Is your digital footprint a size too big?

15 May 2019

Imagine a mansion, where room after room is filled with incoherent, massive piles of hoarded clothes, accessories, shoes, trinkets, furniture, souvenirs and paraphernalia – things that are important, that deserve to be kept, but there is no discernible way to make sense of all those belongings. Now imagine that this mansion is your digital footprint, consisting of thousands upon thousands of photos, screenshots and videos. Our vast content libraries have become a digital dumping ground of the life we’re living.

Last year it was estimated that people would take more than 1.2 trillion photos thanks to the ease of smartphones. There’s no doubt that managing digital assets can be daunting. There’s so much else we’d rather be doing than sitting down to a computer to copy, save, upload, download, organise, edit, print and backup thousands of photos and videos. And for this very reason, most of us don’t.

I run a creative tech startup, and with a background in photomedia, I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews with people that has highlighted how we are creating more content than we can personally manage. One Australian lady I spoke with had 43,000 photos on her phone!

Rewind 25 years, and photo and video operated on an entirely different analogue scale, it was simple to document someone’s childhood in 35mm film, all 250 photos of them. But now, sorting through 100,000s photos is not so easily done. In our busy snap-happy lives, the ease of technology is enabling habits where we are creating our very own chaotic digital footprint.

So, where to begin?

Here are some tips that can help get your digital content libraries in order, with new technology advancements such as artificial intelligence, there are some solutions that can make this chore a little less painful.

  1. Consolidate your libraries: Part of the problem is having ‘pockets’ of photos and videos across multiple locations. By consolidating, you can create ‘one true source’. This is the first step towards being able to find anything because you’re removing variables. With the changing pace of technology, hardware and file formats can become redundant or corrupt, so if you have images saved on old devices, it might be time to copy them across before those devices become unresponsive or inaccessible.
  2. Backup to an external hard drive or NAS box: This option has its advantages because at least important files are transferred from a device’s local memory should anything go wrong with that hardware. Generally you will only have a basic ability to sort by metadata (such as file name, type and date etc).
  3. Upload to the cloud: Saving to the cloud provides some peace of mind that your content will be backed up continuously, minimising the risk of losing important data. There are some free solutions, but once you get past a certain storage limit, there is usually an ongoing monthly cost. Cloud based storage can include artificial intelligence that provides some auto categorisation, beyond basic metadata sorting. But be warned, when something is continuously free – you are the product. Paid options are likely to provide more security and privacy.
  4. Online gallery platforms: There are a host of online galleries that you can use to store your content and share via unique URLs, these range from free to paid. However, over time these become unwieldy and are better reserved for special events (weddings, conferences etc). They can be password protected for privacy, but these galleries are not a long term solution in my opinion, the main reason being is that not every photo and video you created was intended to be shared – remember we’re talking 100,000s of files and potentially millions over time. This also applies to social media, while you might share the best five minutes of your day or showcase a few holiday snaps, it’s almost certain that you would never share all the photos you took.
  5. Use an online digital asset manager: Either in app form or via cloud based software as a service (SaaS), there are some sophisticated options that you can use to manage your video and photo files, some easier to use than others. All have varying pricing plans, but you are paying for a product that provides security, privacy and usability. These systems include artificial intelligence categorisation and a host of other features like version control to help you stay on top of your content. In my opinion, this is the best strategy. If you are happy to pay for streaming services for music and entertainment, is it any different to pay for peace of mind to look after the important data that truly matters to you?
  6. Start deleting: Curb those digital hoarding tendencies with some digital hygiene. Get into the regular habit of reviewing the photos and videos you create and deleting the junk. Do you really need those photos of the smashed avo toast you had for breakfast last week?
  7. Printing is not recommended: Printing might seem like the thing you’re supposed to do with all your digital photos, however, this is a hangover from film and light sensitive papers, when it was was the only way to actually see a photo. But now that we live digitally, printing in bulk is no longer required. My philosophy is if you print at all, reserve it for the truly special occasions.

Majella Edwards

Majella is a user experience designer, Olympian (Sydney 2000), visual artist, and co-founder of a creative technology company, Sortal. She has over 16 years experience working in product and digital design, photography and digital media, collection management, visual arts, creative workshop facilitation and more recently in arts psychotherapy.

Majella has worked at some of Australia’s most prestigious cultural institutions such as the Australian War Memorial, the National Library of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia. She now consults with a number of technology companies on customer experience, interface and accessibility design.

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