This week I’m going to start by talking about Flickr, a popular photo-sharing service that doubles as a social network. I don’t post photos to Flickr myself, but the Ur-Guru does. (Yes, lots of them are pictures of me. What did you expect?)
I first noticed the existence of Flickr backup tools a couple of years ago. I had a bit of trouble understanding why you would need them. After all, the photos can’t get to Flickr unless you first have them on your computer (or a camera connected to the Internet). Surely if they’re worth sharing with the world, you’re going to save them on your hard drive or a CD, and they’ll get backed up with the rest of your data.
On the other hand, if something happened and you needed to re-upload your photos, remembering which ones you’d had there and which tags you’d used to identify each image could get to be a real challenge. That’s why there are programs like Flickredit, a Java-based program for editing, tagging, uploading, and backing up your photos and their associated metadata (copyright info, title, description, tags). If you’ve put hours into creating this metadata for your Flickr photos, I’d recommend checking it out.
Enough people who belong to multiple social networking sites have expressed a desire to import their profiles without typing everything over again that there’s now a Data Portability Project. There’s a long list of the benefits of data portability over on the Use Cases page. They look particularly useful for people who use a lot of job-search or social networking sites.
Interestingly, however, while the list mentions transferring, aggregating, and exporting contacts and other data, it doesn’t specifically address backup. If your data is that portable, however, it should be possible to port it onto your hard drive and back it up. And, of course, having the same information duplicated across several sites can also act as a backup, though if you delete something by accident, the deletion might propagate across all the sites. Which leads me to wonder whether there’s an “Undo Portability Project” in the making. (Repeat after me: synchronization is not backup.)
It will take a while before the Data Portability Project produces useful results, so remember to check out the possibilities for backing up your profile information and other data before you sign up. If you need to keep your profile info in a Word doc in order to keep from having to re-type it, then that’s probably what you should do. And if you can get new messages, photos, and the like from your friends as an RSS feed, remember to subscribe to your own feed in order to keep a copy.
In most cases, anything you post on these sites goes up there at your own risk, and it may well become the property of the social networking site once you put it there.
If you’re an avid user of MySpace, Facebook, or other social networks, why not share your method for backing up your profile and other data—or your reason for not bothering.