Published June 12th, 2010
I have been to nearly a dozen countries the last few years, done all kinds of fun stuff, yet almost none of it is archived in any way. I won’t cure cancer or win a Nobel Peace Prize, but I do want to keep an archive of things I’ve done, and places I’ve been.
My mother has been doing genealogy research on our ancestors, and most of the time all she can find out about them are a few Census Records or maybe a random mention in a news paper article. It takes too much work, for far too little information.
**My Information Silos **
I have stored my life’s information in several silos.
These Silos include Facebook, Flickr, Google Mail, and perhaps a half dozen other internet services.
Some of them let me export and take control of my data, and thanks to efforts like the Data Liberation Front, the ability to control your own data is generally improving.
But what is wrong with this picture is, I don’t really want that kind of control. Control to store my data on my hard drive is worthless — my hard drive, while it is a nice SSD and no longer spins around in circles, so the chances for physical failures is slightly reduced, it is still an Information Silo. The data is still locked up on my laptop, and this is perhaps even more risky than an online service. Most people don’t have the digital photos they took 5 years ago, let alone 10 years. People on a whole are just bad at managing their own data, on their own machines. It gets lost, it gets destroyed, and it seems to happen at a rate beyond other means, like a physical Photo album.
The problem with all of these Silos is that they are too easily killed.
Online services, like Facebook or Flickr, no matter how massive or open with their data, will some day die. Most of these companies have been around for 10 years or less as major players, how can they commit to the structure and reliability to keep my data alive forever.
Local storage, is just fraught with danger too, from seemingly simple things like operating system upgrades gone bad, the first Apple OSX Worm to break out, to things outside the computer world, like Fires or floods. The likely-hood of a few bits of data surviving the next decade is far too low, I don’t even have all my old 256kb/second mp3s anymore :)
Online Backup Services
On the more technical side, Tarsnap, which I absolutely Love, combines impressive security with easier to use interfaces like tar, bringing innovation to the traditional enterprise backup systems.
All of these services are great for online backup and recovery — but their data and pricing models are still built around online storage, and online access of data. They are also new companies, most of whom are built upon other young services.
We have data from centuries ago; Books were the most common storage format, many of them being transcribed by monks, which turns out to be a slightly lossy experience for the data as it migrates across languages and methods.
Not everyone will believe we can keep growing technology at the pace we have, nor that we might be able to stop death and diseases in our generation, but I do believe we are in the age where information created and stored today, could survive forever. And if you are in doubt about the advances in medical technology, you can always arrange yourself to be frozen.
When I say, Forever, I do mean, Forever, and ever.
In Science Fiction, there are many books describing these epic time lines, perhaps my favorite is The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. Our species has existed for just a blip in time so far, but the technological baseline we have today, is enough for the information of our lives to live on forever.
The easy way out, is to just make everything public on places like a blog. Then you hope that Google and similar companies all cross-copy it, and hope that something will survive.
I think relying upon them is still too small minded however, when you start talking about thousands of years. Humans just don’t think in terms of geological time. The whole technical base could change — the world wide web we know today will be abandoned someday just like Gopher, and all that content will disappear into the ether.
What I want is a service that charges $100 for 100 gigabytes, guaranteed to be accessible for 1000 years.
There are small technical challenges, like how would you write to media intended to last thousands of years, where would you store it all, and how would you pass on access to this data to whomever you desire, but I think they are all solvable.
If you can store your body in cryogenic storage for thousands of years, why can’t you store your data; Not just for yourself, but for your descendants.
I might not live Forever, but I want my data to live on.
Written by Paul Querna, CTO @ ScaleFT. @pquerna