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Panel: Digital preservation

Filed in: culture, SXSW2004, Web, Mon, Mar 15 2004 22:34 PT

Out of Gas by David Goodstein: “we may have rendered the planet unfit for human life” Adam wants to make sure we have something to leave behind for future cultures. Platform obsolescence, cost of migration, and flawed or gamed metadata (says: Churchill; is: porn) are problems. What’s at risk is everything that’s out there presently, or anything that could become digital. Whatever life comes after us, we should store this knowledge we’ve acquired.

Aaron Choate, digital collections manager at the University of Texas: All we’ve been focusing on is how to make our information last until tomorrow. Present media will be obsolete within five years. Should be standardizing the process for digital storage. Library groups, etc., are working to ensure integrity of archived data. For example, they store images in uncompressed TIFF because it’s easier to reconstruct. They leave TAR files uncompressed so it’s easier to extract from storage.

Cory points to an issue with metadata: a white paper written in Word showed that a vice president of a motion picture studio ghost-wrote policy for a California politician. That’s worth archiving, not destroying.

Copyright is an issue in archival. The cost of clearance for all of this content that’s lying fallow is more than the money that could be derived from it, and they will physically disintegrate before their copyright does.

eBay has been “an amazing resource” for getting people to catalogue their physical artifacts. People have an interest in the exact statement of what something is when it changes hands. There is a reason historians study bills of lading.

So what can someone do to ensure that their content is archivable? Choate says it’s open standards. Content creators and archivists both need to ensure that they are placed in a copyright scheme that is archive-friendly. Cory added that there is a BitTorrent of ten years of BBS historical content, and the only way for the guardian of that content to ensure that it survives is to copy it as widely as possible.

Doctorow talks about scary legal moves to allow a follow-on copyright to belong to the sender of any information: “a disaster in the offing.” He says the worst thing you can do to any creator is to erase them historically. He adds a plug for Creative Commons, and Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archive. There are still some issues, says Tanya Rabourn, because there are some changes related to referenceability. Rabourn says there is context that goes along with the content, in artifacts like the state of the Web and software, that researchers may want just as much as the content itself.

Doctorow says look to nature. If you want your content to stick around, make sure that it is copied as frequently as possible. That’s why nematodes are still around. They’re just so darned plentiful.

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