Digital Collections

I have a lot of digital stuff certainly more than any of my computers have storage space for at this point, though to be fair we're talking about 500 gigabytes of various collections (music, video, backups, documents). Particularly given the price disks by the present moment in time, we're not talking about anything too absurd. During my recent computer juggling interlude, I realized that hard drive space wasn't nearly the issue I used to think it was, and I suspect my situation isn't terribly unique for lots of geeks, and space crunches are not often a technological problem, but rather a user problem.

During numerous conversations with other geeks, it's become clear that while we all have massive collections of files that take up lots of space (on the order of hundreds of gigabytes) most of use only a percentage of that space for about 98% of our computing. Everyone seems to have ahem come into large collections of files: copies of ahem our DVD collections, recordings of television shows, music collections and the like. All these things take up a lot of space. The files that we use day in and day out? Much less. Even if you count my email, the full backup of my blog, my personal wiki, and everything else, we're talking under half of a gigabyte, give or take.

So what gives?

There are a couple of mediating factors that bear consideration:

First the emergence of the "netbook" Recognizes this fact. Netbooks have hard drives which float between 4 and 16 gigabytes. It's not a lot of space, but it's enough that as long as you're just working with emal, and a selection of documents that it's enough to keep you busy for a few days, if not months (I mean really now folks). We're also at a point where storage is getting more available and cheaper faster than our collections can grow.

The second factor that leads to this is the fact that "content" (videos and music) don't have particularly reliable distribution channels. If a TV show uh, appears on your hard drive, the chance of it appearing again is often tedious, and pretty slim. So our inclination is to save it. This ties into all sorts of really multifaceted issues about data ownership, copyright, and digital distribution, but it's also partially a user issue.


A few months ago, I was convinced that given fears about backups, backup reliability, and verification, and the dropping price of storage online, either through Amazon S3, or hell even something like Dreamhost (not in a web accessible folder) would probably have been as effective as having disks yourself. I'm not sure this is still the case, particularly with how cheep disks are (which makes redundancy easier). Also I think there's a point between one and two terabytes where even the worst digital pack-rats recognize that such archives are reasonably pointless.

I guess in light of this, I guess the lingering questions are: do you have a big digital collection? How big? And do you have any particular strategy for dealing with these files?

Onward and Upward!

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