To preserve digital contents

One of the major challenges we are facing and will face in the coming decades is concerned with the preservation of the digital content created. Although at first glance it may not seem so, to preserve digital content is becoming very difficult even impossible in many cases.

There are two basic questions that must be examined:

a) The obsolescence of formats and ways to access them

b) The huge amount of content being generated

A digital content may turn obsolete?

Yes, and for many reasons. The first and most obvious is for the media on which are recorded. We could speak of floppy disks, hard diskes and finally the cloud. The “cloud” is a concept that seems very esoteric and in our imagination could solve many problems, but actually they are servers hosted somewhere physically with their own hard drives and challenges to endure. However the problem is more visible when dealing with file formats and the respective applications that open or run those, or the operating systems that provide the ability to view, interpret those files or programs. Eventually what is now new becomes old and eventually obsolete in a very short period of time. Furthermore, considering the speed at which technology evolves, that obsolescence may occur in a few years when not months. If we add the portable reading and even creating devices that connect to services using complex set of rules, with the obsolescence of such equipment at stake, is not always possible to recover what he had access to or had created with.

It also happens that we eventually tend to forget where we have things stored, the passwords providing access to accounts and even more importantly, many service providers that generate and store those contents may disappear without giving option to regain some or all created items in there. Hence, it is necessary for the good practices of any company, be prepared for an emergency of this kind, as it isn’t not only not rare, but is sure will someday happen. Hardly a business is going to last “forever”. All companies and institutions have an expiration date, just happens we do not know that date. The contents, however, should be able to continue to exist somewhere somehow.

Is it possible to store all content always being generated? That is another big challenge. Should we keep it all? And if so, is it possible to keep it all?

Internet Archive ( http://www.archive.org ) knows well what we mean by this. This huge project of UC Berkeley stores as much digital content as is able to, and content mainly dedicated to the public domain in its wider definition (works whose authors expressly allow to share) with the aim to preserve for future generations.

But with every passing second new content is generated and uploaded to the Internet. In one day we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of new works. The volume is huge and to store and make it available consumes huge amounts of energy.

Not all the contents have the same quality nor relevance, that’s clear, but… who are we to judge now what deserves or not to be rescued for the future? As a simple example we could mention any of those painters who died in misery who could not imagine the fortunes that were to be paid for their paintings or historical relevance of their works.

Even the most insignificant item is part of who we are today and has its relative importance. We may never preserve everything, but at least we have to try so that the future generations better realize the historical context that did make their time as it will be.

Bottom line:

We are very far from being able to save everything, but we should not underestimate the importance of even the most apparently trivial item as it may be essential in the future to understand the story that will have to be studied. A simple tweet may have been the spark that changes the world forever. Everything holds its value and as a future challenge, when technology permits to store everything indefinitely, it will be to be able to interpret in the right context all that information. Meanwhile we must each do the necessary work for the archiving and preservation of the content we create and maintain.

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