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No Time Like The Present To Plan For The Future

I spent the better part of 12 hours yesterday (minus time for dinner with family) trying to undo what I’d accidentally done to this site and two others on the same hosting account.

In the time it took to make one small click – I had managed to overwrite some critical files.


magician by flickr user no3rdwSuddenly this WordPress powered blog was effectively invisible.  You could get to the administration page – but going to the URL for the page took you to a file that I seem to have uploaded back in April of 2010.  It impacted another site I host through the same account too (that one redirected to the the URL for this one… which of course, was not working right either.) I was installing WordPress on a new site and apparently managed to overwrite the wp-config.php file and a couple of other seemingly minor tweaks.

I say ‘minor tweaks’ because that’s what they turned out to be after I figured out what they were and how to fix them.

But it turns out that there’s really no such thing as ‘minor’ when your sites just disappear.  In fact, it’s a source of major panic.  You suddenly think that someone could make a fortune if she could create a giant “undo” button for the Internet in general.

But for some things? There is no undo button.

The saving grace for me was that I actually *followed* that old adage about backing up before upgrading to the latest version of WordPress and I had just done that shortly before that ill-fated click.

Now, you’re sitting here reading this thinking one of three things:

  1. I’m feeling relieved because I back up my data regularly.
  2. I’m thinking I should quit reading this and go figure out how to back up my own data.
  3. I don’t have any idea if the guy/gal who administrates my website backs things up or not…

Okay, so my husband is not only in IT – but his particular area of expertise is Backup & Disaster Recovery.  He deals with companies that have massive amounts of data that are what you could call “mission critical.”  There was a point in time when businesses were a little more cavalier about that sort of thing if they weren’t companies whose main focus was technology.  But that’s one of the many things that changed on September 11th, 2001.

One of the many legacies of the 9/11 attacks was that a number of businesses realized just how devestating it would be to have all of their data in one place without any off-site backups.  Because a number of the companies located in the World Trade Center had done just that.

So for the past ten years the IT world has shifted to redundant data systems, plans & procedures in the event of a disaster, and running ‘disaster recovery exercises’ which are essentially the fire-drills of the IT world.

But it seems that many other business sectors are still in a reactionary mode rather than a contingency planning mode.  Social media is one of those arenas that is still strongly in the “wait until something bad happens and then try to respond quickly” mindset.  The same people that are using the words “going viral” when they think of a potential over-night success seem to ignore the fact that over-night disaster happens the very same way.

fire exit by flickr user LancerRevolutionAt some point, if you have kids in the house they come home from school and tell you all about fire safety: the need to have smoke detectors with charged batteries and to have a plan for getting out of the house when you can’t get out the normal ways.  The reason you’re supposed to do that when there isn’t a fire? Is because the last thing you need to do when you’re faced with a real emergency is to waste time trying to figure these things out under the gun.

I discovered (under the gun) that just having a backup of my WordPress database wasn’t all I needed.  I also needed step-by-step directions on how to restore things and the specific details like Admin IDs and passwords. Yeah, it turns out that Googling “accidentally overwrote wp-config.php” comes up with dozens of different potential solutions… It’s sort of the equivalent of trying to search for “directions to downtown.”  You have to know where you are coming from, which city you’re talking about, how you’re getting there, and how current the results are.)  The only thing that really saved me was that I had made a copy of any file when I customized it and put it in a folder on my laptop.  Those files were my equivalent of “offsite backups.”

But now I have a text file called “Steps to restore a WordPress site when I’ve messed it up.”

So what’s your plan? What will you do when your website disappears?  What will you do when the idea that ‘goes viral’ is not one that makes your brand or company look good?  Who is in charge of your essential lines of communication on social media sites?


Posted in business, Geekery, social media.

  • Rick Rice

    Thank you! This made me find the backup button for my new site and get one done since I’m a total klutz with WP so far…

    • Lucretia M Pruitt

      Absolutely! Personally, I’ve kind of had the “plumber’s pipes” when it comes to my own sites – I advise others to back up things and have contingency plans – and then find myself up the creek when it’s my stuff. This time I had the huge relief of knowing I had taken my own advice. Glad you found that backup button! :)