Life Without a Google Account? Nice Try.

A few weeks ago, I found myself completely locked out of my Gmail account. My password just stopped working. This was not a matter of me misspelling my own password — two separate email programs that have my password stored in them (and that have been accessing my email just fine for years) agreed with me. I was really locked out. This meant one of two things:

  • My account got hacked.
  • Google screwed up.

I tried to recover it. The first step is to have Gmail send a link to your secondary email address. Unfortunately, my secondary email address is a three-years-dead hotmail account. No amount of negotiating with MSN could reconcile it.

They make you wait five days before you can move onto the second step, which is the security question. And my security question, apparently, is:

What is your primary frequent flyer number?

I tried all of my frequent flyer numbers. None worked. Upon further research, I’ve determined that I opened my Gmail account before I acquired my first frequent flyer number. Great. (As a sidenote, MSN also offered to let me answer a security question in the Hotmail Negotiations. It was, “Where was your mother born?” I don’t actually know where my mother was born.)

The third step, of course, is to email Google and beg for help. I tried one of my contacts “on the inside” and he directed me to the customer service address. He also didn’t offer much encouragement, reminding me that if Google can’t connect my identity with the account, they’re not going to let me back in. From the customer service address, I received an automated “We got your message!” email, with no follow-up response.

I cut my losses. It was really over — me and my Gmail. We were done. I emailed everyone who used that address, told them to use a different address from now on, and left daunting doom-ridden reminders that they should go check their email accounts NOW to make sure their secondary email addresses are functional and their security questions are current, lest they be suffer the horrors I am experiencing. I was just sayin’ is all.

A week later, I realized this is Google we’re talking about. They don’t just run my email, they run the world. In addition to losing my email login, I had also lost access to my Google Reader, Google Analytics, and Google Adsense/Adwords accounts — none of which I use too frequently, but all of which have important history logged in them. Great.

Technological detachment is a traumatic thing. I’ve been trying to take the Buddhist approach, embrace the impermanence of everything, accept that the lack of backup access is probably my fault, and get on with my life. But this voice in the back of my head occasionally keeps me awake at night, telling me that some very important email is sitting unanswered in my Gmail inbox, and that my unawareness of it is going to destroy a relationship, or kill a business deal, or ruin a small country, or cause a small puppy to die.

Today I made a new account. I don’t feel the urge to become Gmail-dependent again anytime soon, but I did miss my Google Reader, and couldn’t go another week without it. To set the system up clean from the start, I lumped all feeds into only two tags/folders: ALWAYS and SOMETIMES. This is a Gina Trapani trick that I learned at BlogHer07. Start with the ALWAYS folder every day, and make sure you see all of it. If you have more time, move to the SOMETIMES folder. If something in your ALWAYS folder starts to bore you, move it to SOMETIMES. And never, ever feel bad about hitting “Mark all as read.”

And that’s the story of my Googletrauma. It hurt, but maybe it was a good thing for me… to realize I don’t need my really organized, long-time inbox to survive in the real world. (::sniffles::) I mean, really, I haven’t died. And as far as I can tell, no small puppies have, either.

…But there is also an epilogue to this story.

I lost my Treo this weekend.

And I can’t. find. it. anywhere.

Jeesh.

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13 Responses to “Life Without a Google Account? Nice Try.”

  1. Marian Says:

    Oh, Sarah,

    you know, my google account locked me out once too. I had two different browsers open, and for the life of me I could not log in in the other browser. This is not a ‘feature’ as far as I can tell, but a bug. So, since I had gmail open in another window, I changed my password from the inside, and I haven’t had any problems since then. I thought it was some screwed up freak occurrence, but your story kinda freaked me out. I’m checking my backup email address and prompt question now…

    Sorry to hear about your Treo :(

  2. Debra Roby Says:

    I changed my bloglines to use the Always/EveryTime folders last spring. Both have become bits of “catchalls” now and need another round of sorting, organizing. It did let me get through the blogs I don’t wish you miss, though.

    I wonder if Gina is where I got the original idea?

  3. Koan Says:

    Sarah, maybe you still have a way to get that account back – I presume that the Google Analytics account points to your blog or site? If so, maybe you can negotiate with Google to prove that you are the owner of *that* site, by placing a piece of text, of their choosing, in a file on the site, and sending them the URL where it can be read? That way, you’ve verified your control of something that is an integral part of your Google identity.

    Worth a try?

  4. sarah Says:

    Koan — what a good idea! Thank you. I’m not sure how to connect with them to start the dialog (they don’t seem to answer emails), but I will see what I can manage.

