What Is The Lifespan Of The Online Services We Trust?

Back in 2006, I posted a ton of video content to Revver, one of the first video-sharing sites. I used it to host several recorded interviews with senior advertising executives for a blogging project I did with Nielsen and the Advertising Research Foundation. Revver was interesting because it promised to share revenue with all video creators, even semi-professional ones like me.

A few years later I attempted to locate some of the interview archives on Revver, but couldn’t find the site. After some digging, I learned that Revver had been shut down. I failed to find any of the public videos I had uploaded to Revver anywhere else on the Web. I was shocked and angry.

You see, I had an expectation that my online content would be on Revver forever. It was one of the hottest video startups, led by reputable managers and backed by well-known investors. I uploaded my content with an assumption of permanence and security. I felt reassured knowing that the two riskiest places to store my digital videos were on raw digital tape and on my computer’s hard drive -- each of which could be lost, stolen or damaged. Both would eventually perish. But Revver?

My assumptions were dead wrong.

Perhaps I was naive or practiced poor judgment. Regardless, this incident was a big lesson for me about online services: You can’t automatically assume your digital assets are safe and permanently stored, simply because they’re stored somewhere online.

Fortunately, I still do have those videos on raw tapes should I ever need to access them again (before the tapes perish). I have to admit, though, the inconvenience of searching digital tape cassettes is prohibitive in its own right. The thought of cranking up my dated digital-tape camera to find clips is daunting.

Fast-forward to today. Most of us place far more trust in online services to hold and maintain our most cherished assets, like photos, music, written correspondence and important records. For me, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, YouTube, WordPress, Twitter and Flickr hold an overwhelming digital history of my life.

Indeed, these services are far more established than Revver ever was. But still, I’ve been burnt in the past, and am reluctant to take anything for granted.

Dave Winer, the inventor of blogging software, recently said, “Given enough time they will all disappear. Doesn't it make sense to think, in advance about what will happen then? Technically there are good practices that exist right now, that could ameliorate the problems. Don't we have a responsibility to implement them?”

We often don’t think twice about how we record our lives and identities in digital services. We often take their existence for granted, like the air we breathe or the clean water we drink.

But shouldn’t we stop for a minute and think about the value and durability of our data and online assets, and how to archive and preserve them beyond the lifecycle of any given online service? Or even how to ensure value and durability of someone’s data far beyond that person’s lifetime, when they stop actively managing it?

What should be the legacy of our stored personal data, and what should we expect of online services to uphold that legacy?



3 comments about "What Is The Lifespan Of The Online Services We Trust?".
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  1. Zachary Cochran from CPXi, August 21, 2012 at 10:43 a.m.

    Two thoughts:

    Whoever creates a system that allows for local backup and cloud backup for files uploaded to social media sites is set to make a killing.

    If people spent more time treating their digital assets at the level that they respect their financial assets, maybe there would be a lot less unnecessary data loss and fewer thoughtless risks taken.

  2. Esther Surden from E. Surden Associates, August 21, 2012 at 2:39 p.m.

    I experienced the same feeling when a social media site for Baby Boomers called Eons suddenly closed. While I hadn't posted any important assets, I lost the only way of connecting with a "community" of people who had bonded over a particular topic. Somehow, when these sites shut down, you should be given the option to download your important information or move it to another site. In my case, I would have liked the option to get contact info for those I used to interact with on a frequent basis.

  3. Zachary Cochran from CPXi, August 21, 2012 at 3:30 p.m.

    @Esther Surden -- come to think of it, I was similarly disappointed to lose touch with the people I spent time with on an MMORPG when I had an account there several years ago -- The Star Wars Galaxies MMO that actually "closed its doors" on Dec. 15, 2011. There should be a better way to "own" your own data--websites that demand all of the interaction occur in the cloud ought to provide options for local backups of data and offline contact info or something.

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