Living in the Cloud: A File Structure for Life

I’ve been messing with microcomputers since 1979, but it wasn’t until the mid-90s that I realized I was creating data I didn’t ever want to lose.  By the mid-00s with digital music, video and photography it’s obvious to everyone that we had invisible possessions we’d want to keep for life.  This presents a number of problems.  How long can I preserve photos like this of my great grandparents?

1920s - Dad's father on right - with parents and brothers - cropped

File Formats

My first efforts of writing fiction was on a Commodore 64 – and even if I had any of its floppies, I couldn’t read the discs, nor would I have a word processing program to read the files.  When I got a PC I bought Word Perfect, but that was many PCs ago, and I’ve since converted those files to Word.  If I live to be 100 (1951) will I still be able to read those files?  If by a miracle I do live a century I’m pretty sure I’ll be a sentimental old slob who cries over his ancient snapshots.  Will I be able to find the ones I want and still view them?  Is it .jpg forever?  I’ve been buying audiobooks from since 2002, will I still have my audiobook library to play in 2051?  Or all the Kindle books I’m buying now?

Standard file formats are critical to long-term preservation of data.  How long will Amazon maintain the DRM copy protection on my Kindle books and Audible audiobooks?

Data Migration

I’ve lost count how many computers I’ve own after eleven.  Every time I get a new computer I need to move all my files over and that’s a pain.  I’m always making a new folder and throwing stuff in it, so the number of files I’m saving constantly grows, and every few years I try to clean things out and it’s a big job.  Usually when I get a new computer I just copy everything in My Documents to the new My Documents folder.  But what if I got a Mac?  Or what if in 2022 they come out with some far out new computer system?

File Organization

If you start with one folder, and organize your digital life into sub-folders, what is the best structure?  I sure wished that iTunes hadn’t put ripped audio books into My Music years ago, because that’s causing problems moving my music to the cloud.   Is there a way to plan for future snafus?

Is there an optimal structure that will stand the test of time.  By structure, I mean folder organization.

\Jim Harris

\Audio Books



\Mind Maps









Let’s imagine a future where we have federally regulated data banks like we have money banks and we can trust them implicitly.  In this future, data bank replicates our data in layers of backups, that for anything short of Armageddon, will be completely secure.  Should we put all our data in one place?  In the above chart I could remove \Music because I have my music stored at Google, Amazon and Apple.  I could also remove \Photos because of Picasaweb.  I could also remove \Audio Books and \Ebooks because of Amazon.

Because we don’t have data banks and because my cloud storage is limited at Dropbox and SkyDrive, I will let those other companies maintain my media files.  But if we did have trustworthy data banks, I’d probably want all my content in one location, which means precise organization is important if I’m collecting files for life.

Data Inheritance

There is another thing to consider – what happens when we die?  When our parents die we inherit their papers, books, records, photos and so on.  Won’t we do the same things with digital files?  When I die I want my file structure copied over to my wife’s data bank, and if I wanted, I’d like to give copies to all interested relatives and friends too.  Having a well organize file structure would make it easier for people to go through my digital processions.

Cloud of the Future

Someday we will have data banks.  We might even have laws that require our data to be saved for historians.  Can you imagine scholars from 2782 AD trying to research our times?  I saw a wonderful show on Nova last night, “Mysteries of a Masterpiece” about art historians working to validate a work of art as Leonardo da Vinci.  The scientists had lots of physical artifacts to examine.  If our world goes digital, what will future researchers have to figure out how we lived?

Moving to the cloud is the first step towards this future where we have data banks and preserving digital data for all time.

JWH – 1/26/12

2 thoughts on “Living in the Cloud: A File Structure for Life”

  1. I didn’t have all my data backed up when I had computer problems recently. Since I lost a bunch of data, I feel like I lost a piece of my life.

    When I studied Information Science a couple of years ago. we constantly talked about long term preservation and the sad thing is that the short answer is that there is no such thing as long term preservation of digital materials.

    I really do feel sorry for historians in the future. I think our times will be a mystery to them. At least previous generations had personal papers and letters from historical figures.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think so.

    People should put their email passwords into their wills so if someone wants they can preserve the data somehow.

  2. I’ve been thinking about making a will to do that, so when I die my wife can get to everything, and to close out accounts, and to notify all my online friends that I have died.

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