My musings on the economy, life, technology, business and things I find interesting.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Fallible Nature of Data

Garbage Pail Sticker of Doomsday Dom
If you've owned or used a computer for any length of time you've lost something, probably something awesome that you created.  It sucks, you move on, things disappear, people have come to accept that their precious creations are temporal.  It ends up happening in different ways but it's always a mix of human laziness and poor design.

Examples might include:
  • You upgraded you computer 5 time and although you thought you kept moving the good data over you can't find a bunch of stuff you know you had.
  • You've switched providers of various kinds and never bothered to move everything over.
  • You've been using email since 1990 but for some reason your inbox only goes back to 2007.
  • All those backup CDs you created didn't seem to make it through your last couple moves, the ones you can find didn't take to kindly to being at the bottom of a box with the kitchen knives.
The bottom line is your data is way more fragile than you think and you will loose it, including the adorable photo of your daughter using the hot pocket as a hat.  In fact your sticker collection as a kid is probably safer at your mom and dad's then the 20 gigabytes of MJPEG video your canon camera has been spewing out for the last 2 years.

Everything is electronic these days, your photos, writing, financial information, browsing history, bookmarks, passwords, notes, contact database, medical records, etc.  Most people are not in control of all of this stuff, they have no plan for ensuring it doesn't disappear into the either and consequently it eventually will.

This is a pretty deep topic and my morning blog slot doesn't allot me a tonne of time to discuss it in depth (I have way to much work to do on finishing up our mega house reno) so I'm going to try and summarize what I think the problem is and the long term consequences for most people.  Since the problem effects me too: in a future blog post  I'm going to share my ongoing experiences in solving the issue.  Feel free to comment on some specific problems so I can address them (this is a shout out to all five readers of my blog :-)

The Problem
  • Electronic data is not stable if you do nothing with it, it's not durable like paper and ink
  • Keeping data save requires work and money: redundancy, backups, fail-safes, etc.
  • Moving your data from one computer to another or managing it over lots of computers is not built into the operating system you use - your "My Documents" hardly carries the global scope it implies
  • Humans are generally lazy and technically incompetent
  • All your providers have the same problem and will either loose your data, auto delete it or charge you such that you may choose to let it disappear (or they'll go bankrupt trying to host it for free forever)
  • Moving data around is difficult, often your data ends up being tied to a vendor and when that relationship ends after some time window your data disappears
The Consequences
  • Things you love, need, rely on that are in electronic format will eventually disappear
  • As company's fail so will the proprietary data on them - even big ones like Facebook and MySpace will  eventually go belly up and your crap will disappear
  • Fragments of the originals will persist on the internet as companies try to monetize your content but it won't be sufficient - it'll be like a ghost of your past
  • Lots of company's will try to solve these problems, the slow and steady movement to the Internet and a web browser as operating system seem the rage currently.
So there you have it, your data is unsafe, and if you don't act well it will eventually be lost.  I've been working for a while now at making all my data safe, universally accessible, fast and organized.  It's a big effort and I'll blog about it at some time in the future.

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