How safe is your blog…your website…your photos? And what to do about it…
I’d just enjoyed a lovely day at The Chelsea Flower Show with a dear friend. And the Middlesized Garden had also been accredited for Press Day. This, along with my no 5 ranking of the ‘UK’s Top 10 Garden’ Blogs by Cision UK just days earlier, really felt special. Then I got a call from eUK Host, the company that host all my three websites. They said that my sites would be down for 4-5 hours.
Well, I thought – these things happen. It’s a shame in Chelsea week, but you have to take the rough with the smooth. Three days later, we had to infer, from carefully worded emails, that I had lost absolutely everything on all 3 sites: The Middle-sized Garden, Write to Promote and NinaBell.co.uk. My web designer, Neil Brown, got into the office early on Saturday morning to find out what he could retrieve from other sources. We had WordPress back-ups up to October 2014, but, for some reason, nothing since then. ‘It’s extremely rare to have this kind of catastrophic wipe-out,’ he says. ‘Usually, if a server goes down, lost information can be found when the system re-boots. It’s rare for it to die completely.’
eUK Host kept us updated in the way that companies do nowadays. Four-hourly bulletins were issued on what technical part had been ordered, and that it was being installed. Or that it had been installed but wasn’t quite working yet. Or that another part had been ordered. For someone who has not worked in the engine room of a computer company, such updates keep you fully informed without ever telling you exactly what is going on. After two days, we were moved to another server, but informed that ‘not all of our data had been retrieved’. This may have been corporate speak for ‘we’ve lost the lot’.
Neil got the site back up on Saturday, and I posted as usual on Sunday morning: My top 10 irresistible objects of desire from Chelsea. Phew. Better than nothing. But in the last eight months the Middlesized Garden has grown considerably, so there will be broken links to many of my most popular posts. Most particularly, Pinterest pins last for months, connecting directly to a post on your website (which is why they are such good publicity – see my post Why You Can’t Afford to Ignore Pinterest ). And about 30% of readers find the Middlesized Garden by typing in a search query on Google (such as ‘how do I paint my shed?’). Being down for 3 days and broken links could affect that badly.
First steps to recovery – email storage
Sarah Langton-Lockton, the gardening editor of The Lady, downloads posts and reads them later, so, by an amazing co-incidence, she had stored many of my posts on her computer. If your blog goes out by email, and if people can read it without having to go through to the site, then it may well be a good idea to add yourself to your email list and then save the emailed posts on your pc. However, only text is stored, along with the coding for photographs. I was able to copy-and-paste Sarah’s emails, find the photos on my own computer and re-install posts by hand. It took about an hour per post – there is some fiddly formatting involved – so I will only be able to do the most popular ones.
Label your photographs
It’s not just websites and blogs that are vulnerable to a crash. Photos can also disappear if disaster strikes. And even if you back them up, you have to be able to find them again. The more photos I take, the more thorough I have to be about labelling them with proper words from the moment I store them. They are now much easier to find when I’m writing, and it helps with both back-up and search.
Computers read words not pictures.
A photo called ‘Cloudy Bay moveable shack Chelsea 2015’ is much easier to find than IMG_2035. You’re writing about sheds and shacks, so you can simply type ‘shack’ into ‘search’ in your picture library. Up come all the pictures of shacks you’ve taken and labelled with the word ‘shack’. Luckily most of my pictures are labelled like this so it has been fairly quick to find them again in my system. It’s also worth remembering that your photo labels and captions are part of how Google finds your content. If your photos are labelled ‘hut at Chelsea’ and ‘shed at Hampton Park’ etc, then search engines will be very clear that your post is about huts and sheds. You are more likely to appear in searches for huts and sheds.
