Transferring Google Accounts

It’s harder than you’d think.

I’ve had my current Gmail address for six or seven years now. I created it in middle school, and I remember thinking hard about the username I wanted to use. (I guess “elliotkang” was taken.) I came up with a fairly unique username that was the acronym for my church youth group plus the title “techie,” since I did a lot of audio/visual work at the time. I thought it was clever at the time. Now, not so much. The username looks like a bunch of random letters and it was difficult–not to mention slightly embarrassing–to give my email out. “What’s your email?” someone would ask. “It’s best if I write it down for you,” I would respond. I had to print extremely carefully lest someone misread my email address. So, over the summer, I created an account with a more recognizable username. I got to work transferring over all the data.

I. Gmail

The first part was straightforward. I configured Google’s Mail Fetcher on my new Gmail account to copy over messages from my old Gmail account. Things went pretty smoothly: it copied emails from old account to new at a rate of roughly 8,000 emails per day. (While this is fairly fast, this means it still took a couple days to copy over all my emails.) What I like about Mail Fetcher is that it leaves a copy of the email on the original server, so if I need to I can access my old account and search/reply to/etc. all my old emails. The bad news? Mail Fetcher stopped fetching about 22,000 emails into the transfer, leaving about 7,000 emails unfetched. For some reason it started sending error message emails to my new account and then ceased fetching altogether. Just to be sure, I deleted all the transferred emails from my new account and started over. (If this is something you’d like to try, turn off POP3 and turn it back on again to reset Mail Fetcher). It didn’t work. Failed again.

So I looked back at my research–yes, I researched migrating Google accounts to be sure I could transfer most of my data–and came across a Lifehacker post on migrating emails. I decided to try a new approach: I downloaded Mozilla Thunderbird, a desktop email client (think of it as an open source Microsoft Outlook) and set it up to retrieve emails from my old and new account. Then I selected all the emails I was missing in my new account, right-clicked on them, and moved all the emails to the new account. Good news: it worked! I now have most of the emails I was missing due to the failed Mail Fetcher transfer. Bad news: moving the emails removed them completely from my old account. There’s no copy-and-paste function, so they were essentially cut from my old email account and pasted in the new one. Not what I wanted, since I wanted the old account intact. But hey, at least my new account is functional.

(Google is aware of the error that caused my Mail Fetcher to stop working. The error messages I got were that the size of the email to be fetched didn’t match the size of the email in their records. I got a couple hundred of these error message emails before it Mail Fetcher stopped completely. I hope Google fixes this problem, because it made transferring email accounts a real pain.)

II. Google Voice

This one was so much easier. I use Google Voice to send text messages from my smartphone, because texting is not part of my cell phone plan. Again, I pulled from my research and used another Lifehacker post about migrating Google account data. All you have to do is follow Google Voice’s transfer protocol. It’s straightforward and quick, and much easier if you don’t have a Google Voice account on the new Google account. The transfer moves all texts and other data from the old account to the new account. Hooray! (Read the Lifehacker post for more detailed instructions.)

III. Google Drive

This one was tricky to figure out. You could manually share all of your old account’s documents with your new account–that would technically work. But if you’ve got tens of documents like I do, this would be an extremely tedious and long process. (Also, this would change all the dates of the documents to the new share date, not the original creation date. I find documents in part by looking at the date stamp, so having that data written over was not a good thing.) Thankfully, a few documents into the manual sharing process, I thought of Dropbox. As I’m sure you know, Dropbox is a cloud file sharing network, which means all your files are stored on a remote server (like Google Drive) and accessible via an application that acts as a folder on your computer. If you use like I do, this latter part doesn’t hold true. But it could.

As it turns out, you can download the Google Drive app to receive Dropbox-like virtual folder capabilities. This creates a folder on your computer called “Google Drive” which holds all the documents in your Google Drive account. I installed the app, signed in to my old account, and copied all the documents contained therein. I then logged out of my old account, signed in to my new account, created a folder called “transfer,” and pasted all the documents in there. It took a couple attempts to get all the files to transfer–it seemed a little buggy– but it worked in the end, and it preserved all the date stamps.

IV. Google+

This one was pretty straightforward. Again, the Lifehacker post about migrating Google account data came in handy. The process involves signing into Google Takeout from your old account and clicking “Transfer your Google+ connections to another account.” Note that this only transfers your circles, not any of your posts, messages, or profile information. Also, there is a seven day waiting period during which you can cancel your transfer if you so wish. After seven days the contacts/circles transfer begins and takes up to 48 hours.

V. Other

Those are the four big things I transferred from my old account to my new one. If you’re curious about what else you can move or share, Google has a help document detailing what product data you can and cannot move. Examples of things you can move: Google Reader and YouTube. Something you can’t move: Google Play (so no transferring Android apps from one account to another. But on Android phones, you can log-in to two accounts simultaneously, so there’s still that). Hopefully everything you need is on there.


I thought the transfer process was far more difficult than it should have been. Considering how large Google is and how vast one Google account can be, I had hoped that Google would have a tool for migrating all account data with the click of a button. Alas, it is not so. You can’t merely switch user names, or even mass migrate account data. You have to do it piece by piece, which I think is absolutely absurd. I’m sure in a couple of months I’m going to find that I have to do another transfer of some Google online application because I didn’t need it until then. If anyone from Google is reading, please, please, please create a “mass data migration” option where I can transfer Gmail, Voice, Drive, Plus, and other data all at once. It would make our lives so much easier. (And really, it’s not like I went from Gmail to Outlook or Yahoo!. I went from Google account to Google account and it was still painful.) But at least it’s done, and I was able to find workarounds for everything.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some email subscriptions I have to update! … if I ever get around to it. I currently am taking the lazy route and am having all my emails forwarded from my old account to my new one. So amend that statement to “I have to slowly email everyone I know and tell them I changed my email.” It’s a bit of a pain, but now that I have an email address people will recognize and associate with me, it’s totally worth it.


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