Archiving vs. Online Cloud Storage

by Randy Murray on August 7, 2013

My daughter Jen is working an internship with an artist and printer this summer. One of the tasks given to her was to create an archive of the artist’s images. Jen asked me how to do this.

It took me several minutes to realize that we were talking about different things. The artist wanted to organize her photos with information so that she and others could access them and view them using various criteria. I found that I was giving Jen advice on was how to preserve the images, not necessarily how to organize them.

“The Cloud” has become a default answer to almost any data storage question recently. It is one way to  store information, but certainly not the only way and perhaps not necessarily the best way in given cases. Yes, it is very simple to drag a folder of photos into a Dropbox folder. But that’s not really a backup and it’s certainly not an archive.

An archive can be about preservation, but it can also be about organized presentation. That’s the key: organization.

Organization becomes increasingly important when the amount of items, in this case images, grows. If you have a hundred photos, it’s easy to sort through them visually and find what you want. If you have tens of thousands of images, perhaps more, then how these items are stored becomes VERY important.

And it’s also important to understand that storing things in the cloud doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re backed up. The cloud is one place. A backup implies storing your data in at least two places. That’s the point: if you lose the primary storage you have another copy. Those of us who have lost data make sure to have many separate, different types of backups. Once bitten, twice shy.

Storing data in several places is comforting, but it doesn’t solve the problem of accessing the data. That’s why archiving is important. An archivist isn’t just someone who puts something in a vault. The archivist stores things in a manner that makes finding them and getting them out relatively simple. That brings us back to organization.

A really great archive has many ways of searching for things, ways that anticipate how someone would look for that specific thing. And that typically means “tagging,” items with as many terms as necessary to help future searchers find the item. For images, that means taking the time to label each image with information about what’s visually displayed, not just how the image was created. A top-notch archivist may also create some preliminary sets of items, showing how they can be grouped by useful categories.

This is another reason that words are important. You may call your data dump an archive, but is it really useful and accessible AND is it really a backup? It might be time for you to look at how you store you precious data and see if it is an archive, is backed up, or is useful to you in any way.

The Archiving vs. Online Cloud Storage by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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