Earlier this week, the social networking company Myspace admitted to losing 12 years worth of videos, photos and music uploaded to its site.
And for many, the news came as more of a punchline than something of actual concern. It is Myspace, after all. Before Facebook become the all-encompassing social media giant still popular today, Myspace was the social networking site to be on from around 2005 to 2008. And despite multiple redesigns, it’s spent the last decade failing to compete with the ever evolving world of social media.
So when the company apologized for losing about 50 million songs posted to the site from 2003 to 2015 due to a server migration issue, a lot of people didn’t bat an eye. Some even welcomed the loss on (other forms of) social media. And why not? In the past couple of years, we’ve seen several big-name athletes and celebrities have their names dragged through the news cycle due to insensitive tweets they made years ago. Myspace’s accidental purge may have done some people a favor.
But what might come as a relief for some represents a glaring problem in longevity of digital media files. One minute they are here. The next, they could be gone forever.
Archiving digital footage has been at least a small concern for Hollywood as the industry continues to distance itself from traditional film.
Celluloid lasts a long time. Film canisters can sit for decades with the contents inside still being playable (as long as you have the equipment) today. But what do we know about long-term storage of digital files. The digital revolution, which filmmaker George Lucas began pioneering in the late 90s, is still relatively new. And look how far digital image quality has advanced in the past two decades. Video files are becoming larger and clearer. 1080p resolution used to be a big deal. Now it’s basically the standard for smart phone cameras as Ultra HD, 4K and 8K become more prominent. How long are older files going to be compatible with newer technology? How long is something like QuickTime going to be relevant?
Hollywood has millions of dollars to spend when figuring out this problem, but the user-end community doesn’t. If YouTube lost its first 12 years of data due to a server issue, how many videos would be lost forever? Do early viral videos such as “David After Dentist” or “Charlie bit my finger” have backup files? And as we move forward in an era where more and more daily life is recorded, how much of it will be archived in case of any more technology gaffes? How much of it needs to be?
In Myspace’s case, there was probably a lot of content lost that no one is going to really miss. In fact, almost all of it might be irrelevant to your life. But if you lost a chunk of your digital past — say from 2003 to 2015 — how much of it would you want back? It might be worth finding out which memories are worth preserving.