Your Personal Digital Archive

by Mike Shea on 7 June 2013

30 Second Summary

If you can't hold a complete copy of your data in your hand, you don't own it. If your data isn't in an open format you can open in multiple applications, you don't own it. Big commercial companies won't help you. They want to control your data so you will be forced to stick with them. They don't care what happens when they go out of business, but you will. As more and more of our lives move to "the cloud", we begin to lose ownership of our stuff. It takes a lot of work to maintain ownership of your data.

Principles of the Personal Digital Archive

Below are a few core principles to build and preserve our own digital archives.

A Personal Digital Archive Plan

Below is my own personal digital archive plan. It may work for you, it may not. The best thing you can do about this is write up your own plan, try it out, see what works, and perform it regularly.

Every six months I'll do a full backup of my data. Here's the process:

A Dark Future for the Personal Digital Archive

As companies continue to move us to the cloud, we will continue to lose ownership of our digital stuff. It is not in these companies' best interests to give us full open access to all the stuff we own. The more we give them our stuff for "safe keeping" the more locked in we are with them. They are outspending us considerably in this and, the better their systems work, the easier it is for us to lose our ownership. Only by staying conscious of our personal data archive can we ensure we keep ownership over our stuff. We should review our procedures every six months. We should verify our archive is complete every six months. We should migrate our data to new current devices (USB drives, hard drives, etc) every five years.

Every time we start creating or buying digital stuff, we should know how we can get our stuff back out again. Some data, like TV shows, movies, and games, we will never really own again. We aren't buying that stuff, we're just licensing it.

For everything else, though, we should know how we can get our stuff out before we start putting our money, time, or creative effort in.