How Important Is It To Preserve Our Digital Heritage?
from the the-archive-team-at-work dept
Contrast this with Friendster, where the Archive Team project was unable to save everything before the end of May, when everything was set to be deleted. Much has been downloaded and it will still give a good picture of what this early social network was like. Similarly, the Archive Team was able to rescue much, but not all of GeoCities, before Yahoo shut that down last year, releasing its collection as a massive 1 TB bittorrent file.
Now you may ask yourself is Friendster (or even GeoCities) worth saving? Answering that question purely myself, I'd say no, but I have no connection with those sites. Looking at the question however from the perspective of people who have spent many hours building these profiles and interacting with each other, I can see there's clearly value there to those who used them. Answering instead as someone with a deep interest in history, it's not for us to say what will eventually prove worth saving. Instead, that's something for the historians, archeologists, sociologists and other interested parties in the future to decide. But they can't do that if the information isn't even there.
How often have we not wished more of a particular point in our history had been preserved? Ironically many of the analog writings of our past are in a better state than some of our digital ones, even when it's often pointed out how easy it is to make bit-perfect copies of something in this day and age.
All of this, leads me to ask the following questions:
- Do you agree the digital aspects of our culture should be better preserved?
- Should we have, maybe even one on each continent or in each country, a modern Library of Alexandria?
(identical copies in different places to prevent 'a fire' from destroying it)
- What would such a world-wide archival effort look like, technologically?
- What should we do about copyrights and patents (and DRM) that might get in the way of preserving our heritage?
- How do we go about archiving software for a computer that's available only in a museum, to preserve interactive access?
- What about the proliferation of file formats? Do we transform everything into a canonical form where we can, or do we store the original along with software to interpret?
I'll start off by saying that though little personal correspondence has been preserved of earlier times, we should recognize the right to privacy and any such posited archive would be allowed to include private communications only if you explicitly opted in. Valuable though these are for historians, if we preserve as much as we can of the digital domain, enough can be inferred from context that this would be an unwarranted intrusion.
But what about the wider issue of preservation of public content that can be wiped out by shutting off a power switch?