Backing up flickr

It’s taken me a little while to get to Aaron Straup Cope’s write up of his Personal Digital Archiving conference talk, but I’m rather glad I have.

The talk is an exploration of what we might do if flickr disappeared tomorrow; it’s a topic many of us have been pondering at least since the news broke of yahoo’s decision to “sunset” delicious. Two elements of the talk really grabbed my attention.

The first was the detailed exploration of how difficult it is to back up or transfer the “social” aspect of a social website. Copying my files and some related metadata is relatively easy. Preserving experiences and relationships is a lot harder:

“Privacy is genuinely important no matter what people are passing off as industry best practices. It is doubly important for anything that archives Flickr because a respect for privacy remains core to what the site is about and the ways that people use it.”

“This is the actual hard part of the personal archiving problem: How to deal with authentication and authorization controls defined by a third-party site that may or not exist anymore.”

“This problem is also why parallel-flickr is not the mythical archiving of all of Flickr. Because you can’t back up Flickr. Or rather: The only way to back up Flickr with any kind of credibility or ethics is to swallow the thing, whole.”

But in the middle of the piece there’s also a little something about a past event to backup flickr which involved building out complex metadata and wrapping them in lots of “standards”: “all the best practices around XML, the Semantic Web and static, linkable resources”.

It is incomprehensible gibberish.

Worse, it’s hard to do anything with. Not only are the data models overly-complex but all the stricter-than-strict, standards-compliant tools that grew up around them are hard to use.

This is a really important point, especially if we’re going to talk about personal archiving.

If I can’t stand to look at this stuff seven years later then what hope is there that someone who does not live and breathe the technical details will?

For those of us living in a world where there’s a lot of excitement around ideas of “linked data” and associated standards, experiences like this one are very important to hear.

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