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8 things you can do right now to preserve your digital files

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Make a list of your essential digital records.

Your “essential records” are the records that protect you and your family’s health, identity, and financial resources. These are the records that would be in your safety deposit box if they were paper, and they are the records you would first save in an emergency. Know what and where your digital essential records are. Tell another family member how to access them in an emergency.

Check your backups

Have you been backing your files up? If so, great! Go check your backups and see that everything is in its place, where you expect it to be. Open a few files and check that they are what you expect them to be and that you can still open them.

Organize your backups

If your backups have started feeling like your junk drawer, it may be is definitely time to organize them. Evolving backup systems may have left you with your digital materials spread out over several backups: hard drives, cloud backup, maybe even a few CDs. If it’s gotten so disorganized that you can’t find what you’re looking for easily, then your backups aren’t working the way they should.

Look for stray files

Try to think of where you might have any files that haven’t yet been backed up. Check your phone, your camera (the memory card and the camera itself), old thumb drives, your work computer.

Add your personal website to the Wayback Machine

The Wayback Machine is the free web archive of the non-profit Internet Archive. First check to see if your site is already in their archive. If it’s not, add it. Just make sure that you don’t have robots.txt or settings that don’t allow crawlers.

Clean your desktop, download folders

Everyone has their favorite place to send “miscellaneous” and temporary files. Files seem to just collect there, and once in, nothing gets deleted (kind of like the Pacific garbage patch). Be brave, clean it out.

Rename your files

If you haven’t already, come up with a file naming scheme and stick to it! Check out this best practices document or this online tutorial to help get you started.

Think of one more thing on your own (and do it)

Now that you’ve been spending so much time with your digital assets, you’re bound to have noticed at least one more thing you can do to better preserve them. This kind of analysis is great. It’s how we develop systems to keep our stuff in order.

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