For a long time I have been thinking about digital backup. In fact, years ago, when I was still CTO (err- trapped) at Raindance, I researched an idea to create a service to do distributed backup of content to the internet. Not to a single location such as a datacenter, but rather to hundreds of other computers like me that also had digital assets. For a long time I have realized the volatility of keeping all my life breadcrumbs digital. About 5 years ago, I installed dual NAS drives at my house to keep exact copies of everything important. I make CD's and DVD's occasionally to put in our Safe Deposit box. It's a pain, and a bit hit or miss. I know, there are backup services you can buy online. But let's be clear. They suck and don't support the amount of storage I need. Why not?
It came up the other day at work and I revisited the idea. I described how I thought it should work, taking all my digital assets such as photos, videos, etc – breaking them into tens of thousands 'hunks', encrypting them and then scattering them to other peoples computers for storage. Then when the inevitable catastrophe happens, I simply recall the parts and reassemble them into my files. Mike at Lijit refers to the concept as backup-torrent.. A pretty good name for those of you familiar with the bittorrent stuff for downloading huge media files. The concept with Backup-torrent is that everyone has more disk then they really need, so just devote part to backup-torrent and everyone is covered (for free) given a little clever software.
It's such a natural idea. The other night I downloaded the trial of Adobe Lightroom to try. One of the cool things about Lightroom is that you can just point it at your digital photo directory hierarchy and it will use them in place. I like this because I hate software that wants to "manage" my collections of "stuff".. So, I pointed Lightroom at my photos and watched it proceed to index my photo collection. To my amazement, our photo collection has now grown to over 20,000 photos of the Vernon family. I guess this makes sense as all our photo taking has been digital since around 1998.. Somehow it only feels like about 3 years, but ummm – I guess it's been 9 years. This doesn't include over 10 years of video. While not as omnipresent as photos, video takes a huge amount of space on my Mac and is currently not backed up at all digitally (I have the original tapes)..
As we talked, I went through my mental notes of why I couldn't get my mind around the idea as a business. When I was thinking about it daily, I would ask a lot of people about their digital photos, etc.. I asked them if they backed them up or not. Almost universally among people not technical, none did. When I asked if they would pay $2 or $3 a month to back everything up magically, they would say NO WAY. Then if I asked what they would feel like if their computer were stolen or lost, taking all their photos with it they would say… "ohhh, that would suck, it would be a total catastrophe". Then I would ask again if they would pay some modest amount each year to keep this stuff safe. They would say no… WTF?
Ultimately, this is what made me drop the idea.. I still, to this day, can't rationalize the answers, but they were highly consistent among average people with actual photo collections. They wouldn't pay to have it guaranteed to be safe, but would be devastated if it was lost.
I suppose since initially considering this problem some things have changed out there in the world. For one, flickr was born. Now people upload a lot of photos and store them for free online. Perhaps this is the ultimate resolution to the backup problem – maybe your camera should just upload directly to a service. Maybe you just buy a camera and never 'do' anything, your photos just exist somewhere – out there. Others assume the responsibility in order to sell you things surrounding your photos that the average person can more easily value. Is this an example of the problem getting solved in a totally unexpected way?
What do you think? Do you make copies of your photos? Do you make offsite copies? If flickr just the answer, end of subject?