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Our lives are getting more and more digital. We’re saving everything both in business and our personal lives on hard…

Our lives are getting more and more digital. We’re saving everything both in business and our personal lives on hard disks or in that ethereal “Cloud”. Services like DropBox, Google Drive, Microsoft’s Skye Drive, and lots of other cloud services promise to store your digital life safely and allow you to access those files from ANYWHERE (where’s there’s a wifi, there’s a way, right?). I personally have accounts in most of these services and have TONS of cloud storage available to me. But this begs the question, “Do you REALLY need to access ALL of that info ALL the time?” Of course, you never know, right? You could be vacationing in New Orleans and suddenly, desperately NEED that animated GIF of the dog tackling the baby, right?

The thing is, our tendency is to think “Cool! Tons of free storage! Let me just throw this folder, and that folder, and that folder on there.” And then we think we’re “safe”. Wait, wait, wait… “safe” is not necessarily what these services advertise. Common users start to think of these services as “backups”. It really feels like a backup; after all, it’s in two places right? All those files are on our desktop AND in “the cloud”. No, that’s not really the case. These services don’t advertise as backups because they’re not. Instead, they advertise “access”. They are trying to give you access to your files while you’re away from your desk.

Well then Where Do I Sign Up for Free Backups!?

For me, I have TONS of important files for my clients. I store them on my local computer and use a program called AllwaysSync that automatically syncs them to an external hard drive. But this does not give me “recursive” backups. This overwrites the files on the external hard drive whenever it syncs. This is the same thing that Dropbox and company do, but to their cloud servers instead. This means that if you delete a file on your local computer, once the sync is complete, it’s deleted in Dropbox too! Or if you make a change to your Master’s Thesis and accidentally hit SAVE, once it syncs, it’s saved in Dropbox too.

Hopefully, now you can see where I’m going with this. I’ve been working on my Master’s thesis in History at SDSU for the past year. I’m turning it in very, very soon. If I did something to destroy that file, or over-write something that was vital, I can’t even tell you the grief I would go through. I know of people, I’ve heard the horror stories… I was determined to NOT be one of those stories.

Instead, I wanted that every time I hit “save” on my thesis a new time-stamped version of the thesis would be created. But I also didn’t want to clutter up my local folders with 200 files and not know which one I needed to work from. So, this is my whole workflow:

  1. I open THESIS.docx
  2. I edit that file
  3. I hit save very often
  4. And magically, in the background, without me ever seeing it, it is saved locally, synced to Dropbox, AND a new time-stamped version is created in a separate location that I never have to go to until there’s a problem.

It’s serious tech-magic and peace of mind for me.

How I Got Recursive Backups for my Thesis

First off, you need to know what “recursive” means. This means that if you make a mistake, even (God forbid!) delete a file permanently on accident (trust me, it happens), then you just go back to the previous version that was saved. You know it’s the previous version because the file name starts (or ends) with a “time-stamp”, something like “2013-05-09-8-23-pm-MY-FILE.docx”.  That’s what this does for me.

The graphic above says it all. If you’re familiar with these three FREE services (Dropbox and also have paid versions), then you already know the answer: Dropbox + IFTTT + = Awesome. We’ve already talked about Dropbox and if you’re hear you already know all about that. But, IFTTT is kinda new on the scene. Let me tell you now: It could change A LOT of what you do online if you let it. Basically, it allows you to create “recipes” that do things whenever a certain action happens. The name stands for “If This, Then That”. I’ve used it to automatically email me when new posts on Craigslist get added according to certain search criteria. You can have it automatically download a copy of an image to your Dropbox every time someone tags you in a photo on Facebook, you can have it convert a pdf into an e-doc file format every time you save a pdf to a certain folder in your Google Drive. If you have a WordPress blog, you can even automate photo posts by dropping a photo into a Dropbox folder. It’s really crazy all the various “recipes” you can make with this.

For me, I created a recipe that says that every time I save my thesis in my DropBox, a copy with a timestamp will automatically get saved in my account. This allows me to work ONLY with the copy in my Dropbox and never have to look at the hundreds of copies in my account — unless there’s a problem, of course. Then I’ll run there and be like “Whew! There’s my last saved version right there!”

Bottom line, don’t think of cloud services as backups (because they’re not), and dig into IFTTT — it’s a freakin’ miracle!



  1. I believe dropbox saves 30 days of file history — including edits and revisions.

      1. Yes, the article is a bit outdated now. I still find it pretty useful to see all the iterations in the folder directly rather than dig through the history, but this method is no longer absolutely necessary, unless of course you want to keep the free version of Dropbox and are working on your project for longer than 30 days — which in my case, I worked on that thesis for about a year.

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