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Burning bits in the Digital Libraries of Alexandria

Drew Houston presented at MIT's Founder's Journey last Thursday on topics past, present and future. The most exciting thing for me was his discussion of digital archaeology. This forced me to a simple realization, one I should have known a long time ago.

It's not enough to back up just you. You need to back up everything you care about.

That might sound trivial at first, but let me explain the full implication of what that means. You need to back up everything you interact with on the Internet that you wouldn't want lost. Everything. This means more than just your content. You need to back up your friends.


SaaS is a trap. Your data dies when they have no more use for it.

While in high school, a friend died tragically in a car crash. This was many years ago now, when MySpace reigned surpreme. His MySpace page became a digital memorial, collecting the memories of friends and family.

Fast forward a few years. MySpace had become quiet. It changed hands. MySpace attempted to rise from the ashes by burning the history of their past users. They gave no time for charitable digital archaeology groups, such as Archive.org, to save it, they simply made it disappear.

You don't have to believe that MySpace was the most invaluable resource on earth, but it was the main form of history and interaction for millions of people for years. Destroying all of that history should be considered tantamount to burning down the Library of Alexandria. We don't know what's valuable. Not yet. History tends to need many years to realize that something has value.

Even if a tiny fraction of a percent of Myspace was worth saving, that's still a tiny fraction of a percent multipled by an enormous factor.

If you care about remembering your history, your friends are a vital part of that. Your history isn't just your content, it's the content of your friends, it's the relationships and links between your content and others. So if you care about remembering your own history, act vigilant.

Assume a digital fire may start at any moment.
And assume your friends aren't savy enough to save themselves as the fire spreads.