How to Archive

This is the second article about the FAOCAS (read: focus) process of Experience Curating. If you're new to this series or the concept of Experience Curating, click here for the article introducing curating your existence.


Non-newsflash alert: archives have evolved!

I don't know about you, but my image of archives isn't dimly-lit historical society bookshelves or musty photo boxes in a government building.

These days, my vision of an archive (and archive vision) is expansive experiences in a database, spreadsheet, or software app.

It's the stimulating visual environment of Evernote. It's the black and white minimalist paradise of Microsoft Excel. It's the simple, yet functional web-based Goodreads.

It's no secret that I highly recommend a digital archive for your real-world experiences, which I'll vividly explain in Experience Curating: The Book.

The most important thing about archiving – like every Experience Curating step – is that it works for you.

But remember:

Even with a clean running experience filter, there will be the odd experience that dives in your archive, begins to smell funky, and becomes as useful as a solar-powered flashlight.

So here's how to practice the first “A” of FAOCAS – Filter, Archive, Organize, Context, Access, and Share – like a freakin' champ.

1. Own It

I groan when people use a tool like Facebook as a curating archive.

After all, who controls your text, video, and photo experiences once they're in Facebook? You do… and so does Facebook.

Their data use policy lets them use your experiences for advertising, not to mention social media sites change their terms of service all the time (and bury the details in dense text which you quickly click “I Agree” on).

Facebook is an easy target – and I enjoy picking on them – but Pinterest, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and other social media sites are the same way.

Here's the bottom line question: should you ever outsource ownership of your most important experiences (that could be amended or deleted without your knowledge or consent) to a third-party? My answer is a resounding, “Oh, hell no!

2. Define Boundaries

As much as I love spreadsheets, I used to curse one out daily in my old corporate job. That's because my company used Microsoft Excel 2003 and this version had restrictive size limits. 256 columns and 65,536 rows in a spreadsheet seems like a lot, but it really isn't in a Big Data world.

This proves that all good archives need room to expand. However, there must be clear starting and ending boundaries too (physical or digital). A boundless archive is a lurking maintenance monstrosity.

So what can you do?

Get the right tools for a flexible archive with clean start and end points. Find your version of Excel 2003 (restrictive) versus Excel 2010 (much more badass).

A word of warning though. When you have to rent archive space in your neighbor's back yard or it takes ten minutes for your massive spreadsheet to load, it's time to reassess the boundaries (and contents) of your stored experiences.

3. Security! (Plug the Holes)

How to Archive

I know curators of everything from belly-button lint to what happens in the bedroom. Whether it's boring, scandalous, or somewhere in-between, you should determine who has access to certain experiences and what the secret handshake is for sharing them.

So hand out your archive key carefully and only to those you trust to distribute its contents.

At the same time, the further away control of your experiences are – and the easier it is for those with access to poke holes in the container – the greater your risk for experience leaks.

And let me tell you: experience leaks can be much more embarrassing (and damaging) than data leaks. Yet another reason why allowing someone else to set your archive terms is dangerous.

4. Transform

Back in the 1980s, all I needed to transform was Optimus Prime into a semi-trailer truck. But my transformation demands are much greater now.

One day, Excel spreadsheets will become obsolete (and I will cry). Until then, I need to rest assured that I can convert my precious experiences in spreadsheets into another format or archive.

Excel allows me to export my contents into other common formats like HTML, comma-separated values (.csv), a text file, or PDF. That means I can sleep knowing that my archive can be like Optimus Prime when I need or want to.

But imagine the nightmare of curating in one system for years and not being able to transfer your experiences into another system. Holy schnikes!

With that said…

Blind-sided secret agent pop quiz!

  1. Can you easily convert your archive into something else?
  2. Can you quickly export data in multiple formats?
  3. Do you have to pay a tech genius wads of cash to change your archive into something else?
The correct answers are “Yes,” “Yes,” and “No.”

Think about these questions when you consider the future of Post It Notes and third-party platforms.

5. Maintenance

How to Archive

I don't like doing maintenance.

And if I could pay for a maintenance-free car, house, or kid, I'd do it in a heartbeat. That's also the way I feel about experience maintenance.

So when it comes to archives, it's best to be able to:

  • Maintain your experiences for free and without help
  • Expend little brain juice adding, amending, and removing
  • Be time efficient, regardless of the type of experience or the medium (i.e., text, audio, video, graphical)
  • Quickly access your archive
  • Have built-in search tools to spot the experience weeds
  • Have integrated pruning tools to get rid of what's no longer helpful
  • Use flexible ways to find different types of experiences (e.g., keyword-rich tags)

The point is this: we only properly maintain things that aren't a pain in the butt. Keep this in mind to avoid a useless, obsolete, and ugly pile of experiences.

Final Archive Thoughts

The ideal curating archive is the one you enjoy.

So you'll be less likely to curate if experience entry feels boring. Also remember that our multimedia era means text-based archives aren't always the best or most efficient ones anymore.

The explosion of audio, video, graphical and other experience mediums means our archive needs to handle whatever format we throw at it.

That's why I use spreadsheets, folks.

OK. OK. Enough with the spreadsheets. I get it.

Once you own your archive, draw flexible boundaries, establish security, plug the holes, get transformation powers, and find easy maintenance, you've just rocked the first “A” in FAOCAS.

Get pumped up for the next FAOCAS step in the Experience Curating process as we explore the letter “O” (and who doesn't love organizing?).

For the comments: which archive step is the most important to you? And what steps would you add or tweak to this FAOCAS process so far?

Photo Credit: Amanda Krueger, jmiguel.rodriguez, raindog