Monday, December 17, 2007

Thoughts on the fragility of digital systems

I, like some 17,000 other Elgg/Eduspaces users, got an email this weekend announcing the closing of the Eduspaces service. I'm sure that a fairly large number of them thought, also like me, "What's Eduspaces?"

Eduspaces, as it turns out, is/was the free host for the Elgg open source "social platform". I do remember signing up for an Elgg account a couple of years ago (a class, a workshop?), but I didn't remember the Eduspaces name. There are blogs, file storage, discussion areas, etc., in the Elgg system, and it will still be available for those who want to install it on their own servers. Just the hosted implementation at is going away.

Luckily for me, I had signed up and never used the account. I have no content to worry about in Eduspaces, but that certainly isn't true elsewhere. I have blogs, pictures, documents, video, audio, and combinations of things up all over the Internet. I have enough accounts with services that I've tested out that I've had to implement a system for keeping track of them. (I'm using the "private" setting on to keep links and usernames/emails for services as I sign up for them. Of course, it doesn't do me any good for those things I've already forgotten about!)

Migrating content is something that everyone who uses any sort of digital system should be aware of. When you sign up for a content tool on the web, whether it be a photo storage site or a blog or a discussion group, you should ask if you can export your content in a reasonable manner (and printing pages and pages of content should not be considered a reasonable manner). When I started a project on Zoho Notebook recently, I was happy to discover that the content can be exported as a web page.

It's not just a Web 2.0 problem, though the fragility of the business models for many of these projects makes it more obvious. SCSU is about to lose access to the previous version of our WebCT system, so those with old courses need to migrate their content NOW! (Faculty: contact Stan Walonoski right away if there is old course material that you want back; students: contact your instructor.)

On a different note, I was recently having a discussion with someone who wrote a thesis quite a while ago (in computer eras, anyway). He doesn't have a print copy, and is having trouble reading the floppy disks. First problem--when was the last time you saw a computer with a 5 1/4 inch drive? Second problem--what version of Word Perfect is this? Third problem--are the files still good? (He's found someone for problem one, has some leads for problem two, and is now waiting for the results on problem 3.) I've got dozens of disks (3 1/2 inch, mostly) with files that I wanted to save back when, but most of them aren't readable now, either because I don't have the software or because the files have gotten corrupted over the years. Online storage would help the hardware problem (even 3 1/2 drives are getting scarce), but not the file format problem.

As we document our educations, our careers, and our lives increasingly online, we need to think about the fragility of digital systems. Do you backup? Do you save important "artifacts" in multiple formats? (A .txt file is a .txt file and probably will be for a very long time, thank goodness.) Do you check if your online accounts have mass export features? Do you keep track of what's where, or, like me, do you have bits and pieces scattered around from whatever was new and interesting at the time?

And please deposit a print copy of your thesis with your library.

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Blogger Dru Len said...

I aks myself this questions too sometimes. As for Web 2.0 apps, I use Wrike and I'm pretty sure about my data security. They have 99.99% uptime garantee and back up my data every hour. In fact, I guess that my stuff is actually more secure on the Web than on my own computor.

12:56 PM, December 19, 2007  

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