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From Listserve Jan 07 ppp1.jpg

“DigitalPreservationEurope is pleased to announce the release of the second in a series of thought provoking and controversial position papers on a range of issues surrounding digital preservation, ‘So Where is the Black Hole in our Collective Memory?’. It is our intention that these papers will promote vigorous debate within the digital preservation community and encourage people to think about digital preservation in new and innovative ways by exploring and challenging the received wisdom.

Harvey’s position paper asks important questions: Have the digital preservation community cried wolf too often? Are our strident, alarmist proclamations about the loss of digital materials too extreme? He argues that our inability to bring evidence to bear in support of such claims leave us exposed and easily overlooked.

You can comment on this paper and the issues it raises by joining the debate in the DPE forum by visiting here.

You can also access the position paper by visiting here.”

Alan’s thoughts

The paper comes out with the standard revisionist line, ie that examples of data loss are in fact examples of near data loss, or indeed data recovery. Useful to have a summary of the Usual Suspects: Viking lander (data recovered), BBC Domesday (data recovered), first email [AA who cares?], first website [AA ditto], 1960 US census data (data recovered). I have my own experience of this with FIF images.

The paper however does not mention that these data archaeology projects were expensive: good digital preservation policies would have prevented the data from becoming endangered in the first place. Moreover, these were all successful data projects. I wonder if there are examples out of there where the data archaeology was left too long?

Digging Up Bits of the Past: Hands-on With Obsolescence, by Richard Entlich – Cornell University (rge1@cornell.edu), Ellie Buckley – Cornell University (elb34@cornell.edu) in RLG Diginews, http://digitalarchive.oclc.org/da/ViewObject.jsp?objid=0000070519&reqid=4345 accessed 24 Dec 07.

“In fact, the paucity of good exemplars, the exposure of some popular anecdotes as apocryphal, and the use of near-loss scenarios as stand-ins for actual loss have led to something of a backlash, with claims that the urgency called for by digital preservation proponents is excessive. For example, in 2003, technology writer Simson Garfinkel, writing in the MIT Technology Review, ridiculed claims of wide-scale endangerment of digital content in a piece entitled “The Myth of Doomed Data.” Garfinkel cites the heroic rescue of the BBC Domesday videodisc project as evidence, not of the need for more rigorous attention to digital preservation issues, but as proof that when the content is valuable enough, a technological fix will be found. He then offers a simple formula for eliminating future problems—use widely supported file formats and avoid file compression schemes.

More recently, in February 2006, Chris Rusbridge, director of the UK Digital Curation Centre, published a provocative article in Ariadne entitled “Excuse Me… Some Digital Preservation Fallacies?” in which he expressed skepticism that truly obsolete commercial software actually exists and issued a challenge for readers to submit bona fide examples of older consumer-oriented commercial software products where the data files are “completely inaccessible” today.

Neither author claimed that digital preservation is a non-issue, and both acknowledged that certain types of obsolescence (e.g., media formats and non-standard file formats) present more significant problems. But both asserted that the sky may not be falling quite as severely or as imminently as often depicted, particularly for commonly used media and file formats.”

So, we might be ok. Commercial market forces have done the standarisation for us.