Is Data Extinction A Myth?

from the not-as-big-a-problem-as-expected dept

We've had plenty of stories over the years about the problems of data extinction and how to avoid them. The issue is that digital media degrades and formats and technologies become obsolete. The typical example is of someone trying to access material stored on an old floppy disk from twenty years ago that used some obsolete word processor format. However, Simson Garfinkel believes that the threat of data extinction is overblown. While some stuff does get locked away, most things worth having access to get updated to modern formats. The bigger problem, in his mind, is proprietary, closed formats that no one has access to. As long as the format is out in the open and becomes popular enough, he believes it will remain supported for years to come - or that important data will get converted over time. In worst case scenarios, he says that there will always be some way to get access to old data, though it may be costly. I think the truth is probably somewhere in between. Certainly, many important bits of information will get updated over time, or will end up in formats that stay relevant. However, not everything will. Part of the problem is that most people don't think about these things when creating data - and don't realize that the storage media they're using will degrade, or that the format they're storing it in may become obsolete. So, they create their content and then leave it alone... until suddenly it's needed twenty years from now and no one can figure out how to access it.
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