Ep3—Back it up Transcript
MOLLY: For the past 2.5 years, Amanda McLoughlin and Julia Schiffini have been co-hosting a podcast. Late at night and on weekends, they settle back into Amanda’s couch. They each turn on a microphone. Pour themselves a cocktail. And start talking about mythology.
AMANDA: Welcome to Spirits Podcast, a boozy dive into mythology, legends, and folklore. Every week, we pour a drink and learn about a new story from around the world.
JULIA: And I’m Julia.
AMANDA: And this is episode 115, the epic of Gilgamesh!
Welcome to Preserve This Podcast, a show about how to save our podcasts. I’m Molly Schwartz. This podcast is brought to you by the Metropolitan New York Library Council with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
If this is your first time tuning into Preserve This Podcast, I suggest you go back and start listening at the beginning. This is a five-part series where we teach podcasters how to preserve their files.
Today we’re working with Amanda McLoughlin on a really important preservation topic: storage. We’re covering where and how to store your digital files. If you’d like to follow along and learn how to backup your files with us, you can download our zine from preservethispodcast.org. We’re starting on Page 10.
MOLLY: Amanda started the Spirits podcast with her best friend Julia Schiffini as a side project. Now, their show has over 100 episodes. And each episode gets about 20 to 30,000 downloads. She recently quit a stable day job to start a podcast production company, called Multitude.
AMANDA: Behind the scenes I do a lot of like accounting and business stuff. Like ad sales, you know keeping track of money.
I think for myself I sort of describe myself as like an internet business lady. I do a pretty good job of being the most businessy person in the room with creative people and being the most creative person in a room of business people
MOLLY: Amanda the kind of person who likes to have a plan. She stores her valuable belongings in watertight bins so that they stay dry in case of a flood.
But she doesn’t have the equivalent of a watertight bins for her podcast files.
AMANDA: I have a cloud backup and local backup, but that is about all. whenever I read articles about how digital copies are not forever, and hard drives degrade every time you write or read them, I get a little bead of sweat on the back of my neck. But it’s not a thing that we have put a lot of effort into, I think mostly because there’s no best practice yet.
I was really stoked to hear about Preserve This Podcast because I was like yes, I need to know how to do this, people need to know how to do this.
MOLLY: The key to solving Amanda’s hard drive problem will be figuring out a digital storage plan.
Mary Kidd and Dana Gerber-Margie are two archivists working with me on Preserve This Podcast. They tell me about how a box of paper files can sit up in your attic for years and be fine. But Mary explains that digital files are more high maintenance.
MARY: It’s kind of funny with digital files because unlike physical storage, like physical storage you store things in one place, but with digital storage, we encourage you to store things in multiple places. And I think that can get kind of overwhelming because then you’re managing not only ALL the stuff, but then you have to manage it in multiple spaces.
MOLLY: Digital storage is overwhelming. No wonder Amanda isn’t sure what to do.
Which brings us to a Sunday morning in December. Three members of the Preserve This Podcast team are heading up to Queens, NY. We’re on our way to Amanda’s apartment.
I was there, and so was Mary Kidd, the archivist you just heard from, and Sarah Nguyen, our Project Coordinator. [SCENE TAPE]: Hi, how’s it going I’m Amanda. Hi, I’m Molly, Sorry I’m running late.
I was there, and so was Mary Kidd, theone of the archivists you just heard from, and Sarah Nguyen, our Project Coordinator.
Amanda had picked up some bagels from down the street, as a bit of a bribe to get one of her fellow Multitude producers to join us.
ERIC: I’m Eric Silver. I am the co-producer of Join the Party and Horse, which are two podcasts that are on the Multitude audio collective. I’m the one who posts to Patreon and Libsyn and to the website. That’s why Amanda is teaching me to do this, so I don’t lose all of our stuff.
MOLLY: Amanda opens her laptop and plugs in her hard drive. Mary pulls out a couple copies of the zine. She hands them to Amanda and Eric.
MARY: Before we jump into that, how are you feeling about this whole process and any first thoughts or impressions?
AMANDA: I feel worried about being very bossy and making the other people who I work with, to being like, excuse me did you brush your teeth tonight, like excuse me are you archiving your files properly?
MARY: How, how are you feeling about this process? I’m curious.
ERIC: Ummm I’m not the most organized person. This might take a little while to get used to. But I know that it’s for the best I guess like I kind of trust G Drive and Libsyn to like be OK with our episodes. So maybe that’s me being silly that I think that Libsyn is going to take care of me.
MOLLY: Eric knows first hand that you shouldn’t trust someone else to save your work. He was working at Gothamist in 2017.
ERIC: I was being an intern, but I did write like 5 articles that I was really proud of and then of course what happened to Gothamist, it got shut down!
