On taking care of your digital belongings

- Posted in computers web

I tweeted “Just self-host your things. External services can change the rules at any minute and they will.”

This was mostly in response to people complaining about Flickr’s recent policy change, which limits free accounts to show the 1000 latest photos.

It’s also sort of a retort against Medium, a service I have been using on and off but that I should really stop using since the end user experience of people visiting articles has become pretty shit. For a service that once was focussed on reading they can throw an awful lot of cookie-like banners in your face. And the promise of paying writers is not happening at all, but that’s a different discussion.

The point to self-host is mostly a point about taking care of your digital belongings.

I got responses that argued not everyone is as technical (as me) – or that most people don’t care to learn all of these things. I absolutely understand there is a learning curve to taking care of you digital belongings, but if you really care about what you make, you will either make the effort or pay someone to do the “digital conservation” for you.

This can be as simple as paying a company you trust (i.e. Apple) for a service that you think will be around for years (i.e. iCloud). Or if you like to pay with your data you can do the same with Google.

But if you really care about digital conservation while sharing your content at the same time, you should have a combination of local backups in different places and this thing called a website where you share your things.

The thing is, if you are not paying for a service, you are effectively at the grace of their policy change, and if you do pay for a service, it’s still the same, except there’s a bigger chance that the service in question will remain in existence.

But in the end, things will shut down, companies change, or they start to suck over the years. I recently cancelled my CloudApp subscription because the service just got worse over the years instead of better. I think most services progressively worsen over the years instead of getting better.

Also, instead of worsening, they can also just stop being in business. How many apps and social networks have died over the years? There’s a graveyard of apps that just shut down. If you depended on any of them heavily, you had to do the work of getting your data out, if it was even possible.

We recently started using Notion and one of my first worries was how to get data out of Notion. Thankfully there is a export option – otherwise I would probably not use the service.

Now, some of these things I am writing about might make you think that I’m a hardcore digital archivist.

I agree that over the years I have taken measures that are probably a bit techier than others to try and do some “digital preservation”.

I changed my mind about what needs to be online at some point in time (i.e. I once believed that since Cool URIs don’t change I should keep everything I ever published online) but regardless the way that information can be preserved over years is a topic of interest to me.

I quite like that I can link to photography.johanronsse.be – a website that I made 6 years ago – and know that it’s still there.

On the other hand I was quite pissed that a static website I made hosted on Github.io just died because Github changed their internal logic. My fault for depending on Github to host my stuff.

What I want to say in a nutshell is – if you depend on an external service, realize it can shut down at any second. Have local backups. Make redundant backups. Take care of your digital belongings.

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