For ten days every year, three thousand teenagers from around the country descend on downtown San Jose for the National Youth Leadership Forum on Technology, where they get to visit high-tech companies and universities, hear keynote speeches from industry leaders, and “work to develop solutions to real-world dilemmas.” (I asked whether any of the solutions they came up with were ever applied; apparently not.) Not to mention taking advantage of the free (and of course totally unsecured) wireless in the halls of the San Jose Fairmont and eating (shades of school cafeterias) chicken a la king in the Regency Ballroom. These are very bright kids, some of them already developing software or working as consultants while finishing high school.
Yesterday I went to talk to them about backups. It’s a little intimidating to speak at a technology forum to a group of people who are guaranteed to know more about computers than I do, but I realized, as I was preparing my presentation, that backups and data loss are not really a technology problem.
Oh, yes, the statistics and surveys claim that between 44% and 78% of data loss is due to hardware failure, and anyone who has used computers over any period of time knows that hardware fails constantly. Hardware failure is more likely than human error (like hitting the delete key at the wrong time) to trash your files, and much more likely than actual disasters such as floods, fires, and PG&E. But if you have current, valid backups, you won’t lose data when your hard drive fails. You just have to replace your equipment.
According to Lasso Logic, 80% of small businesses don’t have adequate backups. They may be defining “adequate” by comparison with their Continuous Data Protection service, but it wouldn’t surprise me that much if 80% of home-based businesses didn’t have any backups. As for home users and students, the percentage without backups may well be higher.
In preparation for yesterday’s presentation, I asked parents (not, I confess, a statistically valid sampling) about the backup habits of high school students. Their responses were almost all along the lines of “Our teenagers never back up” or “She backs up her homework to the school network, but that’s it.”
I also posted a question to the NYLF online community asking what they would lose if their computers committed suicide or their school burned down. Tech Forum participants and alumni had an interesting variety of answers, ranging from making a point of never storing data on their hard drive at all to using their iPods for backups to having RAID arrays, domain controllers, and tape drives. One of them pointed out in his response that “this group of Tech attendees probably backs up more than any typical student. It just isn’t as easy as it should be, and more than that, people (students and adults) don’t think about it until it’s too late.”
Curiously, none of the 16 people who posted answers to my question on the community bulletin board was in the group of 36 I faced across the high-ceilinged conference room in the San Jose Fairmont yesterday afternoon. When I asked them why they thought people didn’t make backups, their answers were consistent with the replies of their peers.
“It takes time.”
“External drives cost money.”
After going through some examples of different approaches to raising awareness about the need for backups (and selling backup solutions), I had them break up into small groups to brainstorm answers to the following questions:
1. What backup solution do you think is best for teens/students? How would you market it to them?
2. What would a backup product have to do or have to get people your age to use it?
3. If there was a law or school policy requiring backups in order to use computers, how would you enforce and implement it?
4. What kind of backup solution would work for your grandparents, and how would you sell it to them?
5. What do you think is the best way to keep off-site backups secure?
6. How can we raise awareness about backups? Can you think of techniques that would succeed where Maxtor’s Backup Awareness Month failed?
For both teens and grandparents (and many of them did have grandparents with computers), they agreed that a backup solution would have to be inexpensive, simple, user-friendly, and preferably automatic. Here are some of their suggestions:
- Make your backup device small and colorful—easy to carry, easy to personalize.
- Integrate backups with other computer activities, for instance, backing up the computer every time you download music.
- Design the backup software so it translates your data into music while copying it to the backup drive.
- Use pop stars in ad campaigns.
- Use subliminal messaging to implant the urge to back up. (Illegal, but tempting.)
- Stage midnight raids or random inspections to see whether people are backing up.
- Have your corporate or school network detect whether people are backing up and impose fines or take away user privileges for people who don’t have backups.
- Wipe all data off the system every week: if you don’t backup, you lose your work. People would get the idea after the first time.
- When marketing backups to grandparents, focus on saving family memories and compare backups to health insurance for your computer.
Drives that look like sushi or rubber duckies or tiki statues are one aspect of this, but that only gets to the problem of a device being fun to own. Making a backup program fun to use, now, that’s a challenge worth taking up. Can we translate backing up into a video game? How would you go about converting data streams to music? Would we have a different genre for each type of file? Is there a backup equivalent of ring tones for cell phones?
Given a little time, I bet these kids could figure it out.