We never realize how much effort we put into our digital lives. Think about how many times you tweet about your horrible public transportation experience, update your Facebook status to tell everyone about your appearance in the Boston Globe, Tumble about that sweet volcano picture you found, or blogged about your teenage anxiety. Ok, so the vast amount of data you’re creating on the Internet may not add up to much of substance, but to you, it’s a very personal history of what you’ve done, where you went, and on some level, who you are. And what happens if that data disappears?
Sure, backups will protect you, right? Technical errors in this day and age are at least uncommon due to redundant servers and offsite backups, but they’re still not unheard of. Delicious competitor Ma.gnolia experienced a massive database corruption last February, and users forever lost all of their saved links overnight. On the other hand, human error ended up labeling every site on Google’s searches “" even their own homepage “" as potentially malicious. Can you imagine if an earthquake were to tear though Netflix’s California data center erased your history there, forcing you to go though and rate the thousand movies you’ve seen over the last few years and rebuild your carefully curated queue ?
What would happen if your blog were to disappear overnight? We have a blog that we used to attend to daily in high school, and while we’ve certainly moved past it, it’s always fun to go back and remember the times when we would post horrible pictures of our friends as an “idiot of the week.” To borrow the analogy of our forever techno-geek crush Gina Trapani, the potential loss of an online blog is almost akin to someone burning your diary.
But on top of accidental loss, there’s the planned destruction of your digital data. Remember a few years ago when your Facebook wall was a highly editable wiki? And then do you remember when it disappeared overnight? We know we wish we could go back in time and look at it one last time, but alas, it is gone forever. Or what if you use an online backup service that decides to shutter its doors? You could very well be out of luck.
Likewise, Twitter’s system is set up only to hold 3200 tweets per user. Come tweet number 3201, and tweet numero uno is gone forever, and no amount of searching or API hacking will bring it back. In era of near infinite email storage, the fact that Twitter keeps only the equivalent of 3200 text messages is, quite frankly, absurd. We send and receive twice that every month, and our iPhone happily keeps track of every single one. Luckily, with some command line-fu, you can back up your Tweets if it’s that important to you, but in the case of your Facebook history, and many other sites, that’s mostly gone forever.
Either way, until site developers allow us a simple way to backup the data we’ve imputed to a website, the moral of this story is backup, backup, backup. Obviously you know to keep your Time Machine updates frequent or just to copy your files to an external every now and then, but now, you need to make sure to add your online data to that list as well, lest you lose something infinitely more personal to you than the pdf of your tax return from last year.