Would You Trust Your Memories to a Web App?

Filed as Editorial, Features on May 28, 2007 4:28 am

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As I post this, I’m uploading hundreds of digital photos onto my Flickr account. I still do have a ton of photos I haven’t uploaded yet, and most of these are either burned onto DVDs or still inside my laptop’s hard drive. Each time I update and manage my photo collection, I come to the realization that because of technology we’ve come so far in terms of how we manage our memories.

Just a decade ago, photo albums were still the preferred way of keeping family memories. People took photos on film cameras, had these developed, and organized select photos into albums. The negatives are mostly kept tucked away, sometimes along with the album itself. This way, we had hard copies of whatever relevant events in our lives on hand. If we wanted copies, we just took the negatives to the photo shop, and had duplicates printed.

These days, though, it’s mostly digital. The first time I bought my family our own digital camera, we were hooked on digital photography. The initial cost was higher than your usual film point-and-shoot camera, but the variable costs are close to nil. You could just keep on downloading your photos to your computer, and save them to optical media for backup. Printing was only done sparsely, and we only printed photos which we would frame.

Along with this radical change came also radical changes in how we shared these memories with friends. Before, we used to bring out photo albums everytime friends or relatives visited our home. But these days, we just send emails with links to our photos online. We post them on our blogs. Or even better, our social networking contacts are automatically notified of newly uploaded photos, for them to view at their pleasure (or displeasure, if you’re not exactly the photogenic type).

However, Murphy’s law says if something can go wrong, something is bound to go wrong, and this is especially applicable in the realm of technology. So in a couple of years, my hard drive might crash. My CDs and DVDs might scratch, melt or fade. There’s still my Flickr account, you say. But how sure am I that Flickr will still exist as it is now, 10, 20 years from now? What about Photobucket? Picasa? Multiply? What about my blog?

And if nothing wrong happens, the world might adopt an entirely new way of storing and cataloging images that might render our present one obsolete. Would we be using holograms? Would we be directly interfacing our brains with computer equipment? If this be the case, would we have an easy way to migrate our data over to such formats?

The question looms. Have I haphazardly entrusted my memories to technology and to web apps?

I’m using a Flickr Pro account, and Flickr says pro users get permanent archiving of high resolution photos. I sure hope stick true to their word.

At my old room at my parents’ house, there’s this old leather attaché case filled with unfiled, un-sorted photos of our family dating from decades back (even before I was born). Some are still in pristine condition, while some have yellowed and faded. But the photos are still there, within physical reach. We still reminisce and laugh about those moments that happened ages ago, whenever we chance upon the old thing and open it to reveal the treasures hidden inside.

I’m wondering whether I can do the same with my digital photos with my kids and future grandkids decades into the future.

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  1. By pelf posted on May 28, 2007 at 7:07 am
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    OK.. You’ve just proven a point that I’ve been thinking about a lot — should I, or should I not, develop my digital pictures?

    I think the answer is clear cut. We should print at least an album or two of our vacations because (a) not everybody has access to computers or know how to use them, e.g. my grandparents; (b) I’m not one of those people who brings along her laptop wherever she meets up with her friends; and well, (c) I have a feeling that things stored in the servers aren’t as secured as those stored in a box under my bed.

    Just my two cents :)

  2. By Rob O. posted on May 28, 2007 at 8:03 am
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    We upload nearly everything to Kodak EasyShare Gallery.

    But we also have our digital photos organized on my wife’s PC and she routinely backs the new stuff up to CD-ROM. She keeps about the last 12-14 months on the drive at any given time. And not too long ago, I backed up several years worth of CD-ROM photos & docs onto a DVD and we stored that in our safe deposit box at the bank where we keep vital papers like birth certificates, marriage license, house deed, etc.

    So, we’re a bit OCD about this stuff, but feel pretty confident that we’re covered…

  3. By franky posted on May 28, 2007 at 8:58 am
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    Good questions. And sometimes it’s scary to notice how much I trust the digital world nowadays. Not only for my memories (btw, the flickr staff has stated more than once in the forums that one shouldn’t use flickr as an archive platform!), but also important backups, heck even my passwords.

  4. By GoingLikeSixty posted on May 28, 2007 at 10:25 am
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    Very good point, one periodicals are wrestling with. Will researchers 100 years from now be able to access the information? It seems to make sense that microfilm’s stability has been proven, but physical storage of microfilm becomes an issue.

  5. By Jenny posted on May 28, 2007 at 10:34 am
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    I don’t trust my pictures on the net. Too many people out there take them and claim them as their own, or use them against you. I don’t trust online photo albums.

  6. By Andrew posted on May 29, 2007 at 11:43 am
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    If you want permanent archival, you can’t get better than a paper printout of the photograph.

    DVDs and CD-ROMs may well decay over the years.

    The advantage of online storage a la Flickr is that if graphic formats do change, it’d be in Flickr’s interest to write a conversion tool. If Flickr wind up, they’re bound to tell you in advance at least.

  7. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on May 29, 2007 at 11:59 am
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    Printed images, depending upon the process and the paper and the care, will last 25-75 years. If they get really special treatment and were made to last, then they have a 100+ (give or take) life. Hanging on a wall, 10-20 years.

    There has been no stable long term storage media built yet available to the consumer, so the process of storing our images, as well as our files, has to migrate every few years to the next generation of storage.

    Currently, I’ve given up on CDs and DVDs and maintain several portable backup drives, backing up the other and storing different backups. Hard drive recovery is expensive but doable where a broken CD is rarely recoverable. It’s also small when you have a lot of large files to store.

    Portable hard drives with Firewire and USB connections seem to be lasting beyond other technologies we’ve experimented with over the years. And storage space is a plus. While I’m limited with DVD and CD storage space, I have a 250 gig, 400 gig, and new 750 gig portable drive sitting next to me, taking up the space of three paperback books.

    As mentioned, online storage is great, but again, where’s the backup. Always think backup backup backup. The backup is in the media protection in case of error or failure, and in its ability to last as a business.

    The issue of content theft always raises its ugly head when working with Flickr or other services which allow others to freely view and use your images which can be taken, whether you want it or not, with a few clicks.

    This is a big issue that still is not well addressed but I expect as more and more people become digitally aware and dependent, we’ll see more improvements in this area. It’s critical for genealogists, bloggers, photographers of all kinds, and those who keep image and file records of their research.

    Great topic!

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  10. By Manuel posted on May 31, 2007 at 6:43 am
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    Our history becomes more fragile the more technologically advanced we become. I wouldn’t trust my memories to a web app, and neither will I trust CDs.

    That’s why I store photos in different kinds of media. The problem with digital cameras, however, is that I now end up with even more printed photos.

    Maybe we’re producing too much?

  11. By Adam posted on May 31, 2007 at 7:28 am
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    Get them printed. Do it regularly and it becomes a habit. The cost is minimal and the prints will probably outlast all these technologies we are using now. When you ask people what they would grab on the way out if their house was burning down, some people say the cat, but most would say photos. Can you imagine leaving a burning house and trying to unplug your PC base unit before you go?

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