I value most of my data. I rely on a lot of it pretty much every day: my to-do list, my grocery list, my “list” of what blogs I subscribe to and which of their posts I’ve read so far, my recent email. Even an email from years ago might unexpectedly turn out to be helpful, say if I got audited on my income tax and needed to support a claim.
1. My to-do list (together with most of my other data files) gets backed up once a week. I should probably do it more often.
2. My grocery list gets backed up daily, because it primarily lives in my Treo (PalmPilot) with approximately daily synchronization to my PC.
3. My blog data is backed up by people at Google who are paid to do it. If anything goes wrong, they’ll figure out how to fix it.
4. My email gets backed up once a month.
Of those four, my favourite is the one where Google take care of things for me. (For free!)
The other aspect of valuing my data is that I want to get at it. If I’m away from my PC, that can be difficult. I could enable remote access to it, but then I’d need to leave it on all the time, and if Windows gets into trouble it’s hard to fix remotely (it can be hard enough to fix locally!). If my data is stored on some Internet-connected server, I can get at it anywhere I have Internet access. For blog-reading I use Google Reader, and when I’m sitting on the bus (or wherever) I can pull my Treo out of my pocket and catch up on my blog-reading — Google Reader knows what I have and haven’t yet read, regardless of whether I was using the PC or the Treo. It also helps that, since May, Google Reader has included a user interface specifically for mobile devices with small screens.
So: the data is stored in one place, but accessible from multiple places, with access tailored to the situation (screen size, keyboard availability, bandwidth, whatever). And the “one place” it’s stored is one where professionals will keep it safe.
“Putting all your eggs in one basket isn’t stupid if the basket sits on a cushioned floor in a high-security building in a non-coastal area with no fault lines.”
-Rohan Jayasekera, 2004
Admittedly, I am reliant on the Internet to get access to the data, and that is not 100% assured. So I’m swapping one type of risk for another. But the best of both worlds can be obtained by using either local caching (where my device keeps a copy of data I’ve recently accessed) or synchronization (where data is stored in two places, and any changes to one place are copied to the other when the two places happen to be connected). Then if I have no Internet connection I still have a lot of my data available. Local caching is implemented by Web browsers’ offline mode, and synchronization by, for instance, Omnidrive, which provides what appears to be another local hard drive that just happens to be mirrored to a server over the Internet.
I expect that most of us will find our data migrating to servers, both because we increasingly use Web-based applications such as Google Reader, which intrinsically use online storage, and because even for our locally-based applications such as Microsoft Word (for those who continue to splurge on such expensive luxuries) we’ll stop being willing to entrust our data to a single local hard drive. It may take a while, but just as buying antivirus programs became mainstream as a defensive measure so will using online storage.
And yes, if and when our Internet connection goes down we’ll curse — but we do already, because that’s where all the fun is. We will come to accept Internet dependency as a fact of life.