MOLLY: After Gothamist got shut down, the entire site went blank. All of the hundreds of articles that people had written for the publication disappeared from the web for a few days.
ERIC: The servers were down, the hosting was down. You just could not access your articles. And I thought to myself I did not save any of these. I didn’t turn them into a PDF, I don’t have them anywhere.
I mean the internet is supposed to be this boundless publishing platform, and then all of a sudden it can disappear.
MOLLY: So has Eric changed his ways and started backing up his podcast? Not exactly.
ERIC: I still don’t do it though. Which is, which I think is bad. But at the same time, I guess, since I control over my podcast, I’m not worried.
MOLLY: I hear this a lot from indie podcasters. That their content is safe because they publish it themselves. But here’s the thing: it’s just not true.
Amanda learned the hard way that platforms like Google Drive and Libsyn aren’t totally trustworthy. She’s been self-publishing content since she was in middle school.
AMANDA: I was in old-school fandom from 2001 or so.
MOLLY: Amanda was blogging on LiveJournal and posting videos on Youtube.
AMANDA: I was around for like LiveJournal deciding anything gay has to be deleted, or Delicious the bookmarking service that everyone loved, suddenly just died.
MOLLY: That’s when Amanda decided to save a copy of everything she cared about on her own computer.
AMANDA: From middle school I was like I should save a PDF file of stuff I really want to read again. The only service I can trust to keep it is, me.
MOLLY: But now that she’s running a company, she needs to extend that trust to her team.
OK, it’s time to get to work. We’re at Amanda’s kitchen table, ready to go. Well, at least some of us are ready.
ERIC: You lured me over with bagels and now I have to do filing. Internet filing. That’s the whole point of this situation isn’t it. Oh no. This feels like a trap. Regardless, this feels like a trap.
MOLLY: OHHH Eric. We’ve tried playing nice. We’ve tried giving you bagels and a fun zine and explaining that preservation is important. But it just doesn’t seem like it’s working. So I guess it’s time to resort to good old fashioned archivist SCARE TACTICS.
Mary tells Amanda and Eric to turn to page 10 of the zine.
She directs them to a URL – preservethispodcast.org/adventure. On this webpage, Amanda and Eric find a game. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure game.
Eric starts reading out loud as he scrolls through the webpage.
ERIC: Tis a sweltering, dark and stormy summer evening in July. You are a hard-working indie podcaster coming up on a deadline.
A cup of coffee is definitely in order!
You drop your cup. Coffee spills everywhere. All over you, all over the floor, and all over your laptop.
MOLLY: In this game, the fate of your podcast depends on whether or not you have a backup plan.
ERIC: To see what happens if you have a backup plan in place, click here. Otherwise, click here to see what happens to you without a backup plan in place.
MOLLY: There are multiple possible endings to this story. Some are tragic; ERIC: The coffee-soaked laptop makes a strange sputtering noise. A sound you will forever associate with a creative legacy lost.
MOLLY: Others are triumphant. Here’s Amanda.
AMANDA: To your relief, you realize that your backup drive was spared the laptop’s boiling fate. Thank the stars for my data sync you say to yourself!
ERIC: This IS high fantasy. Thank the stars!
MOLLY: As planned, our choose-your-own adventure game injects both Amanda and Eric with a healthy dose of fear. And through the game, they realize the biggest takeaway from this episode: digital information is never safe if it’s only stored in one location.
There’s actually an acronym for this that archivists use. It’s called LOCKSS - L-O-C-K-S-S. It stands for “lots of copies keep stuff safe.”
Part of what makes digital files so vulnerable is that they’re so quick to create and delete. It just take the click of a button. But the same thing that makes digital files vulnerable is the way that we’re going to keep them safe. Which is by making lots of copies and storing them in multiple places.
And Mary has a system for making this many copies. It’s something called a 3-2-1 backup plan.
MARY: That basically means that you keep three copies of your files, two of those copies should be on two separate devices, and then one copy should be far away from you.
MOLLY: So, let’s break down the 3-2-1 backup plan, going number by number. The 3 stands for 3 copies. That means that means that for all the files you care about saving, you’ll want to have 3 copies of them. That way if anything happens to one copy, or even two copies, you have a backup to your backup.
Here’s something really important to know about making copies: it’s always best to store an uncompressed version of your audio files. Uncompressed files are bigger. They include MORE DATA about your file. Wav files are uncompressed. MP3 files, on the other hand, are compressed. That means that data has been removed from the MP3 file to make it smaller – which makes it easier to store and transfer. Your human ear probably can’t tell the difference between an uncompressed audio file and a compressed audio file. That’s because compression systems were designed so that people wouldn’t be able to know the difference. But your computer can tell the difference.
