Do you plan to keep your family photographs forever? If so, where will you store them?
As printed photos: a bad idea as photos printed with most of today’s technology solutions, including those printed at the local drug store, will fade within a very few years. The problem is best seen on color photographs where the reds will fade first, only to be followed by the other colors over time. Even black-and-white photos made by today’s techniques will fade. (Photographs printed years ago by chemical means in a photographer’s darkroom lasted much longer than today’s photographs printed at home on an inkjet printer or in a commercial film development lab using a more-or-less instant printing process.
On floppy disks: a bad idea as floppy disks have almost disappeared. Within a few years, floppy disk drives probably will only be found in museums where they may or may not still function.
On microfilm: a bad idea as microfilm has never been a good method for storing photographs. In addition, archival-quality microfilm is no longer manufactured although you can still purchase lower-quality microfilms (at high prices) that have no promises about expected longevity. In addition, new microfilm readers are almost impossible to purchase today and spare parts for the older readers, needed to keep the machines operational, are becoming scarce.
On CD-ROM or DVD disks or Blu-Ray disks: a bad idea as these optical drives are also disappearing. Many laptop computers and quite a few desktop systems are now manufactured without such disk drives. Within a few years, these optical drives probably will only be found in museums where they may or may not still function.
In flash drives: a bad idea as the life expectancy is limited. Flash drives can last up to ten years, but as mentioned on NYTimes.com at https://gadgetwise.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/19/qa-the-lifespan-of-a-flash-drive/?_r=0, flash memory doesn’t usually degrade because of its age, but rather because of the number of write cycles, which means the more you delete and write new information, the more quickly the memory in the device will start to degrade. Since all these devices are similar in that they all use flash memory, they’ll all degrade in a similar fashion.
In an iPad or other digital tablet: a bad idea as these things change rapidly and standards are still evolving. If you purchased one of iPad’s first models when they first appeared in 2010, would you still be able to use that device today? How about 25 years from now? Will your descendant be able to use it 100 years after your death?
In a so-called “digital picture frame”: a bad idea as these devices seem to appear and disappear every Christmas season. Will the digital picture frame you purchase still be useable in five years? Twenty-five years? Or longer? Sure, they look great hanging on the wall, displaying a new photograph every few seconds. However, most of them do not have a capability of searching for and displaying a specific photograph upon demand from hundreds or even thousands of photos stored in the device. Even worse, most of them do not have any capability to copy the pictures FROM the picture frame to a different device.
In a cloud-based photo storage service: a bad idea as these services have a history of appearing and disappearing at most any time. According to an article by John Herrman in the New York Times at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/29/style/digital-photo-storage-purge.html:
In March 2000, Yahoo created Yahoo! Photos, a place to store your photos. It had limited storage space available as was typical of online storage services of that time.
In 2005, Yahoo acquired Flickr, the popular photo site.
In 2007, Yahoo announced it would discontinue Yahoo! Photos and that users should move their photos to Flickr.
In 2018, Flickr, now owned by Oath, a subsidiary of Verizon, was sold to SmugMug, a smaller competitor. Flickr said that users could only store a maximum of 1,000 photos. Users could begin paying or take the rest elsewhere. SmugMug later switched to a plan that requires payment from ALL users with plans starting at $5.99 monthly or $47.88 a year if billed annually. Details may be found at https://www.smugmug.com/plans. There are similar stories from other online photo storage services.
My thanks to the several newsletter readers who told me about the recent New York Times article by John Herrman.
So where do you want to keep your photos?
The New York Times article mentioned previously offers several suggestions about storage of your precious photographs but neglects to mention the one major risk of all the suggestions: these services appear, disappear, or get bought out regularly. If bought out, the new owners may change the policies and prices of the previous owners.
Then there are the hardware, software, and operational issues:
Dropbox had an outage in 2014 where many files, including photographs, were accidentally destroyed and were unable to be restored. See my earlier article at https://blog.eogn.com/2014/10/17/dropbox-has-deleted-a-bunch-of-user-files-from-the-cloud/ for the details.
RootsWeb had an outage about a year ago and still has not been able to restore all the user-contributed files. See my earlier article at https://blog.eogn.com/2018/01/10/rootsweb-is-currently-unavailable-and-probably-will-remain-that-way-for-some-time/ for the details.
There are other, similar stories. In short, your photos are at risk.
Of course, you will always want to keep copies of your photos at home where they are conveniently available to you. In fact, “at home” is an excellent solution, even if it is imperfect. Never use “at home” as your only solution! What happens if you are the victim of a forest fire? Just ask the folks whose homes and all the contents of each home were destroyed in the recent California fires. For more evidence, ask anyone who has had homes damaged or destroyed by hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, or even burst water pipes.
The reality is that you always need to keep backup copies of your photographs and other valuable digital information and the backup copies must be stored in a place that is located far away from any disasters that would destroy photos kept in your home.
Archivists and others have long used a technique called L.O.C.K.S.S. – Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe.
L.O.C.K.S.S. to the Rescue
The L.O.C.K.S.S. Program, based at Stanford University Libraries, provides libraries and publishers with award-winning, low-cost, open source digital preservation tools to preserve and provide access to persistent and authoritative digital content. However, then techniques of the L.O.C.K.S.S. Program may be used by anyone, private individuals as well as libraries and publishers. While the L.O.C.K.S.S. Program used at Stanford and elsewhere is sophisticated, it is based upon a simple concept: if something is valuable to you, keep lots of copies of it stored in lots of different places. They won’t all disappear at the same time. Even iof one service goes away or if a disaster occurs in your home, you will still be able to retrieve copies from the MULTIPLE locations where the many copies are stored.
For details about the L.O.C.K.S.S. Program, see https://www.lockss.org.
The basic concept of L.O.C.K.S.S. isn’t brand-new. In fact, it was first described more than 200 years ago!
“…let us save what remains not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident.”
-Thomas Jefferson, Feb. 18, 1791
While you have just read several reasons why you should never use only one backup method, there is nothing wrong with using a combination of the same methods. In short, keep copies in your computer at home, in your iPad, in a desk drawer at the office, at a relative’s house, in multiple cloud-based file storage services, and elsewhere. Follow Thomas Jefferson’s advice!
L.O.C.K.S.S. – Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe.