Help me show them who I was
May 25, 2010 5:29 PM   Subscribe

I just found out that I have a very serious disease. I may have only a couple of years left, probably no more than five. I have two very young kids. How do I archive stuff on the Web so I know they'll have access to it, whenever they want, for at least the next 40 years?

Here's what I want to preserve.

A very large Flickr account
Two YouTube accounts
Three Blogger accounts
A Vimeo account
An old Photolog account
a personal Web site with about 100 pages of stuff, mostly about them.
Several thousand text, tiff, and jpeg files

Is there any sort of vault service, or a space in the cloud for this sort of thing? I don't think I have a person I can ask this of. I'm looking for a service. Preferably something that can convert formats and keep content accessible. Does such a thing exist?
posted by 0BloodyHell to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I would advise you to start with physical, analog formats that are self-representing. So, have every photo printed. Print event text file and web page on archival paper using archival ink and bind them up. The reason is being is that I have a document that was written about my great-great-great-great-great grandfather (I think that's the right number of greats) by my great-great Uncle. It is a fabulous read and likely to survive as long as the paper it was printed on. I have a pair of floppy disks of the source code and executable of a game I wrote 27 years ago which I no longer possess the technology to read (and by the way - if anyone reading this has a rig that can read/transcribe Apple ][ disks into images, memail me) and which every day is becoming harder and harder to retrieve. Don't depend on technology to save your data without a curator to help it along.
posted by plinth at 5:39 PM on May 25, 2010 [17 favorites]

I'm very sorry to hear about your health.

You can use a Web spider application to grab all that stuff and put it on a DVD-ROM. There are tons of programs that can do this; you will find dozens by Googling for "download Web site." Also, probably has most of your material, and is as likely to be around in 40 years as any Web site is. You may want to check to see how much of your content is in their archive.

However, I would recommend printing all of it in addition to making the digital copies. The photos can be printed on archival-quality photo paper; use acid-free paper for the text. Video can be burned to DVD; I think people will still be able to decode MPEGs in 40 years. Make numerous copies and make sure various friends and family members who are likely to remain in contact with your kids have them.
posted by kindall at 5:39 PM on May 25, 2010

First, I'm sorry to hear about your predicament. Making an online time capsule like this is a wonderful idea.

Amazon and Google probably aren't going anywhere for another 40 years. Their cloud storage services will probably last a good, long while. Their storage costs are quite low for the redundancy and speed and ease of access they provide.

Depending on your skill level, you may want to hire someone to convert your non-cloud (YouTube, Flickr, etc.) resources to files that you can store on the cloud. As far as hiring someone, any reasonably experienced programmer would be able to automate much of this project.

I hope this helps you out.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:44 PM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you're willing to devote a little time to the project, you can put together a very nice photo-and-text book at (I'm sure there are similar sites, but that's what I've used), saying turning some of the blog narrative into book text and putting photos with it. (For text only I've used, which is cheaper but the photo printing isn't nearly as nice. Been very very happy with both sites.)

They have various utilities that let you pull in and automatically sequence hundreds of photos, and I think they have something similar for blog/web text. Or you can layout the pages yourself.

So sorry about your health.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:23 PM on May 25, 2010

I would suggest contacting an attorney that has experience dealing with trust and estate planning. Myriad items and accounts and sums are held in trust, for just as many reasons and with just as many stipulations. The only constant in trusts is that something of value is placed in a trustee's care and control for the benefit of a third party. Your needs fit nicely into this scheme.

Planning for technology in 40 years is risky business, especially considering how exponential growth has been in the last 40. The reason a trust immediately occurred to me is because a trustee that holds your archive will have a duty to preserve it for the trust's beneficiaries - your children. When formats change, when the cloud becomes obsolete and antique, when websites close, your trustee will be bound by the terms of your trust to ensure that the information you have gathered is not destroyed and lost forever and unavailable to your children. That is ultimately more important than how you might comb the internet to back-up this data. And it is something I would want a paid professional to handle over the course of four decades. Not that I wouldn't trust my family or close friends, but because I would want to insure it properly against theft, loss, disaster and just the plain old march of time.

I have no idea what a professional would charge for these services, or what terms you would want to put on a trust of this nature, but I assure you that there is a compassionate professional out there who is trained and experienced in planning for end of life legal issues. Unlike a complex financial trust that requires accounting and reporting, this kind of a trust would be fairly basic to create with some basic provisions to ensure that the information was curated/maintained properly. For example, your trust could stipulate that your children be permitted access to a backup copy at any time they so demand. It could also stipulate that at least one copy be preserved and never disbursed to the beneficiaries, or that copies be distributed to each of their heirs upon their eventual death. A good professional will talk to you about all these options so that you understand how it will work and so that you are comfortable with the final product; a great one will make it financially reasonable.
posted by greekphilosophy at 6:38 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry to hear this.

Kindall mentioned If the other solutions don't work, it might be worthwhile contacting Brewster Kahle, the founder and funder of You are not the only person who has this need, and Brewster might be supportive of creating an archiving service specifically for families who are in your situation.

Brewster is a friend of a friend, and I can probably get his contact info if you're interested. MeMail me if you'd like to pursue that.

My thoughts and prayers are with you.
posted by alms at 6:41 PM on May 25, 2010

Not much of a help in your particular case, but you can export all your MetaFilter comments into a simple text file using this link.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:46 PM on May 25, 2010 [6 favorites]

Actually C_D, this is a sock puppet account because my other account contains a lot of personal details. That's a very helpful link.

Thanks for the kind thoughts and words, folks.

Spending the time printing everything isn't my favorite option, and I have considered it. I really wish would consider a semi-commercial option that would allow for more control over a personal archive. Sort of a StoryCorps way of preserving personal content. I may follow up with you on that, alms.

In some ways it's not just the pictures and texts I want to preserve. It's the context. That's sort of why I'm looking for a digital solution. And why might be best suited for such a thing.
posted by 0BloodyHell at 6:58 PM on May 25, 2010

I'm sorry to learn of your situation.

I'm less optimistic that in 40 years that you'd be able to point Firefox 14.3.1 or Chrome 2050 to an Amazon or Google site to retrieve your data in the old timey mp4, mpeg, mp3 formats we use today. There will be a web, but we're really still sending morse code compared to what the future worldwide web will be. My first computer stored files on cassette tape. You can still buy cassettes and cassette players. But I'm not aware of a device that can connect to the USB port on my MacBook and read those old Atari 800 files.

I would consider having a local copy of your stuff and save if to a computer and have that unit+data as your archive. Leave not just the data, but the means to play it. It shouldn't be the family computer that can get damaged, but a single purpose archival device. In the 1960s you might have left your voice on a reel-to-reel. That's a pretty safe format right? In the 1970s you'd record it on 8-track or BetaMax. In the 1980s, cassette, VHS or Laserdisc. In the 1990s, a DVD. You may have put your webstuff on Geocities I mean they're owned by Yahoo and they're not going anywhere right? Oh, right Google. My point is, pack the media with something to play it back on. As long as we're still using AC to power it, it should work for this task. It probably won't be able to get on the internet via wifi or ethernet because something better will come along, but it will still work for your purposes.

Ideally, you can find an interested friend or relative to act as curator for your archive and make the transition to future formats/technologies along the way. There may be iPods in 2050, but they're probably not going to be able to play music purchased today on iTunes, but when Apple goes from AAC to whatever they use next, it will probably be easier to convert it along the way instead of the having to leap over multiple generations.
posted by birdherder at 7:00 PM on May 25, 2010

I hope you can find a digital solution, and I think geekphilosophy gets into the heart of the issues there with preserving digital formats. But you should still strongly consider printing things out. Formats change, and I think the rate of obsolescence is increasing rather than decreasing. If you were handed a VHS tape or a floppy disk would you be able to easily view/read them today? What about in ten years? Long term archiving is definitely not a solved problem.

But if you print things out right the text will be readable in hundreds of years and the photos at least for many decades.
posted by 6550 at 7:05 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

There are a number of people working on the question of personal archiving. I was involved in organizing a recent conference on the issue (which we held at the Internet Archive, in fact) - more on that (& videos from the talks) are at our site. It's a complicated problem without a good straightforward answer, but I believe we will have better answers in the next year or so as people come together on these issues.

To your specific questions: web services are not yet proven as long-lived entities. Flickr might be around for the next 20 years, or not. You can pay in advance for access to those services, and for exporting information to physical storage devices, such as DVDs or virtual storage in the cloud or at institutions that are working on solutions for personal archive storage. Ancestry groups like or may allow for file storage or media assets in the context of preserving your data for your descendents.

