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World Backup Day: A yearly reminder to save your data

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World Backup Day takes place on March 31 every year. Users can take pledges promising they'll backup their data. (Source: worldbackupday.com) World Backup Day takes place on March 31 every year. Users can take pledges promising they'll backup their data. (Source: worldbackupday.com)

(RNN) - March 31 is the third annual World Backup Day, when everyone is encouraged to back up and store their important computer files.

From tax information and birthday pictures to cat videos and that song you and your buddies put together - anything that's digital - needs to be backed up. Computers, phones, tablets and even the "cloud" are notorious for corrupting, erasing or downright breaking information you want to keep. So those baby photos you recently had digitized may not be so safe after all.

And backing up is easy to forget. It's like organizing your attic: You know you've got photos of your great-grandparents up there somewhere and one day you'll get around to scanning them - but, oops, the attic caught fire and now they're all gone.

The loss of digital information happens every day. World Backup Day was created to promote awareness about just how vulnerable unsaved data can be.

The idea came about after lengthy conversations on social media site Reddit. Ismail Jadun, a 25-year-old biology student at Youngstown State in Ohio, bought the worldbackupday.com site domain after the idea came up.

"A bunch of people came up with the idea," he said.

So with the help of Australian designer Sam Mulcarcyk, he launched worldbackupday.com in 2011. The site offers information on how to save your data, a pledge users can take and giveaways from sponsors including free hard drives.

Each year the site gets a fresh new look and overhaul to promote the same message: Back up your data.

Things that should be backed up include computers of all sizes, smart phones, tablets, music players that store music, cameras and other electronic devices - and even videos and photos posted to social networks or email.

There are several ways to back up your information. Redundancy, or keeping the same information in more than one place, is key. Jadun recommends keeping three copies of every piece of information: One at home, one in a secure but accessible place like a vault or relative's house and one on the "cloud," or offsite network storage.

One popular, physical option is an external, or portable, hard drive, which is basically a large, extra disk to save information on. You plug it in to your computer, back it up, then unplug it and you're done. They also work on almost any computer, so if yours kicks the bucket, all you have to do is plug the hard drive into another computer and you have access to your files.

Portable hard drives can also be password-protected and stored anywhere from your own home, to a secure location such as a bank vault. You can store them in any clean, dry and somewhat cool place and retrieve your data later.

To ease this process, most computers have their own, built-in software that will automatically save scheduled backups of your computer - Backup and Restore for Windows and Time Machine for Mac. But just setting the program to run without periodically saving it elsewhere won't work because the information will still be on your computer and nowhere else. You need to plug in an external hard drive or use the cloud to store the saved information.

The cloud is a term used for storing data on someone else's network, which means your information is saved in multiple copies on servers around the world.

Storing things on the cloud is easy. For a fee, there are many services that will allow you to install an application that saves automatic backups. But Jadun warns that you need to choose a company that's trustworthy. Storing things on the cloud means someone else has access and control to your data.

Another possible problem with the cloud is the process of retrieving data when you need it, which can be tricky. You'll either have to have a fantastic internet connection to download it all in under a week, or pay a fee for your storage company to mail you a hard drive containing your data.

And don't just back up individual files like photos, Jadun said. He said that in five to 10 years when the programs to open those file extensions become obsolete, you'll still need a way to open them up. So when you back up your computer, you want to back up a snapshot of the entire system, programs and all.

"The working version that will actually work so you can view the files as well," Jadun said.

Jadun hopes the idea of World Backup Day continues to grow and catch on.

"I hope it helps spark a conversation on two things: one a personal backup, the data you're accumulating on your digital devices," Jadun said. "Another thing is on the cultural aspect. We have a lot of things that are digital, we have a lot of data, we should be thinking on how to save all this data so we can save it in the future."

He said he wants to focus on the personal level of preserving information that's important to you, and not just saving literature or historical records such as an organization like the Library of Congress.

"Those photos, you want to be able to access them four years, five, 10 years from now," he said.

While most people used to put photos into albums or tuck important information into filing cabinets, that data is now digitized - and should be treated with the same care as the paper version. If we can read books that are centuries old, why not computer files?

"If you never access those files ever again, maybe some archaeologist 200 years from now can look at it again and open it up too," Jadun said.

Oh yeah, and don't forget - always have a backup of your backup.

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