[Originally appeared on Slaw.ca, February 28, 2013]
We leave a trail of footprints across the Web that can seem ephemeral. Content on law firm Web sites changes, status updates to LinkedIn or Twitter fade, with new content taking the place of the old. In some cases, it’s out-of-sight-out-of-mind but it continues to live on. Twitter resells access to old posts through its Firehose, Web sites can be archived by services like the Internet Archive. That may not be the best way to keep track of your online activity. You can create a personal archive and preserve your own online footprints.
A personal archive can have a number of uses. The most basic is that you are saying or doing things online and, when you use someone else’s platform, they may not always give you access to them. If you capture the content while it’s available, you won’t put yourself in a position of not having access later. Lawyers who are advertising may need to keep copies of activity that falls under ethical rules or other obligations. You may just want to keep a copy so that, should the case arise, you have a copy of what your Web page or social media stream contained and can re-use the information.
Some services have made this easy although few of them are instantaneous. Facebook users can download a somewhat reusable copy of your online profile. The downloaded file contains micro-formats that enable you to access your contacts or Wall posts using other software. There’s also an expanded archive that contains other information, including credit cards you’ve used, apps you subscribe to, and session information about when you were online. Facebook will send you an e-mail when your archive is ready to download.
Twitter works the same way. They released their archive tool in December 2012. You access your Twitter account and request an archive. When it’s ready, Twitter will e-mail you a copy. You can use other services to grab a copy of your tweets.
Services like Backupify will backup cloud-based services, including social media. Some archival sites, like Visitmix’s Tweet Archivist, thrown in tools to analyze your social medias well as archive it, for a fee. But you can also skip the need for accounts by using a site like Allmytweets.net. It will grab the last 3,200 messages (tweets and re-tweets) that mention you.
Some sites offer the bare minimum in exporting and archiving. LinkedIn is a good example, where you can export your profile – like a resume – to PDF or download your contacts as data file. But there’s no way to keep your activity stream, which might have some useful content in it.
Web sites can be the easiest thing to download and save. Unlike social media, which is a bit like running water, Web sites tend to stand still or change less frequently. Whether your firm’s Web site is regularly updated like a blog or is relatively static, it’s easy to take a snapshot of what’s there.
An easy solution is to use whatever built-in tool your site might have. Systems like WordPress or the hosted Blogger.com have built-in export tools. WordPress has the added benefit of dedicated backup plug-ins but if you only want to create a periodic snapshot, the manual option works as well. When you export from WordPress, it will grab the text content and save it in a file. It leaves behind the pictures and other look & feel content.
Your Web site may not have an export tool or you may not have (or want) the administrative access to grab it. Web site copying software can download a copy of your site and save the snapshot to your computer. HTTrack is an old, free, and solid option for Windows users. It’s a bit like asking a dog to fetch a stick you throw. Start up HTTrack and point it at the top page of a Web site, and it will follow your instructions for what to copy and how to save it. Blue Squirrel’s products Web Whacker and Grab-a-Site offer good examples of offline browsers that will not only grab the site but save it in a way that you can navigate without the Internet. Mac users can try SiteSucker for the same results.
Preserving Your Self
You may never need your online content, but creating a personal archive is easy and often free. Set up a reminder to occasionally grab a snapshot of your social media or Web site activity for posterity. You never know when you may want to refer to it.