The invaluable family photos that mom stores in a shoebox in the basement -- which she vows will be the first thing she grabs if the house ever catches fire -- are quickly being replaced by digital media that sit on a hard drive on a computer or smartphone. They're still susceptible to fire or theft -- but pulling them out to look at or keeping them all in one place still isn't as easy as the cardboard box.
MiMedia thinks it has the solution, for a price, as a new online backup service. For as little as $5 a month or $50 a year for 25 GB of storage, and up to $24 a month or $245 a year for 250 GB, MiMedia will store your documents, photos, videos, music and other priceless personal media by making encrypted copies. They're backed up on several of the company's computers around the country and are accessible online, meaning you can show off those photos of your daughter's soccer game on your iPhone without having to go home to grab a photo album.
The question is if it's worth it to pay $100 or so a year, depending on how much you want to keep forever, when it's unlikely you've looked at any of those things in the past year anyway? Are you willing to pay for an emotional tie for years and years that you may only look at every once in a great while?
"This stuff really is precious to people. That's why your mother has all of those photos in the basement," said Erik Zamkoff, CEO of MiMedia, in a telephone interview with WalletPop.
A cardboard box is a much cheaper way to store copies of music collections, videos and photos. But Zamkoff is betting that his service will be a lot easier for consumers than either making copies or backing everything up on an external hard drive at home.
"Are we all going to have 25 hard drives and a giant USB drive in our homes? I don't think so," he said.
Instead of having to haul your computer with you to show off the latest videos or photos you've taken, MiMedia allows users to view them on any computer with Internet access, or an in iPhone. It doesn't work with an Android smartphone.
A lifetime commitment to such a service is hard to fathom, but five years or so is reasonable. There is very low churn in this area, Zamkoff said, with the average customer staying four to six years. When they want their data back, they can either download it back from MiMedia, or get them on what the company calls its Shuttle Drives (basically an external hard drive that's mailed to the customer) to transfer their stuff back to their computer.
The Shuttle Drive is one thing that MiMedia offers that its competitors don't, according to Zamkoff. It saves the common hassle of having to transfer the photos, videos and other media to the storage company, which can take days. The average consumer has 60 to 80 GB of data, but is only storing less than 10 GB because slow uploading processes create a bottleneck they don't want to deal with, he said.
For example, Zamkoff said, uploading 10 GB takes two to three days on the average broadband connection, or as little as one day if the computer is left on for 24 hours. But people turn their computers off at night, or can't work on their computer as fast as they'd like to while uploading their data.
"It becomes a chore," he said. "Even though they need to do it, they don't."
Its competition includes Mozy, which sells unlimited storage for $5 a month; Dropbox, a free service to sync documents across computers; the popular SugarSync for backups; unlimited backup on Carbonite for $55 a year; and Apple's MobileMe service.
MiMedia customers are told when they sign in about how long it will take to upload their data. Forty percent of its subscribers use the Shuttle Drive because they have 100 GB of data -- which costs $14 per month or $145 per year. For an idea of how much 100 GB is, MiMedia says it's the equivalent of 15,000 songs, 20,000 photos, 2,000 videos and 100,000 documents. Zamkoff said he already has 30 GB of media of his son, mostly video, and his son is only 4 years old.
Think of that the next time you pull out the video camera. Then think if it's worth it to store it for a lifetime. Memories may be priceless, but so is a cardboard box.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
MiMedia: Another online place to store media, but is it worth it?