Pretty much all podcasts are required to be uploaded as MP3 files. But you should still save and preserve uncompressed copies of those files. And again, those are WAV files. The more data you keep with your file, the less likely it will decay or corrupt in the future.
OK, so that’s the 3 in 3-2-1: 3 copies. Moving on to the 2. The 2 stands for 2 devices. You’ll want to store those 3 copies of your files on at least two different kinds of storage devices. There are lots of different kinds of storage devices out there. But I’m going to focus on hard drives, RAID devices, and cloud storage.
All of these storage options have different strengths and weaknesses. So which is best? Which storage device should podcasters use?
To help you decide, we’re going to play a game of storage showdown! Bam bam bam…
[GAME SHOW FX]
First up we have contestant number 1. The hard drive!
Hard drives are physical devices that you can hold. You can carry them around with you and see the physical location where your files are being stored.
They’re fairly affordable. $50 will get you a terabyte of data, which is pretty darn good. And they’re easy to use. You just connect them to your computer via USB or the internet. A lot of hard drives let you set up an automated backup, so they run in the background with little maintenance.
The fact that hard drives are physical devices is both a strength and a weakness. Sure, they’re portable, which is nice. But hard drives only stores your files in one place. And if something bad happens, like you drop your hard drive or you spill coffee on it, then all of your files are gone. And, hard drives only last about 5 years. So you need to replace them on a 5-year schedule and migrate your files over to a new device.
Now contestant #2: the RAID device! It’s a hulking device that looks like a hard drive on steroids. But it’s more than just a hard drive.
RAIDs are the kind of pro gear that archivists use. They back up your files on multiple different media. If one part fails, you’re not doomed. Which makes them safer than a hard drive.
So, what’s the downside of a RAID? Well, they’re expensive. A standard RAID can put you back about $1000. And they’re not that easy to use. Setting up a RAID device requires some tech skills and troubleshooting. A RAID would be a great match for a podcast company or network.
Now, onto contestant #3: Cloud storage
Compared to hard drives and RAID devices, cloud storage feels kind of… magical. It’s free or low-cost. It makes your files accessible from any computer. Cloud services store data in a bunch of different place around the world, which creates redundancies that keep your files safer.
Almost everyone who makes a podcast today uses some kind of cloud storage: whether it’s Dropbox, Google Drive, or Amazon S3. Or cloud storage that’s more designed to backup your files, like Backblaze and Carbonite.
But the truth is, the name “cloud storage” is pretty misleading. Cloud storage isn’t vapory or ethereal. Data stored in the cloud isn’t stored somewhere in the sky.
Data that’s stored “in the cloud” is just stored on other people’s computers. “The cloud” is all around us. It’s in buildings, and on servers. The tallest data center in the world, where some of the cloud lives, is right next to the Brooklyn Bridge.
But what makes the cloud convenient also makes it dangerous. With cloud storage, we’re relying on a third party to store our files. And that leaves so much outside of our control.
We have very little information about where our data is being stored or whether a service is changing the metadata. And, perhaps the most dangerous thing about the cloud, is that most cloud services are based on a monthly subscription fee. So once you stop paying that monthly bill for the cloud, you lose access to your files. And eventually they’ll get deleted.
So while there’s a lot of good things that the cloud does, it’s just not safe to to rely on the cloud as your only backup.
PULL GAMESHOW MUSIC BACK IN, MAYBE SLOWED DOWN
I’m gonna be honest, there’s no real winner in this storage showdown. The hard drive, the RAID, and cloud storage all do different things well.
That’s why the key to backing up your files is to diversify across different kinds of devices. Something can always go wrong with any one storage device. But if you store your files in different places, it’s unlikely that everything will go wrong on every device at once.
So, to recap. The 3 in 3-2-1 means three copies of your file. The 2 means two devices.
Which brings me to the 1. The ONE means you should store one copy of your files in a place that is geographically far away from you. Now, cloud storage companies could be storing your files far away from you. But, it’s not a guarantee. I live in New York City, and it’s entirely possible that Dropbox is storing my data on servers that are in New York City. So in the hypothetical that a major flood hits NYC, like what happened during Hurricane Sandy, my cloud storage isn’t going to save me.
Alright, so now the logistics of it all. If you’re ready to set yourself up with a 3-2-1 backup plan, but you’re wondering exactly how to do it, you can follow Mary’s example.
Mary is an archivist by day, but she’s an illustrator by night. She even illustrated our Preserve This Podcast zine. She creates her artwork on her home computer, that she shares with her husband Brian, who’s a musician. Between the two of them, they create a lot of files.
Mary uses a 3-2-1 backup plan for the files that she and Brian make on their home computer. Here’s how she does it:
MARY: We have a backup hard drive. A new one. So we back up to that once a day… And that’s automated.
