YouTube Outage Shows the Dangers of Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket

YouTube Outage Shows the Dangers of Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket

If you’re a vlogger, video producer, or just a fan of posting cat videos to the Internet, you probably had the shock of your life during the great YouTube outage of ‘18. Suddenly, in one moment, all of your content was gone through no fault of your own.

While in the case of YouTube, everything was back soon on Tuesday evening, the short episode highlights two problems for content creators and consumers, both centered around digital rot.

If your entire video library is hosted on YouTube, then when it’s down (or, if by some crazy circumstance, the site is shut down completely), then everything you’ve worked so hard to build is gone. Followers, your embedded videos on other sites, your own favorite videos and collections will all be wiped out. If other people had your videos embedded, links will no longer work, and your footprint all over the Internet just got that much smaller.

In some cases, it could be a completely innocuous error — YouTube’s automated bots think you used copyrighted music or violated their terms of service somehow when you actually didn't. Who are you going to call? Trying to reach help at Google is akin to trying to call God.

Don’t believe it’s possible for YouTube to do you wrong like that? Ask any user of Photobucket, which for years allowed embedding of photos for free and then one day didn't, forcing users to pay when their photos were already spread across the Internet. If you didn't pay, visitors to a site that embedded your photos saw a message demanding money to upgrade the account.

Or how about Digital Railroad? It was a cloud-based photo storage service that abruptly shut down in 2008 and only gave their users less than a day to pull everything off the site. I personally lost all of my Storify content after the site shut down earlier this year, after years of curating social images and stories on it. Their solution to saving my work was to instruct me to print out PDFs of my stories.

The solution is to prepare for a rainy day. I have originals of all of my content on a hard drive (several, in fact), and should YouTube go down, I can always load videos onto the next big thing. In fact, I have most of my library duplicated on a paid Vimeo account for just this reason. Having your originals backed up will always give you the chance for a fresh start on a new service.

This time, the outage was for about an hour, and while that was a short period of time, it was enough for some hearts to stop. PSA: YouTube and cloud-based brethren are not backups. Don’t treat them that way.

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19 Comments

Mike Stern's picture

What? Outage was only an hour.

“...and while that was a short period of time, it was enough for some hearts to stop”
No it was not. What are you talking about?
And can not compare photobucket with google... you can’t be serious.
No need to exaggerate and fire up conspiracy.

Adam Ottke's picture

I'm not sure there's a conspiracy at all being alluded to here. But even for an hour, it's an important reminder and a good time to remember to create other backups. The core of YouTube's business, the way its run, etc., is unlikely to change drastically overnight. But sh*t happens. And using this as a reminder to get your stuff in more than one spot isn't a bad idea. I'm always re-evaluating and making sure I'm being smart (of course, we all have SOMETHING that isn't backed up three times over that probably should be...). I'll take this reminder any day...

Studio 403's picture

well said. Not a fan of these online photo sites. I just saw the price for Adobe's video app for $10 bucks a month. To me, that is a rip-off. I get iMovie for free, perhaps not a robust as adobe's video app. I pay $!0 a month for PhotoShop. Perhaps not a bad deal for $20 you get premiere pro. But not a high-end video guy. I think Adobe got big-headed about their platform on that app. Adobe, like IBM and sink like a phone modem. All these tech firms are pulling hard on monthly fees. Like all, Pigs get fat, hogs get eaten. My rant for today.

Just because you dont need it doesnt mean others dont. Their business model is not catered to you

Studio 403's picture

gotcha , good point

John Dynia's picture

I am a big fan of keeping copies of my content on a physical harddrive that I own and that only I have access to. While I do have some stuff stored on the internet never think of it as permanent or safe and I always have a physical back-up. You can ask Jennifer Lawrence or Kate Upton or Scarlett Johansson how safe the "cloud" can be. And as for storing in the cloud or on a sharing site like Flickr or Apple or Adobe you are subject to their rules and whims. Most use agreements allow companies to do just what Photobucket did.

Spy Black's picture

"If your entire video library is hosted on YouTube, then when it’s down..."

Wouldn't it be silly not to store the source and project files that created that content safely away in some local hard drives? I do with any content I create.

However I suspect YouTube, and apparently Netflix as well, were hacked the other night.

Michael Jin's picture

Given the amount of content that many video creators are putting out and the extremely small financial return, I doubt that this is really a feasible solution for the vast majority of YouTubers—particularly ones working in 4K. Yes, storage is relatively cheap, but it's not THAT cheap given how much space video eats up.

A good number of content creators are also simply streaming their shows live, so it's not as if all of the videos are recorded locally and then uploaded after the fact.

Spy Black's picture

That doesn't excuse you from duplicating and archiving your footage, even after it's streamed and up. Now if you want to be LAZY about and just say 'fuck it" and rely on YouTube, Vimeo, or wherever for your archive, that's a different story.

Michael Jin's picture

I think not having the money to spend on storage for terabytes of video because it's a hobby that really doesn't pay for itself is a pretty good excuse for not duplicating and archiving your footage locally or with a professional backup service.

I'll admit that in making that decision, whether by personal preference or financial necessity, you effectively lose your right to bitch should shit hit the fan, but that's just life. Personally, I would selectively duplicate and archive the final compressed version of only video that I would consider to be "evergreen" such as educational content since people generally don't go back to view older videos too often. It's probably a decent compromise for the hobbyist. After all, nobody is likely to care about your preview of the Nikon Z7 or your video ranting about Kanye West visiting Trump a year or two from now. They might, however, still care about a video explaining the Exposure Triangle or the history of Hip Hop.

