Let's do a quick survey. Hands up everybody with a web site? A blog? A forum-type-commenty-type thing?
You can put them down now :-).
Recently I heard from a friend of mine. She's a writer too. She has a web-site. With a blog and, er, blog-y stuff.
Actually, she doesn't. It's more that she, um, used to. Have one, I mean.
You see, she was adding something to the site. A plugin. I'm sure you all know what that is, but for any who don't just think of it as an extra feature offered by the place she had her site. Thing is, before she added the plugin thingy, she had a site. After? After, not so much. Something went wrong. It doesn't really matter what. But all of a sudden, there it wasn't. Her site. Her registered users. Her articles, user comments - with one bound, they all vanished. In a puff of smoke. Without the smoke, even. And a writer's site, their blog, their 'platform' - that's their way of being able to talk with their readers. Or those who might become readers. Or those who don't know they might become readers but will as soon as I can sit them down and get them to watch this swinging, um, watch :-P.
So here's the thing. The point thing, I mean. Yes, there really is one :-).
There are lots of ways of putting up blogs, web-sites, forums - all that stuff. And I'm not saying any one of them is better or worse than any other. But for yours, for the one you use, for however long you've been using it, for whatever content and 'stuff' you have there - if you had the same 'puff of smoke' experience, for any reason at all, would it matter to you? And, if the answer is yes, it would matter, does whatever you use let you take backups? If it does, do you take them? And, if you take them, do you know how to put them back up to repair your web-site/ blog/ forum/ users/ articles/ comments – your 'stuff'?
Now. Here's the bad news. Well, the bad news and the other bad news. Well, the bad news, the other bad news and...
Hmmm. Perhaps I should start again :-P.
The first bad news. Lord help me, some of the sites and technologies used to let people do the whole web-site/ blog/ forum type thing as easily as possible, um, don't have a backup process. Not all of them, but some don't. They just, um, don't. Which is why, if ever anyone is crazy enough to ask my advice on how or where to do this, if they manage to catch me after I start running (because if I offer advice I know I'm going to be blamed for anything and everything that happens afterwards), I tell them to make it one of the first questions to ask or look into. 'Can I/ do you do backups?'
Now the second bad news. Some places do backups, but you have to be able to access your site to, um, restore them. Which, for some failures is fine. For others - not so much. That's what happened to the friend I mentioned. She had a backup, but she had to get into her site to restore it. And her site was, um, gone. Which is sort of a bad place to be.
And the third bad news? Even if you've got a backup, it might not be enough. Because there's more than one type of backup.
OK. I'll apologise in advance, but here's the science bit :-P.
In general, web sites/ blogs/ Forums tend to be set up and run with a number of things. Things you probably have, but may not know you have. At the simple end, there are web pages. Good old HTML. If you know what HTML is, great. If you don't – don’t worry about it. It's what people trying to sound clever call basic web pages. So let's call them basic web pages. And we can call the people trying to sound clever lots of other things :-P.
After simple web pages, there are more complicated web pages. I could join the 'trying to sound like a smart a$$' brigade, and mutter about XML, CSS, or PHP, or lots of other simple looking but cryptic acronyms. Let’s stick with 'more complicated web pages'.
Underneath (or over, or sideways, or upside-down with a side of topsy-turvy), there's probably a database somewhere. If you want to join the 'sounding clever' brigade, you can nod wisely and mutter things about mySQL. Or some other strange magery. Me? I'll say there's probably a database there.
And there's other stuff. Depending on your site, it might be pictures, sounds, music, videe... vido.... vida.... moving pictures - whatever you have.
So backing that up can be, er, complicated. Restoring it even more so.
Here's one consistent and golden (to my poor wit at least) piece of advice. Don't have a web site. Or a blog. Or a forum.
Er.. what did he say? But... but...
Yup. That's what I said. But I'm a writer, so words are important to me. I said don't have a. Don't have 'a' (yes, or 'an’ :-P) anything.
Have two :-).
Why two? Because if you have two, both set up with the same structure, one of them can be your test site. You can try adding that new doo-hickey or ooja-ma-flip thingie to your test site, and if things go all crash-bang-wallop, no big deal. Your live site is safe. And you can try deliberately breaking your test site (that's another fun game :-P), and testing how to restore your backup. Without damaging your live site :-).
In short (he blushes, looking up at all the words above that 'in short'), the answer to 'how' depends on each blog/ site/ forum solution. But the answer to whether it's a good idea is, I regret, thought about most often just after it becoming kind of important. Just after it all goes, um, gone.
So if your site does matter to you, and if the answer to any one of the three questions (remember the Three Questions? What do you mean, I never said there’d be a test! :-P) is 'um, er... no', or even 'um, er... ratted if I know' - you may want to think. Think about puffs of smoke.
Here's a quick recap. it's really four questions, but I think of it as one plus three :-):
If your web site/ blog/ forum/ platform vanished tomorrow, would it matter to you?
Does the service/ technology/ site you use have some way you can take backups?
If it has, do you take them? Er - regularly? :-).
If you do, do you know how to restore them, and know for sure it works?
Of course, it may not matter. Or it might. The choice, as they say on all the bad game shows, is yours :).v