Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

what to save, continued

Back to the subject of my previous post:

If trusting overmuch in the stability of the cloud — or any one particular cloud in the brave new world of what I like to call Big Sky Computing — is unwise, there are other problems to consider. What if the magazine whose website your link directs you to goes out of business? That’s not likely in the case of The New Yorker, you may say, but how confident can we be in the continued existence of any print publication in these difficult times? Plus, I have on my computer a whole bunch of dead links to New Yorker stories that, during their last major site restructuring, got taken off the web or reassigned to new URLs. Ditto with The New Republic, which has been promising to re-organize and re-present its archives for two or three years now.

The problem of disappearing websites is becoming more and more serious, and it’s interesting that among the first groups to take serious cognizance of that fact are librarians and archivists — people charged with preserving our cultural inheritance. Not easy to do when chunks of that cultural inheritance can be swept away with a couple of keystrokes. You can use the Wayback Machine to find a lot of stuff, but there’s a lot more that you’ll never recover that way.

So maybe it’s better to keep anything you think you’re likely to need on your own carefully-and-regularly-backed-up computer.* It’s not like webpages or PDFs — I save everything as PDF — take up that much hard drive space, especially in comparison to movies or high-resolution photos. And there are a whole set of wonderful information management tools out there — this is the one I use, after having tried pretty much everything available for the Mac — to help you store and organize almost anything you can download.

So why don't I do this more readily? Why is it my reflex to use Delicious? I think it’s because when I’m trying to decide what to do with a story or article I’ve found online, I am (by definition) working in my browser — and Delicious is also in my browser. And if it’s a link rather than a whole story I’m saving, that link will also take me back to (or remain within) the browser. It just seems easier and more natural to remain within the same “space.” For those of us who mistrust, or are ambivalent about, the cloud, this is a resistance that needs to be overcome.

*I could also perform here a Richard-Stallman-like privacy rant, but I shall spare you that affliction.


  • Peter Boumgarden said...

    How do you think Together 2.2 compares to something like Papers? I am a mac user as well and have been a big fan of papers for academic pdfs, but I rarely use it for random articles that I find online (though I think I could)

  • Chris Dattilo said...

    I have used Together for over a year and had 100's of entries. My DB became corrupt in syncing computers. Fortunately, I had a backup and only lost a couple of dozen of entries.

    Since then I've moved to Evernote. It's backed up on the Web and I've had no corruption problems. It's quicker, offers web clipping in my browser and better tagging. Highly recommend.

  • I'll second Evernote. If you're looking to expand your space from just the browser to physical things, it really is quite amazing. I've started using it on my handwritten class notes, and having those searchable is handy indeed (even on my iphone!).

    Actually, even if you are just staying within the browser, I'd still recommend it.

  • Alan Jacobs said...

    It's often a mystery why we like some apps better than others. I was a beta tester for Evernote for some time and I really don't like it at all. Everyone's workflow varies, I guess.

    Peter: Papers is a dedicated app that's great for PDFs, especially if you need to annotate them; I use Together (and have used Evernote and Yojimbo and DevonThink) because what *I* need is to gather together different kinds of files and tag them. Annotation, not so much.

  • Michael Straight said...

    My computer at home has a complete copy of my previous computer's hard drive in a "backup" folder, taking up an insignificant portion of my hard drive.

    The copy of my previous computer's hard drive includes a complete copy of the hard drive from the computer before that one.

    I see no reason that this sort of complete archiving should ever stop. Before long I'll be able to fit all those files on the flash drive on my keychain. Or in the memory of my cell phone.

    My point: mind-bogglingly huge local storage is cheap. If we're talking about text files, it's already effectively infinite. Sure, use bookmarks and the cloud, but why not save everything locally as well?

  • I'll spare the Stallman rant as well, but raise something else: What's the difference between cloud computing and the old mainframe / terminal arrangements of the pre-PC age?

Post a Comment

[Basic HTML tags can be used in this comment field.]