The key principle of back-ups is…
By coincidence, the issue of back-up was raised again this week, in a workshop given by Smugmug photo sharing at the Nikon Photo School. Alastair Jolly of SmugMug (I am not making this up) says that it’s not a question of ‘if a hard drive will fail, it’s a question of when a hard drive will fail.’ He advocates the 3-2-1 principle of backing up – for websites, blogs and photos. Always have 3 copies of your photos (or text, or whatever) on 2 different kinds of media, 1 of which should be off-site. I’m now going to buy R1soft back-up from eUK Host for my websites. The advantage to this is that if anything ever happens again, it should be a simple job to get the site back as eUK Host are familiar with the system. ‘At this time’ anyway.
Can you get compensation for losing all your data?
eUK Host are offering me a year’s back-up as compensation, which I don’t think is enough to make me feel warm and wonderful about the company. But it has been exhausting dealing with it all – I don’t have the time or energy to fight them over it. They say it’s my responsibility to buy back-up. Even if I had, my sites would still have been down for nearly 3 days, which is costly to almost any small business.
So how much does back-up cost?
There are lots of free back-up systems, such as Dropbox, but they offer limited space and you quite often find yourself having to pay to upgrade later on in order to get more space. You might as well do the costings to start with. And there’s the question of responsibility. When a company sells something, it has to provide a service. Smugmug is a photo back-up system as well as a photo-sharing one, and Alistair says they’re ‘proud of never having been free.’ Neil Brown, too, pays for back-up for his photography ‘because I want to store as many images as I like.’ Smugmug has plans that start at around $40 a year, going up to about $300 a year, depending on whether you want to watermark or sell your photography on the site, or just share and store – but all the plans offer unlimited photo storage. The advantage of paid storage like SmugMug, says Alistair, is that your photos can be retrieved with all their data and at the same resolution – Smugmug don’t compress the measurements or strip the data off. So my ‘Cloudy Bay shack on track’ won’t get transmogrified into ‘jpg123456’.
Surely social media provides some back-up for photos?
If you share your photos on Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, Pinterest and so on, surely this gives you some form of back-up? Facebook compresses data on the photo, so you won’t get back exactly the same photo as you uploaded. Instagram and Flickr are photo apps, so there’s no suggestion that they change data. But I do find searching for my pictures on Instagram quite complicated now that I have so many of them. If you photograph with an iPhone or iPad, there’s – theoretically – an automatic back-up to iCloud, although my iPad quite often tells me that ‘access to iCloud’ isn’t working ‘at this time’. Although that’s probably about my awful internet connection, it’s left me slightly distrustful of the Cloud. But it’s worth considering whether any of these are furnishing one of your ‘three copies’ of your work.
So it’s 3-2-1 from now on:
My website will be backed up with R1soft (at around £10 a month), and Neil will also review WordPress back-ups once a month too. As I email the post to myself anyway, I may as well save them. That does, I think, cover the 3 copies on 2 different kinds of media. The R1soft is off-site.
My photos are taken on Instagram, then uploaded automatically to iCloud (because I use an iPhone as a camera). I then email them to myself and download them on my laptop. It’s a fiddle, but it does give me extra back-up by having the photos on different devices. However, I don’t take all my photos on Instagram, and I do want to graduate to a proper camera one day. And I find Instagram difficult to search, so I will probably use Smugmug as well. Particularly for family photographs, because these are mainly only on my pc. I rarely share any family pix on social media, so these are much less well backed up.
As you can see, there are a dizzying array of options. It boils down to ‘who do you trust?’ Any and all systems will fail at some point. It’s easy to get so involved in day-to-day life that you forget about back-ups. Even if you’ve put something automatically in place, that can fail. So every now and then, check up that everything is backed up. Do it now! Or share this on social media (or email it to yourself) so that it’s on your time-line to remind you….thank you…
PS If you’ve been thinking about blogging or want to sharpen up your blogging, I’m running a blogging workshop on June 10th in Chiswick, London at 6.30pm. There’ll be a maximum of 6 places, so lots of chance to talk about your blog. For more information and booking, click here.