Whose content is it, anyway?

Lloyd Davis has a thoughtful post on his blog about all the content he has been putting online for the last decade and a half:

I want to take stock and put it all in some order. It’s one of those things that really needs doing. I think I know pretty much what I’m doing here now – there’s writey stuff, there’s visual stuff and there’s audio stuff and sometimes it all gets mixed up but that’s about the size of it…

I hate the way that these are all differently integrated – ideally, I mean in that ideal world where I had a team of people to sort this out for me, I’d have everything also hosted independently and from today I’d not be using any of these services as the primary channel/home for anything.

I think Lloyd is right to be concerned – as he sees value in his content he wants to ensure he has some control, or ownership over it.

For a lot of people, of course, this won’t matter at all – perhaps they don’t consider their online output to have that much long term value. Indeed, for some people it will depend on the medium. I’m not overly fussed about my Tweets, for instance.

There are bits of my digital footprint that I work hard to ensure won’t disappear though. Take this blog for instance. I’ve been writing it since 2004 and there are nearly 2,500 posts on it. Not all – or even any – has that much value, but I’d be sad if I ever lost it.

So, I run my own server, with my own version of WordPress rather than relying on a third party service. I also back the whole thing up in three different places – locally on the server, on Amazon’s cloud and on my laptop.

Then there are the photos. My Flickr stream is full of them of course, which were either taken on a digital camera – in which case a copy must sit on a computer somewhere, from which I uploaded them, or a smartphone – in which case they might well be lost.

Photos I upload to Instagram via my phone automatically get sent to Flickr via IFTTT now, so there’s two copies of those, and anything uploaded to Flickr subsequently gets added to Dropbox, which then downloads to my laptop, preserving another copy.

Of course, there are loads of photos on my laptop, thousands, going back years, that aren’t online anywhere and are therefore at risk should something happen to my computer! Hence, backups to a local device (an Apple Time Capsule). I ought to sort out a cloud backup service like Carbonite too.

So, the answer is backups and lots of them. Not just local ones, either, but in the cloud somewhere too just in case your own hardware fails. My other advice, if you’re worried about this stuff (don’t bother if not), is to have a play with something like WordPress, get some web hosting, try importing content into it. Even if you don’t tell anyone about it, use it as an archiving service – where pretty much everything is under your control.

In other words, own your own destiny wherever you can. Where you host stuff on the web, make sure you have a local copy; and try to have a copy of content you treasure in the cloud too, just in case. Services like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Pinterest – all of them – don’t owe you anything and you shouldn’t trust them to always be there or to always do the right thing with your content.

One thought on “Whose content is it, anyway?”

  1. Here is the rub. There are two issues within this post. The first is about the technical issues of backing up data, or content, published online. The second is how one controls content (such as that published on line). The two are related, but different. I will deal with the second one first.

    The idea of controlling your content is different from keeping track of it. To be truly open is to, by default, to lose control of it. The only way to control it, to some extent, in an open system, is to keep a copy. Hunter S. Thompson did this famously with *everything* he wrote. All of his letters were carbon copied. Amazing.
    In the “information wants to be free ethos” the idea of control, or enclosures (if we are referencing the enclosure acts (best parallel to the issue of the web and the public domain)), is that the two are mutually incompatible. If you want your information or content to be free, then you have to set limits or boundaries, or enclosure. You move to the realm of information rights or intellectual property rights. The footnote, for example, is the best example of how information is free and controlled. The writer, who uses a footnote, indicates who the owner is and where the idea originated.

    On a larger scale, content is (was) protected by copyright. The team of people doing this would be the businesses and companies that have a financial and legal stake in seeing your content protected. A case in point, I found someone’s article online (copyrighted) and in 6 months, the link was down and the only access was through the pay sight of the publisher. In effect, you have to pay a team of people to keep your content under control.

    In terms of the technical requirements to back up the data, there are technical solutions to the technical problem. What remains though are the philosophical or personal issues relating to the value of the information. Should be retained and for what purposes. For example, draft copies of a post that is never used and is not a very good idea. Does one hold these? Why? Therein we start to consider what we want to achieve or believe will be achieved by keeping track of our personal content.
    I am struck by the counter current, at a philosophical level, of the right to be forgotten. There is a movement for the state to forget the personal information it holds about us even as we want to remember for ourselves. Will it work? I do not know. I think, though, that we will have to accept the decay at the margins and perhaps wholesale forgetting so that we can move forward. If we remember everything, then we can be paralyzed by the past as some ideas, projects, and ambitions are best forgotten.

    Once the philosophical issue is resolved, then the technical issues will take care of themselves.

    Thanks for an interesting and though provoking post.

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