Monday, February 10, 2014

Storing and Protecting your Writing Files: Should You Trust Your Important Papers to Electronic Files or the Cloud?

A few years ago a writer friend asked if the writing group we belonged to would take ownership of his body of work, mostly poetry, upon his death.  He wanted his work to be protected and appreciated. Following lengthy discussion, it was decided they couldn’t help him.  Without a permanent archive, they felt his documents would face the same jeopardy whether left to his family or entrusted to their group.  I know he was disappointed.

And I understood his concerns.  Like most writers, I worry about theft, natural disasters (especially fire in our area), and computer catastrophes that would destroy my writing.  I also have some old disks that I can no longer retrieve data from because they became outdated before I transferred my files.  So I recently decided to evaluate a few options.

1. Paper Files
As a baby-boomer, I still trust paper.  So what comes first to my mind is to make 100 copies and send them to your dearest, most trusted friends – no more than two in each state. 

PRO: There’s a chance one of your copies would be safe even if a tsunami wiped out the entire West coast, a tornado took out a couple mid-western states, and a hurricane took out the Carolinas all in the same year.

CON: It would take years to make two friends in each state, then the cost!  You would spend a small fortune making thousands of copies on acid-free paper and then mailing them across the U.S. in archival-grade, acid-free boxes.  You would most definitely lose a few files to attrition: some friends will move and not tell you, some will marry and change their names so you can’t find them without the help of Unsolved Mysteries; while a few, sadly will pass on, and their relatives will simply toss your papers out with the other trash.  Then, think about those nasty divorces.  I can well imagine stacks of my work being used for fuel when a disgruntled wife burns her husband’s clothes out in the front yard. 

2.  CDs and/or DVDs
Saving your work electronically on CDs/DVDs is a lot easier.

PRO:  According to Web-Opedia, a Compact Disc-Read Only Memory disk (CD-ROM) has the storage capacity of 700 floppy disks (remember those?) with enough memory to store about 300,000 text pages.  Wow!  They are small, easy to store and catalogue.  Send a few sets to a couple-three people in different areas and you will be protected … well, at least for awhile.

CON: In researching, I found that professionals in the field believe CDs/DVDs read-only files will last from 5–10–50+ years before they begin deteriorating; but nobody knows for sure, and there is no real scientific data to support their claim.  Experts advise using quality CDs and DVDs, following manufacturer’s suggestions for longevity, and storing them in moderate temperatures with low humidity.  They also suggest you check your stored data every two years for signs of deterioration. 

3.  Flash Drives
But when you get right down to it, CDs and DVDs can’t begin to compare to using a flash drive for storage. 

PRO: These little bits of technology (usually about 1 ½ - 2- inches in length, are a snap to store, easy to send to a few others for safekeeping, and they hold a ton of data.  Although it can vary with formatting, a flash drive with one GB of memory can save 900,000 pages of text.  I seriously doubt that even the wordiest of us writers has that many pages to store – even if we include all those half-started novels we have hidden away in files labeled “To Do.” 

But that’s not all.  Today, 32- and 64GB flash drives are becoming common and the Kingston Company recently announced the upcoming release of the world’s largest-capacity 3.0 USB flash drive, the DataTraveler® HyperX® Predator.  The drive currently has a 512GB capacity, but they are planning to release the DataTraveler with a 1TB capacity soon.  (I’ll let you that are better than I am with numbers figure out how many text pages can be stored on that little puppy.)

CON: Their size seems both a liability and a drawback.  They are easy to lose and hard to catalogue.  For me, someone who has to return to a restaurant or store about 25-percent of the time to retrieve my purse, glasses or cell phone, I don’t want to trust all my records to this tiny bit of plastic. 

4. External Hard Drives
I recently purchased a Toshiba 2.0TB external hard drive.  (My only Black Friday purchase in 2013.)  The drive is about one-eighth the size of my older Western Digital external hard drive that holds 298GB – it is about the size of a pack of cards.

PRO:  Both simply plug into a USB port and transferring files is a snap.  They are easy to open and locating files is no problem.  I have had my older external drive for several years and it has never let me down.   The storage capacity of both is phenomenal.

CON: I worry about theft and fire and other disasters with these, just like my computer.  I plan to use one for photos and one for my word documents.  That means I only have each file stored in one place.  Even if I were to put all my files on both, I would have to ship one of them to another place, making updating difficult.  As with other electronic storage, the length of storage before deterioration begins is unknown.

5. Cloud Storage
The most amazing new technology on the storage scene is the ability for us to backup and store our information on the Internet, aka, “the Cloud.”  Since the cost of storing data online began coming down, over 50 major online providers have begun offering cloud storage. 

PRO: Storing your work online eliminates the fear of losing your documents due to theft, fire, or other damage to your home ... a big advantage.  Other advantages I see for online storage: I will never leave the cloud behind in a restaurant.  I will never accidentally drop the cloud over the side of the boat or mix it up with someone else’s.  I’ll never leave it plugged into the home computer when I need it at work.  I’ll never hide it and forgot where I put it.

CON: I have concerns about the safety of information stored on the Internet.  What happens to my data if the Internet or my cloud provider “goes down?”  Are my files lost forever?  Can someone hack into my files and steal them?  How do I know they are safe?

I’ve decided to continue backing up my computer and writing files onto an external hard drive.  But I am also going to begin using some of the free cloud storage to which I have access.  My new Toshiba external hard drive included 10GB of cloud storage at no charge.  I also received 5GB of storage on iCloud with my iPad, and I signed up for the basic DropBox cloud storage plan with 2.5GB of free storage.  I already use DropBox when working with others on projects, so I think I’ll start saving my work on the Toshiba cloud and see what happens. 

As a writer, it is important that you find a way to safely store and protect your work.  You also need to be aware that electronic files deteriorate whether on CDs, DVDs, flash drives, or even hard drives.  You should routinely check your electronic files for deterioration and transfer them before they are lost forever.  Good luck!


Elizabeth S. Brinton said...

Do you ever long to go back to a typewriter? I know I do. Thank you for making sense of a topic that intimidates me. This is really helpful.

Jim Adams said...

Yeah, totally. Electronic backup should be a basic rule now, since much of human activity, writing included, is going up online. An elementary wisdom everyone should keep in mind.

EMS Imaging

Ruby said...

Ideally, you should have a hard copy and a soft copy saved. However, if a hard copy isn’t possible, you should at least have three soft copies of it. What I do is have a copy in my computer, another in a flash drive or external hard drive, and another in an online storage. It’s better to be over-prepared than not at all, right?

Ruby Badcoe

Curtis Pilon said...

While paper is the easiest choice, it’s still the most vulnerable. It’s also the least earth-friendly. Nevertheless, every method you mentioned has its advantages and disadvantages. For that reason, I agree with Ruby that the best way is to save your important files in at least three of the things you said. The most common is to print one or two, for example, then store them in a filing cabinet. Then, you can save them in an external hard drive, and in an online storage device, like Google Drive.

Curtis Pilon