Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Online Photo Site Flickr Deletes 5 Years of Memories -- Yes, It's True

Techcrunch today reports a story that should send shivers in all of us who entrust our most prized possessions -- our memories -- to an online service provider. Specifically, in a worst-case scenario, Yahoo!'s online photo sharing site Flickr just wiped out 5 years of photos (approximately 4,000) for one of its customers -- and apparently can't get them back. The cause? Human error -- the hapless victim apparently reported improper access to his Flickr account, and the Flickr folks deleted the wrong account.

Wow! Think about that. Gone. Poof. Nowhere to be found. I am really speechless about this one.

I have entrusted my own precious family and friend memories to an online sharing site -- Shutterfly -- for nearly a decade. I have thousands -- literally thousands -- of photos and now videos on that service. I completely trust Shutterfly. I absolutely know that they build redundancy upon redundancy (after all, Shutterfly is also a business partner of ours at Sorenson Media). There is no more secure site out there. And, I highly doubt that the Flickr "no backup" scenario could ever happen there.

But, can there ever be any absolute guarantees out there for any service provider? As just one example, can a service provider -- no matter how big -- ever guarantee that it will be in business in perpetuity -- until the ends of time? The answer must be no -- which means at some point there is at least a theoretical risk that your memories will be gone forever -- if not in this lifetime, perhaps in a generation to come.

So, always have a back-up of some kind -- a hard drive; discs; something. These too will not absolutely withstand the test of time (in fact, they won't). But, at least it will give you peace of mind in your own life-time.

And, for Flickr, it is almost unimaginable to me that this Yahoo!-backed service can't retrieve and restore this customer's photos via some backup and redundancy. What's even more amazing is that the company calmly writes the following "comforting" reassurance in response to this fiasco -- i.e., "We've been working on the ability to restore accounts for a while and hope to have it completed early this year." Huh? What? Are you kidding me? "Hope to have it completed early this year"? Why didn't you have it years ago -- like, from the very beginning? These are family memories!

I would put my trust in Shutterfly or some other service provider that thought of this problem from the outset and built their systems accordingly.

I feel for this Flickr customer -- I really do. I don't know what I would do in his situation. Apparently, there isn't much he can do ...