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Perpetual Data

One of the most intractable publishing technology questions in the data-driven content world is a simple one: How do we publish (meaning post, upload, or otherwise distribute) databases of time-sensitive content in a way that allows them to be retrieved and used forever? Shyamali’s post on stone cylinders points out one of the first attempts at this: a durable medium with “time-stamped” data (i.e., Sumerian wheat production for the years X-Y). And, as Shyamali describes, paper-papyrus was adopted over a medium that lasted longer (but weighed too much) despite the fact that it is a clearly imperfect medium (see “Alexandria Library Fire”) and paper dominated for 2,000 years … until pretty much exactly now.

Weirdly enough, we are all personally witnessing one of the great periods of “media migration” as printing on paper disappears and the businesses once reliant on it (think yellow page directories) face an existential threat. And yet there is no new true “platform” that has arisen to replace it. Before you say “XML repositories in the cloud…,” remember that data needs to be searched for and retrieved somehow, and therein lies the rub: the shifting sands of software.

The issue of archival data stored electronically has been a growing concern for at least the last twenty years when CD-ROMs (data welded to software and a device requiring a specific mechanical “reader”) roamed the Earth. Of course the issue predates that–think LP records, reels of film, and other magnetic tape media–so we have even less excuse for sitting around umpteen years later and still having no idea of “what’s next?” The underlying problem is the disconnect between the storage device/systems folks and the content folks. The hardware/software world certainly looks forward, but it likes proprietary technology, which is inherently problematic long-term. The publishing world … well, we all know how far ahead we look. So, it is the archivists (librarian super-users) who know the most about the issue. Do they hold the solution to this problem?

posted by Shyamali Ghosh on February 21, 2012

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