Our daily lives revolve around the likelihood that we'll be able to find things where we put them. Without this crumb of comfort, we'd be plunged into chaos; gardening in particular would become incredibly onerous. But in the brave new world of cloud computing, big business is tasked with looking after our emails, our diaries, our photos and our blogs. We divest ourselves of responsibility, and assume that everything will remain where we left it. Most of the time this arrangement works fine, but when it doesn't, and our data vanishes, we become indignant, stressed, and in many cases utterly powerless to do anything about it.
There are two ways this unfortunate scenario can materialise. The first is simply that the company holding your stuff screws up. Most of them will have rock-solid backup strategies, but even reliable old warhorses like Google's GMail service have been known to have the odd dizzy spell. Kat Hannaford, a writer for t3.com, discovered two weeks ago that her blog had been deleted after her hosting provider misunderstood a customer support request; she certainly didn't ask them to delete her blog, but that's what happened. And no matter how much the provider might apologise, it had gone, and it wasn't coming back.
If it's not the company's fault, it's probably yours for breaking their terms of service. Photo site Flickr has come in for criticism for both its "capricious" deletion of customer accounts for small transgressions of rules, and also for failing to enter into any dialogue surrounding their decisions. DJ Andy Kershaw contacted me last week after being locked out of his email for no reason he could think of – and again, his irritation was mainly reserved for cursory and unsympathetic customer support. Online services often have millions of customers, and trying to get helpful assistance is frequently impossible. Sometimes, it might not matter too much. In Kershaw's case, it was more serious. But multinational web services will rarely discern between the two.
Whenever people complain about this kind of thing online, someone will inevitably reply: "You should have backed everything up." But you can't blame us for not bothering – a) because the process is rarely obvious, and b) no web service is ever likely to say to you: "By the way, make sure you keep copies of everything, because seriously, things could go horribly wrong here at any moment."
But if you value the data you keep online, you really should. Take a few minutes to do it, now. I guarantee you won't regret it.
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