Both WordPress.com and Flickr offer free space. There does not seem to be a time limit for the information that we post at those sites. This actually seems to be an advantage over maintaining (and paying for) our own web sites. (Click continue for more on this subject.)
There are now many sites on the web that are offering free space for my data. I have several Gmail related sites at Google (Gmail accounts, web sites, calendars etc.), pictures at Tabblo, several free phpBB forums, and so on. If the business plan of the hosting firm is faulty, I know that when the company vanishes so will everything I’ve deposited in their storage systems. But Flickr has been bought by Yahoo!, and Google seems to be a money-making powerhouse. So I am fairly confident about the longevity of these companies.
My office is littered with legacy data files that I can no longer access with current hardware. Somewhere I have audio cassettes with the text for a newspaper column that I wrote on a Tandy 100 circa 1986. That was a great notebook computer. I could type on an excellent keyboard, and the onboard modem allowed me to file my articles electronically. My data storage was managed with an audio cassette recorder.
There is a little filing cabinet that is crammed with Apple II floppy disks. If I bothered to haul out that old Apple II, with its Z-80 card (complete with its own high speed 64K of memory), I know that it would still work. In the late 80s we acquired WordStar to write and typeset a book on that. It never failed.
My dear old Mac Plus eventually died, so all of the carousels of hard-shelled floppies are now unreadable.
Lately I’ve been reading that CDs and DVDs are not archival! Since my Hi8 camcorder died I have not figured out what is best to do with the several shoe boxes of tapes (and valuable family history).
Flickr, Gmail, WordPress.com, Tabblo, and others are offering to allow me to store data with them for free with the implied promise that access will always be possible.
My own web sites will be available only as long as I continue to pay rent with the virtual host. Were I to die, they would be gone in a month or so.
But, will my grandchildren (no, I have none… yet) be able to read my blog and see my photos at Flickr?
Since these huge sites are well backed up, it seems that posting at these free sites offers the greatest potential for secure, long term, survival of data. I presume that as the storage technology changes, my old data will simply be moved to new and better storage media.
The implications of this are considerable. Imagine if a substantial percentage of the computer-using population open several free multi-gigabyte Gmail accounts simply to store data from their computers? No wonder Google is building a new facility next to a major power dam.
I suspect that I am not the only person contemplating where this will lead.