The Problem With Building History In the Digital Era

In my personal life I keep a blog about my daughters. My wife, due to divorce and hard times, never got a baby book and we wanted to do something better for our daughters. We share picture and video-taking duties, and I write most of the stories. On that blog I have 550 posts over 6+ years, averaging out to about 6-8 posts per month.

The problem, though, is that I am writing this blog to last longer than one lifetime and there is little guarantee of the technology being around that long. I can’t even keep the technology around for 5 years!

I started the blog on Google’s Blogger platform. What a mistake! The environment was exceptional at the time but like so many things Google, Blogger had fallen into disrepair. Uploading media through Blogger meant videos went to Google Video and pictures to Picassa. The first problem I ran into was that the iPad and iPhone came out and the only videos I could embed were Flash-based. So I decided to move them.

It was at this time that I realized that Google would let you put your videos into Google Video but not get them out. This pissed me off so I switched to using WordPress instead with YouTube for new videos. Since I was hosting my site at WordPress.com and didn’t want to pay them for more space for my photos, I started uploading the photos to MobileMe, which I was paying for, and linking them into the blog. I’m paying! The service won’t go away!

Oops! Apple cancelled MobileMe and gave me a year to move them.

This started an avalanche of concern for me. Given the amount of time and energy we had put into creating this blog we wanted to make sure it was around for a long time. I needed services that were more stable. So we licensed our own shared server, bought our own domain and moved our WordPress installation to it, thinking we’d be safer.

But now we have photos and videos at multiple locations. Some photos are at Picassa and some are uploaded to our server through WordPress (including a painstaking process of re-importing all of the images that used to be at MobileMe). Some videos were at Google Video (which I couldn’t get out) and some at YouTube. Then Google announced Google Video would be shut down in 45 days so I scrambled to find all the videos in our primary collection and upload them to somewhere and re-link them into the blog posts. Videos, in particular, are a problem because I need someone to serve them and make them playable on the web. I tried uploading them to an Amazon S3 installation and then linking to them in the blog but all I get is a link, not a player. So I bit the bullet and uploaded them to YouTube, which seems to be the best solution for now. I still need to consolidate the photos.

Now… I’m not happy with any of this. It just doesn’t feel stable and secure, like I have control over this. I don’t like pictures being in the WordPress repository, uploading is arduous and WordPress seems to make multiple copies, fattening the hard drive. Videos are often too big to upload to my server so have to go somewhere else. And the big thing I have received from this is a deep mistrust for Google. I don’t believe any of their services will be around in 10 years, let alone when my girls are 75 and want to show their grandkids.

My wife can trace her family back to England and France, on the Mayflower and across the pond. They have a rich history, including one of the early California pioneers. There are pictures and letters passed down from generation to generation of just the immediate family. But now that we are so technologically focused, it seems less and less likely that the files and formats we rely on today will even be around for the next generation to see.

All of this work could be for naught.

4 thoughts on “The Problem With Building History In the Digital Era

  1. Now your command at AVC makes sense đŸ™‚
    So dropbox won’t help much either. I think you’ll need a self contained play back device that includes display, storage and power source and technical docs so that it can be fixed in 100 years.

    Alternatively, maybe you spin your media to some sort of glass DVD master before you upload to whatever ephemeral service that you are using today?

    longevity starts to feel like the single biggest miracle of books, paintings and vinyl.

    • “longevity starts to feel like the single biggest miracle of books, paintings and vinyl.” — Dead on, Andy. At some point hardware will be cheap enough that an interactive photo album will be possible, and probably not too long in the distant future.

      It still doesn’t change the fact that Google’s releasing and canceling products is giving me whiplash. I understand and applaud their willingness to dump dead weight but at least let me get my stuff out! And, yes, wouldn’t even try to solve this with Dropbox.

      Here is how I see it: get the pictures and videos out of WordPress and assume I will have to move everything some day. I also have to assume that if, say, WordPress doesn’t last that something will be able to “import” WordPress stuff and we can move forward. By using third-parties for content links then at worse I have to re-reference the new locations if it gets moved to a new service. If I was really smart I could set up a “symbolic link” that would translate a “local” url into a remote video and/or picture url so at least the blog content doesn’t have to be changed again if the content moves. I can just change the “symbolic link.”

      This all hurts my head.

  2. Yeah – whiplash for sure. At a much more minor level I got the google headache recently when I saw a message in my iGoogle page that they would be shutting down igoogle! thankfully I was able to export all my RSS feeds and find some javascript code to convert to the OPML format google reader expects. But now I’m wondering when they’ll shutdown google reader ..argh!

    BTW the symbolic link thing is a cool idea for a web service ..symbolic link service .. its really similar in functionality to a URL shortner but with an “edit page” to redirect your links to new sources. You could host it on Google App Engine ..ha ha ha ha ..uggg ..head hurts again đŸ˜‰

    • Don’t even say that! God help me if they shut down Google Reader. I use it more than Google Search.

      And your right about the symbolic link service… interesting, indeed…

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