Blast from the past
In preparing for my talk for the Bamboo Juice conference at the Eden Project in Cornwall next week, I find I’m doing a lot of WWILFing. After spending far too long reading about Stanford Tori and Bernal Spheres, and editing footage of a Von Braun-inspired orbital habitat, I got completely sidetracked into trying to figure out the storage capacity of the gold-plated record attached to Voyager 1.
I still haven’t found an answer—I’ve asked Voyager’s cousin for help—but I did stumble across a gem of a document from 1995. It’s by Simon Pockley and it’s called Lest We Forget or Why I chose the World Wide Web as a repository for archival material. Written in the infancy of the web, it makes for fascinating reading. It’s like a seedling of the semantic web. Some of the projections were way off but some of them were eerily prescient. Here’s my favourite passage:
Technological obsolescence is only a part of the problem in the preservation of digital information. The World Wide Web is a flexible carrier of digital material across both hardware and software. Its ability to disseminate this material globally, combined with its inherent flexibility, allow it to accommodate evolving standards of encoding and markup. Survival of significant material on-line is dependent on use and use is related to ease of access.
The document contains a number of hyperlinks to related material, all of which are collected into footnotes at the end. What’s heartbreaking is to discover how many of those links no longer resolve. Just a handful from the original list remain:
- Preserving Digital Objects: Recurrent Needs and Challenges by Michael Lesk
- From Digital Artefact to Digital Object by Ross Harvey
- Preservation Roles and Responsibilities of Collecting Institutions in the Digital Age by Maggie Jones
- Long-Term Management Issues in the Preservation of Electronic Information by Maggie Exon
- Culture and Cultural Memory: Challenges of an Electronic Era by Eric Wainwright
Four fifths of those links resolve to a single domain, that of the National Library of Australia. So much for our distributed repository of archival material.