The following is a guest post by Barry Wheeler, Digital Projects Coordinator, Office of Strategic Initiatives.
The numbers are staggering – an estimated 2.5 billion people in the world have digital cameras! They take perhaps 3.75 billion pictures each year. And we love to share those pictures – hundreds of millions of pictures are uploaded to photo sharing sites each day! In addition to sharing, many people may wish to preserve their photographs for commercial, artistic, future family uses. We know that we should keep multiple copies of any photographs we wish to preserve, including at least one copy in an offsite location. So the question naturally arises – if we have uploaded those pictures can they be considered part of our digital preservation strategy?
We can’t recommend specific commercial products here, but in general, using a photo sharing site as a preservation copy repository has a lot of pluses. We may be selective uploading only our favorite images, and we may crop and process those images as we please. Online sites frequently have a variety of tools to name, describe, and tag each picture. Previous blogs and the Library’s Personal Archiving page provide much advice that seems perfect for uploading images to a well-documented site. But, at least 3 major “ifs” are hurdles that must be overcome first. The following are some key issues to consider before choosing an online photo sharing site:
Is the online business stable, with a viable financial future?
This is a judgment call. No one can predict the future of an internet site. But at least two online photo sharing sites have gone out of business and a third changed its business model. In these three cases, many photographers lost all access to their images. They had from one to 14 days to retrieve their images – such brief periods that many photographers were unaware of the problem before the site was gone. The photographers then have no recourse; all online sites appear to include a Disclaimer of Warranty in their terms and conditions text. These companies then bear no responsibility for lost images and data if they go out of business or if their storage infrastructure fails. The photographer bears all risks!
Does the online site retain (and back up) the photographer’s images for a very long time period?
In some cases, the user may be unaware that during the ingest process, the online site downsizes the images and strips all embedded metadata. The site may then discard the original images, which saves storage space and speeds online presentation. But the images the owner and site users view and download may be of significantly lower quality than the images originally uploaded. Even if the original image is saved, there are numerous additional problems with retention. What is the retention policy if the online site decides a user has violated the site terms and conditions? If another user lodges a complaint? If a user site becomes inactive and isn’t accessed for a period of time? If any site fees are not paid in a timely fashion?
Can designated people retrieve the photographs – with identifying captions, tags, and descriptions – easily?
An earlier blog has described how users should save and pass on usernames and passwords to sites so designated individuals may retrieve images at a later date. But most site applications only support one-at-a-time image retrieval. “Harvesting” all or a significant portion of a site may be difficult or impossible. Often there are third-party applications that may be used to harvest a site – if the site terms and conditions allow this. But what does the application retrieve? Will it include the captions and tags? Will it be easy to use? Will the download application be available and functional in the future?
If a site passes the business risks hurdle, we might find answers to the retention and risk hurdles by studying the online site terms and conditions, the site help files, and perhaps searching user group threads. We may need to experiment by uploading, describing, and retrieving some sample images. We may want to obtain a harvest application for testing – and note the time required to retrieve an image set. Downloading a particularly large image set from cloud storage can take weeks! Much research is needed to determine if a site might fit a user’s preservation requirements.