That sync’ing feeling (revisited)

(or “Think Before You Sync”)

Last weekend, I upgraded from my trusty Nokia N95 mobile phone (which I’ve owned and used heavily since 2007), to a shiny new Nokia N8. (This isn’t going to be a post about the N8 itself, not least because I could write at least one separate article just on that subject—and might still do so—therefore I shall leave that for another time.)

I am the type of person who keeps their address book electronically, as paper and pen just doesn’t suit my way of doing things (though each to their own, of course). However, being mindful of Bill Blinn‘s attributed adage that “if your data exists only in one place, it doesn’t exist”, I try to ensure that I back up/synchronise my contacts to a few different places, in case something untoward occurs and I have to get it all back.

And a good thing, too.

Earlier this week, I decided to have a “spring-clean” (a few months early) of my contacts database—to remove long-unused entries (including those whom I can’t remember any more), and to tidy up the ones I wanted to retain. It felt like clearing a severely-overgrown back garden—duplicate entries, mis-labelled fields, two or three “cards” describing individuals’ various contact details, and so on—but after about an hour, I felt I’d finally tamed the list, and was ready to start sync’ing the data to my various sources.

Said sources are:

  • our Mac (the “primary copy”, in this case);
  • my Nokia N8 phone;
  • Ovi Contacts (Nokia’s online backup service); and
  • Google Contacts

I had carried out all the tidying work on our Mac, and used iSync to transfer all this over to the N8. Aside from the odd hiccup (“er, I’m sure I took out that old contact…”), it went fine, and perhaps I should  have stopped there. But nooooooooo, I have to have an online backup, don’t I?

Now this is where it gets “involved”. The N8 can sync contacts, calendar and other “organiser” data “natively” with Nokia’s Ovi service, which should make backing up and restoring this data straightforward as long as you can go online with the device. And so it proved.

The problem came with sync’ing to Google. To cut a long story short, the N8 currently needs to use its “Mail for Exchange” program, in order to sync with Google’s calendar and contacts data. I read that there could be problems if you try and run Ovi Sync and Mail for Exchange together, so I decided to try sync’ing the calendar and contacts with Ovi, and the Google calendar only with MfE. The latter popped up a message saying something like “Do you think that’s wise, sir?”—perhaps I should’ve paid more attention.

I still don’t quite know how this happened (remember, I had told MfE that I didn’t want the contacts data touched), but happened it did. When Ovi and MfE had finished, I went to the N8’s Contacts app, to see how the sync had gone.

Well, something had gone, all right, but it wasn’t the sync. It was my contacts. All of them. The ones I’d spent an hour or so tidying up the previous evening. Vanished.


OK, no need to panic. I still have the Ovi contacts backed up, so I just do a sync and get them all back, right? (“Nooooooooo!“, comes the cry from the more experienced reader—look, I couldn’t hear you then, OK?) Of course, I know with hindsight that Ovi would think “ah, he’s just deleted XXX contacts, and that’s more recent than what I’ve got, so that’s what he must want”—I wouldn’t have minded being asked first, but obviously that’s not something that Ovi Sync thought to do. Result: no contacts in my N8, and none in Ovi too.


Now those following closely may be thinking “he’s still got the contacts on the Mac”, and you would be correct. Problem is, the Mac was back home, and I couldn’t get there until the evening, which led to a day of hoping I wouldn’t need to make any calls on the mobile to numbers I didn’t know.

Later, I arrived home, made sure I had a backup copy of the Mac’s contacts, and fired up iSync. At least this program asked me whether I really wanted to delete all the entries (fat chance), and once I’d cancelled and tried again… this time, the Mac reloaded the N8 with my contacts, after which a quick sync to Ovi ensured I was back to normal.

So, to recap…

  • If you have an electronic address book, you can’t have enough copies of it.
  • Paradoxically, the more places you sync your contacts to, the more chance there is that something will screw up somewhere (hence the need for good backups).
  • If a sync program gives you the “do you think that’s wise, sir?” treatment, take notice.

At least I shouldn’t have to do another spring-clean for a while, though.

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