I wish I had a better answer for you in the short-term, and you should feel free to me-mail me for more information, but I do know that all sorts of people are working on solving this problem and I think the next 18-24 months will yield much progress in this area.
posted by judith at 7:34 PM on May 25, 2010

Our ancestors had photo albums (or painted portraits before) and wrote diaries. I've found pictures of my grands and greats that date back more than 100 years, and I've scanned and put them on my computer's hard drive. If my daughter strikes up an interest, she'll be able to access them and print them out or use the original sphotos and other documents. If she were going to have children, she could pass them on in printed or digital formats. But I don't know why 40 years is the span for you. My guess is that current technology will be retired at least as fast as vcr tapes and, now, cds are being, and that in 40 years your children would have to keep the equivalent of a vcr box on hand to be able to see their inheritance in the form you would save it now.

I may be way off base, but I think that giving your family paper copies would be much more personal, especially if you introduce them to the archives while you're still around, whether they're digital or paper, and explain what they mean to you. If they're too young for that, something in your handwriting would be wonderful to pass down.

And, yes, I'm so sorry you're going through this.
posted by path at 8:00 PM on May 25, 2010

Buy a netbook (a solid state drive might be better, but I don't know if there is a difference long term). Load all of your photo's, websites, etc. onto that netbook. Put it in a deposit box in the bank, or some other secure storage facility. Make sure your family can access it. This way they don't need to find a way to access the data, it will all be there in a small computer that can play it all back for them many years from now.
posted by markblasco at 8:25 PM on May 25, 2010 [6 favorites]

0BloodyHell posted "How do I archive stuff on the Web so I know they'll have access to it, whenever they want, for at least the next 40 years?"

I can't imagine any fire and forget web hosting solution being around for the next 40 years. Flickr especially being owned by Yahoo is living on borrowed time.

What I would do is aggregate all that data into a web site using as simple HTML as I could manage, register a few domains to host it on (say a .net, your country code, and one of the vanity TLD like .cc), and then talk to a lawyer to set up a trust to manage the continued availability going forward. I'd also transcode the video, audio and images into several different formats (though I can't imagine not being able to read JPEG or PNG any time soon).

Network solutions offers 100 year domain registrations; though that is contingent on both network solutions and the domain name system being in existence for that entire time.
posted by Mitheral at 8:27 PM on May 25, 2010

Unfortunately, what you're asking for is a task that cannot end. The only way to keep data preserved for the long term like that is multiple redundant backups followed by a series of migrations, as formats change.

This is a really hard problem, if you intend to keep the information available digitally, and the people who are telling you to just put it on a laptop and put the laptop in a deposit box are... misguided. Physical stuff decays. Entropy wins.

Entropy particularly wins when it's up against consumer-grade, cheap-as-dirt hardware. It's not even a stand-up fight, too, it's a rout. Ultimately, you'll need to find somebody not just to acknowledge that this is important stuff, but to curate it, making sure it gets moved over to whatever the new media is in a decade or two and made legible thereon. Redundant offsite copies, md5sums, the works.

Or, you can print it out, which is wildly less useful, but far more durable.

What I would do in your situation is:

- Get three trusted relatives who live in different places.
- Put all this stuff on three identical portable hard drives, smartly organized and in the most universal formats we currently have (html, text, jpg, mpeg) and put those things (including the USB or ESATA cables and power supplies, naturally) in three identical foam-lined Pelican cases in those people's basements. Leave room for another, comparably-sized thing in them.
- Document, for posterity, who has these things and where they are, along with instructions that every few years, somebody needs to pull out one of them, validate the data and migrate it on to three of whatever the current best-available solid-state storage is.
- Validate that the transfer happened correctly, and that the copies are good, and then put one of each of them in the pelican cases as well.
- Close up, wait another five to ten years until you need to do it again. Toss oldest generation of media, if you need the space.

Use the smallest hard drive it will all fit on, but good hard drives only. Not tapes, ever, not flash media, ever. Store them in sealed, antistatic containers.

Some part of that process will fail, but the idea is that you've got a robust-enough system that you can lose a location, or a generation, or the hard copies you probably didn't make, and the actual information will probably make it through OK. You've got to have somebody to trust it to, though, and somebody to check it every now and then.
posted by mhoye at 10:34 PM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

mhoye: "Entropy wins. Entropy particularly wins when it's up against consumer-grade, cheap-as-dirt hardware. It's not even a stand-up fight, too, it's a rout. "

I was going to mention bit rot, but this is a much better way to describe what happens.

