However, the latest and greatest is always a moving target. The advice I give and experiences I can share are based on more than a decade of working with our digitizing efforts and having presented on this subject at various conferences over that time. I like to think of it as being able to have a future conversation with myself (the phrase used by Catherine Marshall from Microsoft)
As a civilian and not a librarian or and academic or archival person, you would probably want to ensure that your work is saved and available in more than just one format. I shudder when I remember people carrying in their "big book" of family data through the snows of upstate New York to the library, through traffic – and what if they lost that book or it was stolen? So keeping backup copies of your work is also good for your peace of mind. Then again, I recently read where copies of audio files made within the last ten years and put onto CD ROM's have become unreadable. The underlying point to be made is that there is no such thing as too many backup copies. And as fond as I am of digitization, I have to say that the world still has the Gutenberg Bible from the early 1450s in paper format.
My experience in migrating data has been a long and circuitous one. Back in the day, I used 5.25 inch floppies on an Apple II system using Apple DOS 3.3. I faithfully made a backup copy of my computerized data. Then Apple released a ProDOS system, and I changed to that. When 3.5 inch disks came out, again a change. By then the Apple II GS had come out issuing yet another system, Apple II GS software, a sort of Apple II version of Macintosh software. Actually, that was better than before, because I could copy my Quinsept's Family Roots data from a floppy to RAM, operate on it very quickly, and then save it back to the floppy. (No hard drive yet!). The saga continued with switching to a hard drive, then starting to use Reunion (software) for the Mac – which of course meant swapping the data to the new computer, and new program, by using a GEDCOM transfer. And I actually like this stuff! Since then, I have migrated though the various Mac operating systems to the current 10.6, and still use Reunion.
Slight digression here – if you have a program that you like, and it does what it's supposed to do well, then there is no NEED to switch. I have belonged to our local computer interest group for genealogy for 20 years, and there is a constant stream of problems that people have when they "upgrade" their computers or more often to the latest and greatest version of their software. If it works, don't fix it.
The Jones'es I refer to in the title is the "Jones" that one gets for the latest and greatest ways of doing things with computers – also known as "technolust." What one can do is think about how difficult and time consuming it would be to recreate the data that you have, and consider how much it's worth to you.
The person who maintains a local GenWeb site was hospitalized for an extended period. Even though there were people watching his home, it was burglarized. Cars and sofas can be replaced. But he also lost two computers. Since a great deal of the materials are already online, he didn't have a total loss. But if he had not had it online, those materials would have been gone for good. You never know if you house will be flooded, burn down, or have some uninvited guests. Those are good reason to back up your materials. Even if you have folders in drawers, please consider scanning those papers and keeping the resulting disk of information somewhere else other than next to your computer. Have a safe deposit box, copies stored with relatives, or other off site storage.
So, what is the current recommendation to back things up and a good migration strategy? Librarians and archivists use a variety of ways for preserving the original materials, but once they are digitized, there are a couple of things to consider.
If you back up onto floppies (shudder!), test them to make sure that they are readable. I used to use this method when hard drives where much smaller, and ran into several unreadable backups because I had not tested them to make sure. Or, you can back up to CDs or DVDs. There are professional standards that recommend gold CDs for backup purposes. However, all that glitters is not gold. As with everything else, you get what you pay for. Cheaper CDs have a higher failure rate than do more expensive ones. Rather than give brand names (since that can change with a sale of a company to another), check sources online for discussions about this topic. One that I found useful was D-Lib, The Magazine of Digital Library Research. There was an article, published in 2008 about personal digital storage by the above-mentioned Catherine Marshall http://www.dlib.org/dlib/march08/marshall/03marshall-pt1.html, which hits the salient high points of individual backup and migration schemes.
What we do here at the library is make the digital copies; save them on to CDs or DVDs; follow a prescribed rotation of refreshing media every three to five years; and also save items onto a server, which is backed up by our IT (Information Technology) department onto digital tape. So there are several layers of redundancy. How does the average person do this? Consider making at least two copies of important data onto CDs and keep them off-site, away from your main computers. Consider as well loading some of the data into an online portal such as the Rootsweb.coms WorldConnect, where links from a GEDCOM can be preserved. I have written about this concept, before but the advice still holds true.
To sum up, think about what you have and what you can bear to lose. Investigate options that interest you. And let others know what you have done and how you did it. If (heaven forbid) something happens to you, your data will be there for others to use. Be careful about using password protected web sites or programs to which only you know the password. Such online storage sites exist, but I am not convinced that they will stay in business.