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Will you lose pictures stored online if your photo site goes bust?

Members of Digital Railroad found out the hard way that the answer may be yes. The digital photo archiving and commerce site used by over 1,500 professional photographers abruptly went dark on October 29th. All that was left up on the site was a note that said "We deeply regret to inform you that Digital Railroad (DRR) has shut down."
Written by Janice Chen, Inactive on

Members of Digital Railroad found out the hard way that the answer may be yes. The digital photo archiving and commerce site used by over 1,500 professional photographers abruptly went dark on October 29th. All that was left up on the site was a note that said "We deeply regret to inform you that Digital Railroad (DRR) has shut down."

Digital Railroad members saw an additional message saying "The archive may only be accessible for the next 24 hours." Although accessibility was extended until October 31 and images were preserved on existing hardware in hopes that photos could be retrieved after DRR's assets were purchased by another company, DRR representatives announced yesterday that it had been unable to sell DRR's assets and the company's top creditor will be taking possession of the hardware, erasing all information from storage devices, and selling the equipment at auction.

Two weeks prior to shutting down, the company had reported a staff reduction and an aggressive attempt to secure additional financing and/or a strategic partner, but was unable to stay afloat. After an industry outcry that 24 hours was not enough time for photographers to find backup options (especially considering how flooded DRR's servers were with photographers scrambling to save images), the company extended accessibility for another 48 hours. A press release from DRR competitor PhotoShelter which rushed to provide DRR members a migration path to the PhotoShelter site published the following statement:

"As part of the process of terminating the business operations of Digital Railroad, Diablo Management Group has informed PhotoShelter of their intent to shut down the DRR site as early as 11:59PM, PST, on Friday October 31. After this point, it is very likely that all the images located on the Digital Railroad servers could be permanently inaccessible. Given the strong possibility of this event, PhotoShelter, on its own initiative, is strongly suggesting that customers migrate their files from Digital Railroad immediately. Digital Railroad, at the present time, has no plans or resources to accomplish this task."

PhotoShelter also offered DRR customers three-months of free PhotoShelter membership and an FTP solution to migrate images. The membership offer has been extended to November 14, though obviously the image transfer is no longer possible now that DRR servers are inaccessible.

All of this raises the question of how safe it is to rely on online photo sharing sites to store and back up your images, especially in light of the current economic mess we're in. If we haven't learned a lesson from the last time the dot-com bubble burst, now's the time. While photo sites are still a great place to share and print photos, you'd be smart to keep multiple backups of your photos, online and off.  In my household we use redundant external hard drives (like one of these) and cycle the data onto newer drives on an ongoing basis.  It's not always an ideal solution, but so far it's been working for us.

How do you back up your digital photos? Post a TalkBack comment and let us know what works for you.

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