Of course if you're a real professional content creator, meaning that it's your primary source of income, then it could be much more important for you to preserve that content. Even then, however, the value for content creators on places like YouTube is often not in the videos themselves, but in the interactions of the community that you build through your content. So truth be told, your eggs are already effectively in a single basket, whether it's YouTube, Twitch, Vimeo, etc. That basket is wherever your community is based and there's really nothing you can do about it unless you happen to be in the true upper echelon of influencers.

Spy Black's picture

"I think not having the money to spend on storage for terabytes of video because it's a hobby.."

I dunno, a 4 terabye portable drive is about $100. You can store plenty of the crap streamed up on a single drive. I think it just comes down to either laziness or being oblivious to the perils of cloud storage.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I work with young people regularly, and I'm alarmed to find out that backup and archiving is seemingly a thing of the past. I think this can be attributed to the way iPhones and Android devices really hide file structure and traditionally "saving" files in the way us "old school" folks know it. To you and me, saving original quality files makes sense. To many, it doesn't, which is downright scary.

Michael Jin's picture

I think it's more a reflection of how we view our data. In an age where so much content is being created and consumed every minute, people are generally not looking backwards at stuff that they have made, but are instead of on to make new stuff.

The notion of devoting resources to back up a video that nobody is going to care about or watch a week after it's posted makes little sense.

Be it images or video, created content is ephemeral and disposable for the average person.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

That is an interesting take on it. Never thought of it that way, but maybe that's the way the youth of today think of it. Making a photo or especially a video used to take a lot more effort and hence the urge to save everything, whether in shoeboxes or on hard drives.

Michael Jin's picture

A couple of things here:

You can't seriously draw a comparison between Photobucket and Google and expect to be taken seriously. Yes, Google does phase products out, but they generally do it with healthy notice. Also, whereas Photobucket's business clearly wasn't sustainable, Google's clearly is (proof being that they're a freaking immense global corporation) and barring some drastic change, I don't see this changing anytime soon as information is becoming one of the most valuable commodities on the market.

As far as the security of your data, in all reality, Google by itself probably has more robust data security and redundancy than anything that you'll likely be able to afford to employ both in quality and quantity. It's not as if all of YouTube lives on a single hard drive that might fail at any given moment... Yes, it's always more secure to have something on both your hard drive as well as Google rather than Google alone, but it's realistically a minor difference at that point. I won't say the same about many smaller companies, but Google is a multi-billion dollar corporation, not some fly-by-night hosting company.

Frankly, any and all data that you have is safer in Google's hands than your own if we're to be objectively talking about its longevity because Google is a company whose business is data. Believe me when I say that they are far more invested in preserving your data than even you are. Hell, they will go out of their way to preserve stuff that you might personally want deleted because even the stuff you want deleted is information they can use. You're talking about a company that has stated that one of their goals is to archive every bit of information in the world (whether we like it or not).

For many video content creators in particular, it's simply not feasible to backup all of their content locally due to the amount of storage space that video takes nor would they have the financial means to use paid hosting. Backing up documents or even RAW photo files is one thing. Backing up terabytes of video content is on a whole different scale in terms of cost. In terms of free hosts, there isn't much out there more secure than YouTube either. Most YouTubers are creating content for their enjoyment—not as an integral part of their livelihood. It's well known that the actual financial return from creating YouTube content is extremely low (might as well be non-existent) for the vast majority of content creators. Yes, this does leave you vulnerable to having content wiped out by an error or some sort of filter, but that's just the game. Even an instance where that happens, how much of it actually matters? Most videos get the majority of their views in just a short period after posting anyway. Outside of "evergreen" content, it's not very likely that people are going to dig through your back catalog of videos anyway.

What you said about the nature of digital hosting is technically true, but how reasonable is it to attempt to backup your entire online presence? Let's say that you really want to be safe and employ a 3-2-1 backup strategy. Are you seriously suggesting that it's reasonable to try to backup all of your content as well as your online presence in such a manner? Do you keep a constantly maintain 3 updated copies of your personal website on a local drives or keep it hosted on multiple web hosts just in case one suddenly goes out of business or loses your website data? If you're uploading to multiple services, are you making sure that the data centers that your data is hosted in are in different cities to mitigate the loss from natural disaster hitting an entire region?

Yes, it's important to backup things that are valuable to you, but there's a difference between healthy caution and paranoia. Shit does happen, but at a certain point, you're just better off spending your time and energy on other things rather than worrying about something that's probably less likely to happen than you being run over by a car or struck by lightning.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

That's a lot of trust to place in Google ...

And I do keep 3 updated copies of my personal website on hard drives, not joking.

Michael Jin's picture

That's alot of trust to place in those three hard drive hard drives even if they might be enterprise class ones.

If you asked me right now which is more likely to still be holding my data in 20 years, a set of hard drives or Google's data centers, I wouldn't be placing my bet on my hard drives.

Again, this doesn't apply to every online service or entity. Google, however, is simply on a different scale. For reference, look at the last time Yahoo was actually relevant and see how long they have kept their data despite being a shadow of what they were.

Sure, Google might disappear someday, but I would wager that it's not going to happen overnight and you'll have plenty of time to migrate your data given how long the death of such a massive company would actually take.