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.