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Posted on May 6, 2013 in Technology | 1 comment

The Challenge of Permanence

The Challenge of Permanence

Hidden in the eaves of my house are several dusty black boxes. They lurk in the dark like eggs awaiting the crew of the Nostromo. But there are no monsters inside (some may argue differently). Instead you will find my cultural heritage. A record of my youth. My vinyl.

I can’t be sure but I think the oldest of these boxes was bought around 1983 making it an eye-watering 30 years old.

Here we are now in a world that eschews physical media. This is a good thing. I can have my dewy-eyed moments wishing that everything still came in an intriguing gatefold sleeve but, for the most part, Spotify and the occasional CD tick all my music boxes.

The same applies to photos. Rows of albums sit on my shelves but they represent a fraction of my images when compared with the thousands of images that lurk on the NAS drives under my TV.

And it was the photos that made me think…

I have 3 copies of most of my photos, sometimes 4 for newer stuff. But if I want those photos to be around in 30 years time like my vinyl, what do I do? I can’t expect the drives to last. Splurging Terabytes out onto physical media seems to be as tedious as it is counter-intuitive. Not least because I’d presumably need to keep moving all the data through ever newer formats to ensure I’d still be able to read it in 30 years time.

Everything points to warming up my router with a very large online backup. So I started to look. Google Drive, DropBox, Amazon. A lot of choice, comparable pricing and the ever helpful online articles that teas you with SEO-friendly titles like “which cloud backup provider?” say “it’s a tie” ( let’s not annoy anyone lads eh? ).

The question none of these articles address is actually the most important one. Which of these companies will still be around in 30 years? They don’t ask because presumably they don’t much care but certainly they don’t know the answer.

We live in a tech world of constant churn. As a serial early adopter, I’ve come and gone on any number of services. I set up on Memolane so I can create a rich record of my life I could look back on and calculate how much of my life I wasted taking pictures of cats. I created a Posterous for my nephew so we could record events in his life. We can all write a long list of been and gone services.

So, do I put all my photos on DropBox? They’re a big company, even if they die they’ll get bought. Surely? My data would go to somewhere/someone else and I won’t have have to do a massive download/upload to move to another provider? Big companies are a safe haven, aren’t they? Just like Compuserve or AOL, y’know, the big guys.

Look at this list this list of top-rated providers. Do any of them say “30 Years” to you?

Google get this. They advertise using the permanence use case. Store your life with us. And yes, you may think it far fetched that Google won’t be around in 30 years and I’d still have all my photos safe and accessible. But… Well… Mmmm…

The very first time I did a Google search I had long since stopped buying vinyl. Those worlds didn’t even overlap in time. In 30 years? Who knows.

That’s why the notion of “the cloud” is so clever. It abstracts the notion away from the fact that there is physical hardware in data centres owned by listed companies, controlled by lawyers, shareholders, tasked with making profit, that can prosper/die/change entirely outside the control of their customers. It’s a cloud. Fluffy. Don’t you worry yourself about a thing.

Our media rich world is a wonderful place. I look forward to looking back on everything that I have collected. But this will only be possible if I can solve the challenge of permanence. Making the non-physical endure as long as I hope to.

And then there’s this blog… maybe I should print it out and put it in the eaves with the vinyl.

1 Comment

  1. Two platitudes: “If you want a job doing right, do it yourself.” Also, “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.”

    I store my stuff. I have offsite backup (from a company not listed in your linked top 10 – should I worry?) But ultimately, I take responsibility for it. Two copies onsite, one copy offsite. I can therefore safely host one backup while migrating between providers of the other. Be that hard drives in the house or cloud backup providers. I recently migrated offsite backup provider, and was able to plan through it. A period of 8 months of dual running while the initial backup set populated in the new account, and then it was done.

    Cloud services are never going to last 30 years, but then neither are hard drives. Engineer in the flexibility you need in order to be able to ride the waves.

    I recall someone saying that the life of an audio CD wouldn’t exceed 15 years. My oldest CD was bought in October 1986, and is still fine.

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