Keep those old files rolling

Looking at my collection of 3.5″ floppy disks, carefully backed up when DOS was still around, I wondered how much work would take me to get to the useful information they may contain.
There is a fundamental problem with the longevity of digital media and to solve it would cost us many dollars.
This article by Julian Jackson (read the whole thing) summarizes the main issues around digital media.

In the headlong rush to put photographic images into digital form, little thought has been given to the problem of the longevity of digital files. There is an assumption that they will be lasting, but that is under question.

“There is growing realisation that this investment and future access to digital resources, are threatened by technology obsolescence and to a lesser degree by the fragility of digital media. The rate of change in computing technologies is such that information can be rendered inaccessible within a decade. Preservation is therefore a more immediate issue for digital than for traditional resources. Digital resources will not survive or remain accessible by accident: pro-active preservation is needed.” Joint Information Systems Committee: Why Digital Preservation?

The 1086 Domesday Book, instigated by William the Conqueror, is still intact and available to be read by qualified researchers in the Public Record Office. In 1986 the BBC created a new Domesday Book about the state of the nation, costing £2.5 million. It is now unreadable. It contained 25,000 maps, 50,000 pictures, 60 minutes of footage, and millions of words, but it was made on special disks which could only be read in the BBC micro computer. There are only a few of these left in existence, and most of them don’t work. This Domesday Book Mark 2 lasted less than 16 years.

For most of us the solution is to keep moving the files as we upgrade software and hardware. It would have been nice to have a plan and the time to do it.


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