  5. Koan Says:

    The idea occurred to me bwcause I had to do something similar along those lines about a year ago, when I was engaged in “Search Engine Minimisation” (i.e. reducing my prominence in search engines, and the like) – I think the company in question was Alexa, and it was how I was able to get a lot of personal information removed from their profile of one of my URLs. I think it was Alexa, but I’m not 100%.

    Anyway, that’s by the by. If standard customer service approaches aren’t working, if it were me, I’d try to network in – get a personal connection. Who do I know – *anybody* – who works at Google, and could make an internal phone call, or otherwise get the ball rolling? As it happens, I don’t think I know *anybody* at Google! What are the odds of *that*, given how huge they are? ;) So, who do I know, who might know someone – anyone – inside Google? Well, Google were a sponsor of the first BlogHer conference (I know this, because their logo’s on the the black triangular rucksack I still have kicking around somewhere (wish I knew where, but that’s another story…) – so, pound to a penny Elisa, Jory or Lisa knows someone at Google. If I were in your predicament, I’d email one of them, and ask them to make a connection for me.

    If you’d feel uncomfortable about asking one of them for help, well, I’m happy to ask on your behalf. And then the chain goes Sarah -> Koan -> {Elisa:Jory:Lisa} -> {Someone at Google} – > {A person with a name, a face, a heart, a telephone number and the ability to make things happen on your behalf}.

    And if Elisa, Jory and Elisa drew a blank, I’d post a story about your predicament on BlogHer – or get one of the BlogHer Contributing Editors to link to it – and I guarantee you that someone with a direct (or indirect) connection to Google will read it.

    I wouldn’t feel embarrassed about doing any of the above – you haven’t done anything wrong, after all! Look upon this as a chance for Google to prove that there are beating hearts inside the Googleplex! :) Let me know if I can be of any more help.

    (Loving your blog, by the way – not sure if I’d ever commented here before, but, well, now I have.)

  6. sarah Says:

    Eep! I’m a little overwhelmed by your awesomeness and generosity right now. Thank you for the offer to speak on my behalf — that is extremely kind of you. And you make a good reminder… I’m connected enough to Elisa and Lisa that I could probably get either of them to help me out, if it made sense. But I have a few other leads I’ll try first. Thanks so much for the encouragement.

    And thank you for reading my blog! I assume you found it through our mutual blogher connections? Upon a quick googlestalk of you, all I can learn is that you’re well adored and effectively googleminimized.

    Are you by chance on livejournal? I’m betting we’d have more to talk about over there. -doppmonster

  7. Koan Says:

    Overwhelmed? Don’t be! :) More people than I can count (or ever adequately thank) have helped me out, over the years, to extents great and small. I didn’t like to think of you giving up on your account, that’s all – as you said, there’s a lot of you, a lot of things that matter to you, tied up in it – and while the Buddhist part of me says “excessive attachment to that account is the cause of your distress”, the pragmatic part of me says “it’s your account – Google should give it back to you!”

    As for my landing here, it was undoubtedly a BlogHer who prompted me to look here – but I can’t remember exactly who. Did you go to WoolfCamp? I have a dim recollection that it was Grace Davis (whom I revere) who first mentioned your name, in a write-up thereof, but I might be wrong.

    I don’t know about well adored, though – I could point you to some right-wingers and religious zealots who hold contrary views. Like I care!

    As for LiveJournal, well, I have an account, but I only created it to comment on someone else’s LJ, I’ve never posted there in my own right. And like many other social networks I’ve been a member of (Flickr, LinkedIn, Friendster, or tools like del.icio.us, Technorotty, or sites like BlogHer, even) the whole issue of social networks, and the increasing interconnectedness of them (either directly, or through intermediate services like Rapleaf) is a bit of a thorny one for me – how do I participate in them, effectively, when I no longer wish to lay my past in front of every passing stranger? Meh.

  8. Dopp Juice » Blog Archive » Technodrama Resolutions: Gmail and Treo alive and well! Says:

    […] Gmail. I posted awhile ago about getting locked out of my gmail account. Fortunately, I received some very valuable feedback from a reader who has now become a very […]

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  10. ?????????? Says:

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  11. LisaStratus Says:

    This theme is simply matchless :), very much it is pleasant to me)))

  12. Gpujyvet Says:

    wE3SoC

  13. Johnny Says:

    Such a wonderful analysis! No idea how you came up with this text..it’d take me weeks. Well worth it though, I’d suspect. Have you considered selling advertising space on your website?