To the OP, I am also very sorry to hear of your situation. My best wishes to you and your family, and I hope you find a robust solution that works beautifully for this problem.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 12:23 AM on May 26, 2010

I wish I had a better answer for you in the short-term, and you should feel free to me-mail me for more information, but I do know that all sorts of people are working on solving this problem and I think the next 18-24 months will yield much progress in this area.

Again, not that it helps much now, but I'm one of those people working on this exact problem.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:09 AM on May 26, 2010

Not tapes, ever, not flash media, ever.

The LTO tape format offers 30 year archival life. MTBF for a hard drive is much, much less.

I assure you in 30 years, it will be still be possible to access LTO media.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 7:16 AM on May 26, 2010

Just throwing out an article from the morning paper on a Wisconsin startup called Entrustet. No knowledge or opinion of them beyond this coverage.
posted by dhartung at 9:40 AM on May 26, 2010

Although this isn't directly related to your question, you may want to listen to Act 1 of this episode of This American Life. At the very least it may offer anecdotal insight into how one child grew up with the loss of a parent and the posthumous letters that parent left behind. Stay strong.
posted by quadog at 10:59 AM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I assure you in 30 years, it will be still be possible to access LTO media.

Even if the tape material and data survive, you need some hardware to read those tapes. Will LTO drives still be made or maintained in 30 years? Look at the hoops these engineers had to jump through to read 30+ year-old Ampex tapes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:36 AM on May 26, 2010

Don't do DVD's, CD's or Harddrives, that would be lucky to last five years. I recently had to read some data from five year old CD-R's, and it was all gone.

Like suggested above, see about printing all the text you'd like to save with paper and ink that will last.

If there's some digital only data you'd like to save, i'd suggest things that have been around like a long time, like tar. Don't compress, that will affect recoverability. You might want to consider some error correction like the kind used in newsgroups.

for text, I'd take just your old raw text files, rather than word, wordperfect or openoffice.

For video, I'd suggest mpeg. but it's not my field of expertise.

for audio WAV files will definitely be readable in 20 years.

Basically, if its an old format (20 years plus) and still in common use it's probably a good idea.
posted by Coffer at 12:06 PM on May 26, 2010

One of my jobs early in my career, was making .isos of archival CDs in a library, so the data sets thereon could be used by people in the future.

One of the problems that had started cropping up with 10+ year old quote-archival-quality-unquote CDs made in the era of 1x to 4x CDROM drive speeds was that when you spun them up in a 52x CDROM, they just exploded. Made a hell of a noise, too, and killed the drive; bam, just like that, and you went from a possibly unique data source to shards of useless plastic. I spent a lot of time and effort forcing 52x drives to spin no faster than 2x, painstakingly recovering images of CDs that just got more and more brittle month over month.

Did you know that some molds will eat the data layer of a DVD? Yeah, once upon a time I didn't either.

When you say "I assure you in 30 years, it will be still be possible to access LTO media", but you know who's got proof of that? Nobody. And tapes just sit in drawers and rot; environmental fluctuations matter over the long term and a safety deposit box is may or may not be a climate-controlled faraday cage. You want your data on live hard drives, if at all possible, and failing that you want them to be spun up on clean power and verified on a regular basis.

That's even before you start asking about the data format disasters and custom applications we had to deal with, which is why I'm hardcore about open standard data formats like HTML and JPG.

Which is all to say, sir: I'm sorry to hear about your situation, but your number one priority with regards to archiving your data is not about the technical details of the process (though those are important!) and about finding people you trust to maintain it for you. The process is always less important than the people.
posted by mhoye at 6:29 PM on May 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

I hope that this isn't a derail but I read somewhere, here on Ask, I think, about someone else in a similar situation. They hired a writer who spent a few weeks interviewing and writing the person's story. I wonder if there isn't a similar element here. Is there an archivist who could help you flesh out the notion of what your content looks like now and what it could look like down the road.

My best wishes to you and your family.
posted by zerobyproxy at 8:25 PM on May 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

There's lots of useful information here. Thank you all very much. I'll closely be watching for progress.
posted by 0BloodyHell at 4:49 PM on June 12, 2010

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