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Digital legacy – Protecting our digital assets.

With Christmas fast approaching and the season of good cheer this is perhaps a slightly morbid subject to be talking about, but it’s always a very good idea to plan ahead.

All of us are building up a large amount of digital assets with photographs, films and videos and music so easily stored both online and on your computer. In many cases we have replaced the old paper photo albums, CD’s and DVD’s for their digital downloadable equivalents.

By 2015, it’s expected a third of people will store all their music online, whilst a quarter anticipated keeping all their photos online. What happens to all this information and data when we die, of for that matter when we are still alive? It is estimated 13% of people in the UK are leaving their internet passwords in their will so that their relations can access their personal data online after they are dead.

When you lose someone, it makes sense that you’d still want to be able to access those assets rather than leaving them online or lose them completely. In addition, passwords for sites such as Facebook and Flickr are also being included in wills to ensure that personal data can be protected and passed on. It’s a sensible idea given how difficult it can be to get hold of these passwords. Facebook pages can often become tributes to the person, but can also fall victim to spammers or malicious comments, so bequeathing your passwords can allow those left behind to maintain these pages or close them down.

How many email, social network, bank, investment, gaming, hosting, computer security, website hosting, iTunes, online tools, YouTube, MySpace, Flickr and blog accounts do you have? Most of us have loads, and being human, we rarely keep the details safe in one place that someone else can find. We are always told not to write passwords down, but maybe we should all think about the assets we have and our responsibility to pass them on to future generations.

As well as all this online information many of us have backups and data, especially photographs stored on CD’s and DVD’s at home. How safe are these disks and how long will they last. The answer is not very safe and not very long, as I’ve found to my cost. Only recently I started looking through some old CD’s looking for some photographs I scanned many years ago, I found the disk without too many problems but when I put the disk into the computer it would not read it! Thinking it must be dirty I cleaned the disk no effect, I tried it in another computer no effect, no matter what I did I could not get it to work. Holding it up to the light revealed lots of tiny dots of light where there should have been solid silver of the CD, end result one very dead CD.

The average unbranded CD or DVD disk has an average shelf life of a couple of years, good name branded disk are a bit better with an average of 5 to 8 years, only professional archival media has a guaranty with an average of 8 to 10 years and only if they are kept cool and dry.

The biggest problem with optical media is the way they are made, the optical coating is applied to the plastic disk, over time this optical coating starts to separate from the plastic disk or the ink sub-straight fades, meaning the data on the disk becomes unreadable. This can be even more of a problem if the disk is poorly stored or the wrong kind of pen was used to write the label on the disk (never use a permanent marker!).

This is a shockingly short space of time, many of us have printed photographs that are many decades old and to find that our treasured photos on CD only have a life of 5 to 10 years should send shivers down your spine.

Unfortunately printing out our photographs is not the answer either unless they are professionally printed on to photographic paper, as home printed photo fade and discolour very quickly due to the technology of the liquid inks and papers we use at home. Always using the manufactures ink and high quality paper and also applying a sealing spray or coating will help and of course keeping them out of direct sunlight. Personal photo printers like Canon Selphy or any using Dye sublimation technology apply a sealing coating to the print meaning it should last considerable longer. 

What can you do?

1. The best advice is to keep things you don’t want to lose in more than one place.

2. Online is becoming a very good place to keep things long term, with some companies specialising in digital legacy storage. (Remember to store passwords carefully).

3. Keep things on USB memory keys, or external hard drives as these are likely (but not guaranteed) to have a longer life than optical disk.

4. Keep optical disk in a cool dry place away from light, harsh chemicals (marker pens, tipp-ex etc.) and extreme temperature changes.

5. Keep passwords and locations of online data written down and securely stored.


Useful Links:

Canon Selphy printer www.canon.co.uk/For_Home/Product_Finder/Printers/Direct_Photo/SELPHY_CP800/

iCroak (not a joke, it’s a real web site.) http://www.icroak.com

Legacy Locker http://legacylocker.com/