Techtip: Preserving your content
Following this story in the Guardian and elsewhere (“Google boss warns of ‘forgotten century’ with email and photos at risk”), I thought I would provide some advice on how to ensure as much of your content as possible remains accessible for as long as is practical.
I have been practicing this for quite a while now and it’s working, much to the benefit of friends, family and employer alike, because I am able to access and share ages old content, from scanned hand written letters to work photos from a while back.
The first two issues below are of course beyond your control, although if you are in a position of technical influence (such as a company CTO), it is worth keeping the industry on their toes and joining an appropriate working group and being politely shouty.
Here’s the plan:
- Industry (and popular 3rd party) standards and formats should be maintained and back supported. For example: JPEG, TIFF, MPEG (Video), PNG, PDF, PSD.
- App developers should maintain utilities for playing back (and editing if possible) content in the event they cease to develop and support a product. For example, Hypercard, an outstanding multimedia authoring system developed by Apple (and then Claris) was withdrawn after Apple moved to OS X from the previous versions of their OS. I currently have some very important Hypercard files on my MacBook but cannot access or view them in any way, despite consulting experts worldwide who have been incredibly helpful. There must be many others in a similar position.
- Ensure you keep ALL your content on one large external hard drive synced with a cloud service such as DropBox. Your backup hard drive should equal or exceed the capacity of your computer. If you’re on a Mac, use Time Machine for your local backup, it’s awesome, even offering versioning, so you can go back in time to recover files you erased in error. I suggest DropBox for the cloud because it archives your files as they are, without any lossy processing, something that services like Google+ Photos does alas. IE G+ may shrink your photos, reducing their resolution. Ok if it’s just for social sharing, but not for archiving. Further, you can of course access, view and share DropBox files from your other devices. It does not backup your actual computer operating system or apps, just the files you pop (drop!) into the DropBox folder.
- When archiving content, such as photos and video, ensure you save it in the current highest quality format. IE, maximum image quality JPEGs (.jpg), or ideally if you are a photographer, in RAW format. Video is a tougher one because there are various standards, however, it is best to do your research at the time. The key to all my advice is to keep all your content on a large hard drive – not a collection of scratchable breakable potentially unreadable after X years optical media such as DVDs.
Replace your hard drive every few years so that there is less chance of it failing and to take advantage of the latest technology – Most importantly, the ports on the back that allow you to connect it to a computer or other access device. How many of you are using Firewire drives, yet now own a Mac or PC without a Firewire port – exactly! No harm will come in buying a drive with WiFi access.
- IMPORTANT: At least every 3 months run diagnostics on your computer and backup drive(s) to repair any corrupted files. There is no excuse for not being able to be able to access content for decades if not centuries by following this, as long as the industry follow steps 1 and 2, above. It is incredibly important not to miss any corrupted files that you may end up backing up repeatedly, without realising it, so that any versioning or historical backups are themselves useless.
- Now we get to the real dystopian apocalyptic matter – What if there is a global catastrophe and you (and many if not all others) are unable to obtain power to fire up computers and other electronic devices to access content? That priceless backup drive will be an unaccessible brick, as will everything else. Short term, (IE, whilst you are still alive, and your descendants are still following your mantra or a fade proof hard copy of this blog page!) you can start by trying to live off the grid with reliable sustainable energy that won’t conk out when the planet’s infrastructure does. A tough computer and backup drive powered by solar energy charged batteries, such as are about to be released by Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors / Solar City would be a great start. There is also the possibility that priceless images could be ‘printed’ using a tough scratch, heat and waterproof medium. Already, Epson and others offer printer ink and paper that will last 100 years.
- When it comes to the written word, this is easier, because as per long lasting hard copies of images, you could look into finding guaranteed long lasting printer paper, or even hope that someone invents a way to engrave the written word at high speed on a tough material that would last centuries, like gravestones or biblical tablets!
- So, right now, before it degrades and the conversion process becomes unaffordable, get those VHS, Betamax, 8mm etc video recordings and film based photos and video out of the storage boxes, and have them converted to digital. Keep the tangible originals, you never know, they may be useful in the future – in a museum or as a family keepsake.
- Don’t forget to renew your cloud backup service – they will probably give you plenty of notice.