Is your Gmail really worth $3,600? Backup now!

Backupify has published a "Gmail value calculator", and reckons that an average Gmail account is worth "roughly $3,588.85". Backups are important, but there are some simple, free alternatives.

Backupify is trying to raise its profile by publishing a "Gmail value calculator" and associated infographic (below), and it reckons that the email in an average Gmail account is worth "roughly $3,588.85". This is a good thing insofar as promoting a big number might encourage a few more people to back up their emails. Whether old email actually worth very much is another matter, but all users should have backup copies of emails, whether they use Backupify or not.

Backupify's calculation is based on the number of emails in the average Gmail account (5,768), how long it takes to write an average email (1 minute, 43 seconds), and the time needed to rewrite all those emails, based on the average US annual salary ($45,230). 

Backupify's Gmail Value Calculator
Backupify's Gmail Value Calculator

You can get your own figure at Backupify's Gmail Value Calculator, along with other interesting information. This includes how many messages you send and receive per day, how much Gmail storage you use per day, your average Gmail message size, and your "Gmail Personality Index". This "compares your Gmail usage to the average and determines whether you're more extroverted or verbose than the typical Gmail user," says Backupify. 

In reality, I suspect that the vast majority of emails are not worth anything at all: their value was purely transitory, and Backupify should really be discounting their present value on a logarithmic scale. However, there may well be a few emails that are actually valuable, because they include contract details and similar data. In some companies, emails can be an important part of an audit trail.

In the worst cases, with both Google's Gmail and Microsoft's Hotmail, the loss of an email account can lead to even more devastating losses than old emails. Users locked out of their accounts can also lose access to calendar and contact information, photos, documents created with online applications, and web-related data such as Google Analytics. This is one of the hazards of putting all your eggs in one online basket. If you use services like these, you're always a short step away from disaster.

There are two obvious ways to save your emails. The first, is to auto-forward them to another service. You can do this in Gmail under Settings, Forwarding and POP/IMAP. At the top, it says "Forward a copy of incoming mail to" and you just have to paste in an email address. Historically, I've had all mine sent to Yahoo Mail, but today I'd recommend Hotmail instead: you can get it to import all your Gmail.

The second way to back up your email is to use IMAP with a proper email client such as Thunderbird, Outlook, or the desktop version of Windows Live Mail (which is part of the Live Essentials suite). A desktop email client is faster than using the web interface, it's more powerful (you can sort by sender, subject line, in reverse date order, by size, and so on), it will usually have real folders not just tags, and it enables users to read and reply to email when they don't have an internet connection.

Whether you forward or collect your email, or both, you can leave a copy of each email on Gmail or Hotmail, so you can still access your stuff online or with other devices such as smartphones. You have nothing to lose but your emails.

And, if you want, you can also get Backupify to back up your Gmail automatically. The company also backs up social networking data, such as tweets and Facebook posts. The service is free for personal use, but only up to 1GB of storage space. In fact, since my Gmail account already takes up 7.6GB, I'd be close Backupify's MyCloud limit of 10GB for $4.99 per month.

Happily, my mail forwarding/IMAP solutions are both free.