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Protecting ‘Your’ Data

The recent changes to Google Reader, which prompted last week’s post, call for more than a search for a new RSS reader. They’re a good occasion for us to think about “our” data, who controls it, and whether we’ll be able to maintain our own access to it.

Jason pointed us to a fine post in last week’s Weekend Reading: Steven Poole’s “Whatever Made You Think It Was Your Data Anyway?” Seriously, if you haven’t read it yet, have a look. Then go peruse Boone Gorges’ Project Reclaim, particularly his inaugural post.

To be sure, not everyone will be able or willing to take many of the measures that Boone’s implementing for himself. Still, we’d all do well to remember what Steven Poole points out in the post mentioned above: “If you’re not paying for something, you have no reason to expect it to be there tomorrow” (he calls it the “iron law of ‘free’ internet services”).

With that in mind, it’s vitally important, at the very least, to make sure we have copies of any important items whose home is in one of the many “free” internet services out there. For example:

  • Blogging with wordpress.com? Periodically export your posts and comments to an XML file.
  • Have photos that you store at Flickr, Picasa, or some other such site? Be sure your photos also exist somewhere on your hard drive; download them from the site as needed.
  • Have important things in Google Documents? Be sure you download them to your hard drive.
  • Using GMail for your email needs? Be sure you use a desktop client to store your messages locally. If you prefer to use the web interface for your daily work, you can automate the setup with the desktop client, so you don’t have to remember to download your messages.

Since copies of all that data will now be living on your hard drive, it’s a good idea to back that up, too—just in case you’re unlucky enough to have a service disappear and to suffer hard drive failure. Backing up to an external hard drive’s always wise, as is using an online service such as Spideroak, Dropbox, or Mozy, to be sure you have an offsite backup. Odds are good that you’ll be backing up enough data to need a paid plan (even with those services that offer free options), so the “iron law” mentioned above won’t apply.

If you have additional suggestions for preserving the data you store with “free” services, please share them in the comments!

Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by ninjanoodles

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