7.10 Information Safety

I just emailed this chapter to myself.

Call me paranoid or merely careful, but I’ve become an advocate of relentless, systematic backups of data. And when I post on other peoples sites, I look for ways to take out what I’ve put in.

Backing Up

If you don’t back up your data, you are a fool. Sorry to be so blunt, but I don’t offer this as nice-to-do advice.

My practice is fairly simple. I “clone” the hard drive of my computer—i.e., make an exact copy—once a week. Every day, I back up my current work files. I email my chapter drafts to myself. And I’m looking into the online backup services—saving work into what people call “the cloud”—that are gaining popularity among the techno-cogniscenti.

Even with this regime, I still end up losing things, most typically when a word-processing program—yes, Microsoft, I’m talking about you—crashes in the middle of a chapter and somehow the changes I thought I’d saved go missing. This doesn’t happen very often, but it’s annoying and part of the process.

One way to have this happen less is to compose more of your drafts online, via services like Google Documents. The risk of putting everything into the cloud is that sometimes even companies you expect to be reliable lose things. (A Microsoft-owned mobile data service, appropriately called Danger, had just such an issue in mid-2009.) We did some of the editing of this book in Google Documents with no mishap, but I was careful to download the Mediactive Book folder frequently, just in case.

Your blog and other home-base material is almost certainly living in the cloud. You should check with your hosting provider to ensure that it’s performing regular backups. WordPress, Drupal and other packages offer options to make backups of the data, on the server or downloadable to your own computer.

My former employer deleted my entire archive of blog postings—not just once, but twice.

The first time, around 2001, was because of a platform change combined with the company’s misguided understanding of what the Web was about; removing history struck me as perverse and still does. The second time was after I left Knight Ridder in 2005; the reason given was that it would be too costly to keep running the server—something that again struck me as bizarre. But they had the right to delete it, even if I though they were doing a dramatically wrong thing.

In 2009, we got a lot of it back, and we have restored most of the old Knight Ridder blog to a site at Bayosphere.com (that’s another story, which I won’t tell here, but you can read it at the site).

What prompted the project was the Web-sleuthing of blog historian Rudolf Ammann, who used the wonderful Internet Archive to locate many of the earliest posts. This made me wonder if it might be possible to resurrect a lot more or even most of what had gone missing.

Pete Kaminski, a friend and technical whiz, took on the task. He’s done an incredible job of spidering, scraping, parsing and otherwise pulling as much as possibleout of the Archive.

We’re not nearly done. We’re looking for more of the EJournal, of course—dozens or perhaps hundreds of posts are still missing, and may be gone for good.

I learned a big lesson from this experience. I no longer rely entirely on the good graces of other people, including employers, to preserve what I’ve created, much less keep it available for you to see. I try to rely on myself.

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