I had just had an great idea for the post to end all posts at lifehack.org and all I needed was a one really good image to illustrate it. So I go over to my favorite cheap stock photography site – iStockPhoto – only to find the home page gone and this garish octopus ripping the head off some sort of cartoon figure with the message: “iStockPhoto is down for maintenance. Please try again in 15 minutes.” Bummer!

iStockPhoto is down

Then a cold chill ran down my back: just how much of my largely digitalized life was at risk of smashing into the same brick wall?

I had so gotten used being a Lord of Digital Creation – able to grab cool photos from any one of a hundreds of thousands of photographers all over the globe with the wave of a credit card – and suddenly I’ve been stuffed into the Internet WayBack Machine and now it was 1997 or even earlier.

Photos. Music! (remember CDs?). Diskettes. Windows 98. The horror!

Getting a grip on myself, I realized:

  • Every brave new world has brave new problems. Get used to it.
  • The problem wasn’t iStockPhoto; the problem was me making the newbie assumption that what worked yesterday will work today on the net.
  • I could cope.

I admit, I may be being overly dramatic here, but here’s the unvarnished core of this post: Adopting a few new habits and ways of thinking before you need them will serve you well in the Digital World. Like the Internet itself, you need to be able to route around temporary blockages and permanent failures:

  • Email. You send your boss a super critical (your job depends on it) email while they are on the road, with an attachment. Don’t assume she gets it – the spam filter at her hotel may have it for lunch. Send her a “Just to confirm you got it” email immediately thereafter.
  • Web Services. Don’t depend on just one web service for something you need to do your job or live your life – be it iStockPhoto, Yahoo News or even Google. Get to know your alternatives – like imagepick, BBC News and the many Google alternatives at Alt Search Engines.
  • Online Backup Services. Whether it’s .Mac,Mozy or Iron Mountain, backup services can fail, or more likely you forgot to read paragraph 17 and the backups you thought you were doing you weren’t doing. Test your backups, and verify monthly that they are working.

Hopefully, you’ll never get a digital stop sign thrown up in you face when you least expect it. But if you do, a little preplanning and a little preparation will unruin your day. Now, if I could only remember what I was going to post about!

Bob Walsh runs a consulting firm for microISVs and startup software companies at 47hats.com, authored Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality and Clear Blogging: How People Blogging Are Changing the World and How You Can Join Them and is currently working on a secret project.

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