MOLLY: Every night, Mary’s computer is backed up to this drive. Mary uses Apple Time Machine on her Mac to schedule a daily backup, but you can also do this on Windows by setting up a backup in the System and Security section of Control Panel. So that’s one copy of Mary and Brian’s files on one device.
MARY: I also sync up to dropbox, so I pay for about a terabyte’s worth of storage.
MOLLY: That’s a second copy backing up on a second device – a cloud storage service. Now we’re just missing a third copy in a geographically distant location.
MARY: I have what is called a backup cloner, a hard drive cloner. You press a button, and it clones that data over to the other drive.
MOLLY: Hard drive cloners are inexpensive and super handy. They let you duplicate everything on your hard drive onto a second hard drive with the click of a button.
MARY: And those drives. One I keep in my office at NYPL. And the other I chuck across on the other side of the continent to my brother.
MOLLY: There, she did it! Mary keeps a third copy of her files on another hard drive, which she mails to her brother in Oregon. The drive in Oregon isn’t always up-to-date. Mary backs it up about once every six months when she goes out to visit, using her cloner.
MARY: In case something were to happen in New York City, it’s on the West Coast. Unless there’s some sort of like solar flare event. Then I’m really screwed. (laughter)
MOLLY: Preservation is all about preventing risk. Mailing a hard drive to Oregon might seem kind of extreme. But the truth is – natural disasters can and do happen. Archivists are always imaging the worst case scenario. It gives the profession something of a reputation for being gloomy – who wants to think about floods and fires on a regular basis?
Amanda doesn’t need any convincing though – she’s a planner, so she’s already thinking about floods. But the choose-your-own-adventure game showed Eric what can go wrong. And it did scare him a little bit. It makes him think about things differently. He comes up with a solution for how Multitude can start a 3-2-1 backup plan for its podcast files – by sending a second hard drive to live with his mom in Nashville, Tennessee
AMANDA: Just to have a second place?
ERIC: Yeah, that’s a good idea.
MOLLY: That will keep it safe from any natural disasters that hit the New York City area.
Now Amanda and Eric know what they need to do with Multitude’s files. The next step will be actually doing it.
It’s been 3 months since we did these exercises with Amanda and Eric. Since then, they’ve made a start.
AMANDA: We have taken some of these preservation lessons to heart and I definitely name my files with underscores now because I know that that is important.
And Eric got an external hard drive. He’s formatted it and synced it to his laptop. And he set up a back-up on the cloud, using Backblaze. But Eric has been very honest with us that this process has not been easy. It’s taken him 3 weeks and cost $100 for a new 4-terabyte hard drive to get this whole system in place.
ERIC: This whole thing has been such a slog, but, finally, I can take things off of my working computer, and it is on a hard drive, and it is also on Backblaze. So I have two places that it’s backed up, I can also put it on Google Drive if I really want to.
Digital preservation is a process of constant maintenance and migration. All the backups in the world are just temporary protections against the inevitable: which is that all of our computers and hard drives will die eventually, just like any machine. We can expect storage devices to live reliably for about 5 years. Which means you should be migrating your files over to a new hard drive every 5 years.
It takes some extra work. But in the end, it will be worth it. Because the alternative is that we lose what a lot of people are calling the golden age of podcasting.
MARY: Yes it’s kind of annoying and it takes time to do it, but it’s also this way to communicate to people in the future. To aliens or to future researchers or scholars who come across your work. What you’re creating is really really important. Podcasts are this kind of new cultural expression of, of our generation. And this is one way to sort of validate that.
MOLLY: Think of these preservation sessions as a chance to reflect back on your work. Be proud of of what you’ve created. Maybe throw yourself a party every time you migrate your files – or invite your friends to come over and do it with you. Because if there’s anything I’ve learned from Amanda, it’s that podcasting is a career that can be done with friends.
AMANDA: It was so clear from day one: the community around this medium was soooo incredible… It’s been really transformative, the bulk of my social circle now, are people I’ve met through podcasting. I can’t imagine what my life would be like now if we had never gotten into this.
MOLLY: If you would like to preserve your podcast for future listeners, visit our website at preservethispodcast.org. Subscribe to this podcast wherever you get your podcasts. And please take some time to rate and review our show. Preserve This Podcast is possible through generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It’s produced by me, Molly Schwartz, at the Metropolitan New York Library Council. Our archivists and project co-leads are Mary Kidd and Dana Gerber-Margie. Sarah Nguyen is our project coordinator. Allison Behringer is our story editor. Breakmaster Cylinder composed the theme music. Dalton Harts did the mixing and the mastering. Austin Eustice did our logo. Noah Litvin did the website. Such special thanks as well to Jeremy Helton, Jacob Kramer Duffield, and the whole Metro team. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with episode four. And we’re getting into… metadata!