Safeguarding Photos And Files

Why and how to backup your computer and smartphone photos and files.

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Matt Anderson's Take
It seems like everything we do today is done on a computer of some sort. A desktop computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone, and on and on. We all have devices, lots of them, and that leads to a lot of important files we need to store and safeguard by backing them up.

You probably have a smartphone with zillions of photos, but are they all backed up safely in case you lose your phone? What about all of those files on your laptop. Maybe it's nothing important like a saved game but maybe you also have your tax returns and other important documents on there. Are they safe?

Why Back Up?


Ever lost a file or photo on your computer? It was there just a week ago and suddenly it isn't anymore. Maybe it was accidently deleted. Maybe it was overwritten by a new file with the same name. Maybe the Menehune got it. Who knows, but now it's gone. It's a bad feeling, and worse when it's something important.

Now imagine that feeling multiplied by thousands of lost files and photos. Maybe tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands. It's enough to make your stomach turn just thinking about it. Your entire digital life could be instantly lost forever if you don't backup your data.

How To Backup


The idea of backing up electronic data has been around as long as computer files have been around. As with most things, there are a variety of options and solutions. Some are free, some are cheap, and some get a little pricey. Here are some of best options I suggest.

USB Thumb Drive
Also called a flash drive, these little drives are cheap, small, and are a great way to backup your files. Backing up photos and more can be as simple as copying files to the drive. A better solution is to use backup software. You'll find this as part of your operating system (Windows or MacOSX for example) or can download any number of free or inexpensive options. Or look for a backup USB thumb drive that comes with backup software, many do now.

External Hard Drive
This is similar to the USB drive I just mentioned except that you can usually buy a larger external drive to hold more files. The external drive can be connected to your computer via USB or, in some cases, plugged right into your network (or over WiFi) and is then accessible by any computers you want from your home network. Meaning, you could use it to easily backup multiple computers.

Cloud Storage
The cloud is a techy term that simply refers to storage that's not in your home that you access over the Internet. These Internet based backup services will store copies of your files at a remote location. If your computer dies and you need to access your files you login and copy them back to your new computer.

There are plenty of options here but my favorite is Google Drive which offers a fair enough of free cloud storage (and you can pay if you need more). Best of all, once you set it up you don't need to think about it. Save all of your data to your "Google Drive" and it's synced with the cloud all the time. If your computer dies you install Google Drive on the new one, login, and it automatically restores those files. Dropbox is another great option.

Smartphone Solutions
There are a variety of backup apps for phones these days but for most of us, all we really need to backup are our photographs. You could copy these to your computer and back them up from there or use a free app like Google Photos for iOS or Android.

Google Photos will backup your photos as you take them (or when you get to WiFi to avoid using cellular data). You'll get a large amount of free storage (you can pay for more) that will store your full size photos. Or, you can use the unlimited storage space option and Google will compress each photo (making them take up less space than the original) and store as many as you want for free.

Tips & Tricks


While safeguarding your computer files with a backup is the first step, it's not the last. You'll need to make sure your backup is kept up to date. If you only backup your files once a year then you can potentially lose a year's worth of data if things go bad. How often should you backup? Depends on your situation. If you take a lot of photos each week then consider doing a weekly backup. Otherwise, a monthly backup is good for most people.

But what if you chose a cloud based option? Then you're all set, right? Yes and no. While the cloud option is great, you don't have any way to physically get your data back if the cloud company goes out of business. Sure, that probably won't happen with Google Drive but you never know. Even with a cloud based safeguard in place, I still recommend you backup your files to an USB thumb drive or external drive every 1-3 months. Having a redundant backup in place is always a smart solution.

Of course, there's no point in making a backup drive that just sits in your house with your computer. If thieves hit your house they may take your computer and backup drive. Or a flood or fire could strike and wipe everything out. Don't think it won't happen to you! Keep your backups offsite. This could be a workplace you trust, a friend or family member's house, or even a safe deposit box. Or leave one at home and leave another offsite.

My last tip is to get in the habit of saving all of your data (files, photos, etc) to one place on your computer / laptop. You can still add subfolders to this main folder for organization. This way, when it's time to backup you only have a single master folder to worry about rather than files scattered all over the place. If you use Google Drive or Dropbox (etc) then store all of your data files in there and they'll be backed up to the cloud. Then each month you can simply copy that master folder to a drive that you store safely someplace.
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