I had an awkward moment recently: I have three children, but only one hard copy photo album devoted almost entirely to my eldest son. While paging through it, my youngest (age 6) asked me, “But mommy, where are the photos of me?”

Well, they’re in the computer. Or on the external hard drive. Or maybe some of them are on the laptop. Oh, and wait – there are also a few on those CDs over there.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this isn’t a terribly sensible method of storing my precious memories.

Keeping photos in no particular order on a range of hardware means that:
•    they aren’t easily findable, and
•    they might not be accessible in the future.

Digital obso-what?

Here’s your new term for the day: “Digital Obsolescence”. Simply put, this term refers to the rapidity with which hard- and software changes and causes your files to disappear into the ether.

Think about it: When last did you see any documents in WordPerfect? Sometime in the early ‘90s? That’s not too long ago in real terms, but in digital terms, it’s a lifetime. Those files are only partly accessible nowadays. Another example: Most CDs are said to last a maximum of 5 years. And when they fail, they fail hard. One minute you can read what’s on them and the next, your information is gone forever.

All is not lost though. It takes just a little proactivity and you’re on the road to preserving your digital memories for your old age.

1)    Have a file management plan and a file naming system.

Create a folder for each event or date and decide on a system that you will use to name your files. Example: kaley_wedding or france_holiday_042012. Make sure that you stick to your plan when uploading images to your computer.

It’s easy to just chuck unnamed images onto the desktop when you’re in a hurry, but not so easy to find them six months down the line.

2)    Stick to an open or commonly used format.

Here’s another term for the day. An “open format” is one that can be viewed on any image viewing software. If you save your images using the format prescribed by your camera or scanner, you might not be able to access those files in the future. An example of an open format is TIFF and a commonly used one is JPEG.

3)    Store everything in one place and then store it again somewhere else.

Decide where you’d like to store your photos. If it’s in My Documents-My Pictures, then stick to that, using your shiny new file management system. Save another copy onto an external hard drive.

Try to store the external drive offsite – give it to a family member, or store it at work. If you don’t have an external drive, sign up for cloud storage - like SkyDrive or DropBox - which enables you to store a lot of information online, or save each event onto a CD or a DVD.

4)    Manage your photo collection.

Unlike physical photo albums, which can largely be left alone, digital photos have to be revisited often. Check your hard drive, your internet/cloud drive, and your CDs/DVDs at least once a year to ensure your files are still accessible. Plan to migrate them to new hardware every five years.

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