engineering bandwidth to build their own in-house solutions, but that’s true of any software product. We think the service we provide is difficult enough to reproduce that a profitable number of users will pay us to do it. So far, we’ve been right.

Ingram’s article does a nice job of distilling the prevailing concerns about our business model. We have no shortage of obstacles to overcome. We don’t deny that. We simply don’t view any of those challenges as insurmountable. Time will tell whether we’re right, but we hope all of you — Ingram included — will stick around to find out.

  • http://www.sethgoldstein.net/ goldsteinmedia

    Honestly, I love Backupify. I have a very strong Social Media presence and wouldn't dream of using any other service to back it up. They do it seemlessly and do it well.

    People who knock a startup have to remember that once a long time ago they too were startups. Yes I'm talking to you guys at GigaOm. Some people still don't know what the heck GigaOm is. Just pointing that fact out.

    Backupify guys, keep up the good work. Keep your chins up and your noses to the grindstone. Thanks for providing a great service!

  • viniciusdm

    I need something simple and this fills the bill so far! Functionality to restore backups back to the service is planned is what I am looking for.

  • Pingback: What Backupify is really about (Hint: It isn’t backups)()

  • gchamberlin

    In my mind, the beauty of Backupify is the same as that of other services such as Carbonite and Mozy which also backup to the cloud and could also be considered “statups” – that is it just works and it does it without any action on the part of the user. Sure, I keep a copy of my photos on my local hard drive and backed up to another drive. Key Google docs are downloaded and saved locally and backed up locally. I've thought about backing up my GMail account via IMAP, but have never done it. Backupify seems to work and work without me thinking too much about it.

    In some cases, such as for Twitter, it is really the only practical way to back up my data from that service.

    And as for it being a startup, Apple, Google and Microsoft got their start as a couple of college kids doing something new in a dorm room or a garage. And they were a heck of a lot more responsive to customer needs at that point than now.