How to switch from Google Docs, Reader and Picasa

Google has made it easy to export documents, pictures and social postings should you want to switch to an alternative service. Here's how.

Nik Rawlinson
Nik Rawlinson has been writing about tech since Windows 95 was looking distinctly futuristic. He is a former Editor of MacUser magazine and one-time scribe for Personal Computer World. Nik is a freelance writer and is not an employee of CNET.
Nik Rawlinson
6 min read

We've already covered off exporting your emails, contacts and calendars from Google's servers. Now it's time to turn your attention to your creative and social assets, including Google documents and spreadsheets, photos you've sent to Picasa and your postings on Google+.

If you're concerned about the fact that Google's new privacy policy is causing some in power to question its compliance with EU law, the steps below will help you move your data to an alternative set of services and -- if you choose -- close down your Google account.

Google Reader

Reader is Google's first-class RSS aggregator. It's used as the data source for a lot of third-party RSS apps, like Reeder for Mac and FeedDemon for Windows. Fortunately, you can easily move your subscriptions out of Reader using the OPML format. OPML stands for outline processor markup language, and it's used to define trees of data, such as the feeds which branch down to the contents in an RSS subscription.

Export yours by logging in to your account and pointing your browser at google.com/reader/view/#overview-page, then clicking 'Import/Export' followed by the 'Download' link beside 'Your subscriptions'.

Google makes it easy to export your Reader subscriptions in the widely accepted OPML format.

The downloaded file doesn't actually contain the body of your subscribed posts -- just a record of each source to which you've signed up. You can now import them into your new RSS aggregator. In our case, we've installed the Brief extension to Firefox so that we can subscribe within our browser.

We're importing our RSS subscriptions using the Brief extension for Firefox.

To import your OPML file, click the tools icon to the right of the divider, followed by 'Feeds' and 'Import..'. Pick 'XML files' from the 'Format' drop-down and navigate to your downloaded file. Brief will pull in the file and draw down the most recent posts for each of your feeds without touching Google's servers. When you know it's working properly you can remove your subscriptions from Google Reader.

Head back to google.com/reader/view/#overview-page, click the link to select all of your subscriptions, followed by the 'Unsubscribe' button.

When you've imported your RSS feeds to your new client you can remove the subscriptions from your Google Reader account.

Picasa web albums, Google Docs, Stream, +1s and more

Beside your data, which we've covered here, and the Reader subscriptions discussed above, Google has made it easy to export most of the rest of your user-created content. Its Takeaway tool lets you download a Zipped archive of your Google+ stream, profile, circles and recommendations, your Picasa web albums and your Google Documents.

Despite the Anglicised name it adopts in the UK, it's accessed through google.com/takeout. Log in to your account and you can either export your assets piecemeal through the 'Choose services' tab or download the lot by leaving it set to 'All of your data'.

In this instance, leave it set to the default and click 'Create Archive'. Google will gather together all of your data from its various services and Zip them into a file, which it stores on its servers for a week. The following screen will show you the progress of the archival operation. Once it's complete, click 'Download' to retrieve the data, which you'll find has been organised into folders according to source.

Google's Takeaway service very conveniently packages up most of your user-created data for downloading as a compressed Zip archive.

Google Docs

All of your Google Docs files are downloaded within the Takeaway archive as Microsoft Office-compatible Word and Excel documents.

You can obviously keep these on your local computer, but if you want to retain the convenience of having them available online, wherever you happen to be, Dropbox offers 2GB of free storage on all accounts (with a 500MB bonus if you sign up through this link). This synchronises across all of your machines and, with the help of free iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry apps, lets you access your documents on the move and send them to a wide selection of mobile suites for editing.

To work with your documents through the browser, you'll need to upload them to an alternative office suite. Zoho Docs offers a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation app that competes head-to-head with Google Docs.

The free Zoho Docs account comes with 1GB of bundled storage. Although you can only upload 10 documents at a time, if you do it several times in sequence, you'll be able to work on your Google Docs data through the browser in just the same way as you did before your migration.

Zoho Docs boasts an online word processor, spreadsheet and presentation app to rival Google's offering.

Picasa Web Albums

The most obvious destination for your downloaded Picasa albums is Flickr. This lets you upload 300MB of photos and two 90-second videos every month on the free account, on the understanding that only your 200 most recently uploaded images will be displayed in your photo stream at any one time.

The Pro account upgrade, which costs $24.95 (£16), gives you unlimited uploads, storage and bandwidth.

If you already have a Flickr account, log in and point your browser at flickr.com/photos/upload/. Click 'Choose photos and videos' and select the contents of your Picasa folder. You can upload several images at once, so select multiple files and click 'Open' to queue them up.

The Flickr uploader makes it easy to import your Picasa downloads into your Flickr account, with progress bars monitoring the process.

Choose whether you want your pictures to be private or public, and then click 'Upload Photos and Videos' to complete the process. Each file in the list above the button will be overlaid by a progress bar that fills up to indicate how much longer you'll have to wait. If your files aren't multi-megabyte masterpieces, each one should transfer over a consumer broadband connection in a few seconds.

Google social data

Finally, we come to your social data, which is basically the content you create in Google+, including your bookmarks, posts, profile and contacts, each of which is hived off into a separate part of your Takeaway download.

A Google Takeaway download comprises a well-organised archive with separate folders for each data type.

The contents of your Google+ Circles are saved out as vCard files. This is a widely supported standard that underpins many software address books and can be imported into several online equivalents. Check out our companion workshop on migrating your data to see how.

Any pages you've marked with a +1 are converted into links and saved as a bookmarks.html file that you can open with any regular browser -- as you can your Google+ postings, which again are saved out as fully styled HTML in your archive's Stream folder. These aren't suitable for importing into an alternative service, so keep them somewhere safe for future reference.

The same goes for your Google profile, which is exported in JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) format. This is a structured data file, where each data item is described so that it's as easy for a human as it is for a machine to understand its contents.

Your Google profile is exported as an annotated XML file in JSON format.

Although it looks daunting when you first open the file, you'll see that it is actually quite easy to follow. However, it remains one of the least useful pieces of exported data that you can download from your Google account. It can't be imported into an alternative service, and consists mainly of information that is easy to recreate in short order -- unlike your Google Docs, for example.

End of the road?

As far as your social data is concerned, you've now safely exported everything you need. You can either close down your Google Account or simply log out and leave it in place in case you should need it in the future. If you take this second course of action, I'd recommend that you check in every few months to reduce the likelihood it'll be deleted through inactivity.

If you haven't followed our how-to on exporting your emails, contacts and calendar events, check it out here.