Digital preservation

Digital preservation refers to the task of ensuring that “digital information of continuing value remains accessible and usable”1. In particular, a lot of the information on the internet depends on other online resources through referencing and hyperlinking.

Importance

  • See Archival appraisal
  • Why Digital Preservation is Important for Everyone
  • Raising Digital Preservation Awareness to Combat Complacency and Fear:

    [W]e rely on data to capture history as it unfolds, extend knowledge in every area, and save lives in advance of natural disasters. But digital frailty can easily undermine these essential purposes. Files get corrupted, format migration goes awry and data gets lost.

    Here is an interesting point, although I think this would be an argument against digital preservation (i.e. that since information is so abundant it is replaceable by similar information, so archiving isn’t as important):

    The recommendations to raise awareness and push out training are perfectly sensible. There’s just one thing: we live in an age of constant partial attention. Everyone is bombarded with far more information than they can possibly absorb. It’s a buyer’s market for messages. People expect relevant information to come to them and to resonate with their needs. We are so drawn in by effective information that we are liable to walk into each other and perhaps into traffic while entranced by a Smartphone screen. Information consumption is now very highly selective and the digital preservation community needs to act on this reality.

  • From Why I Prefer Public Conversations:

    This point I include mostly for fun, but it’s 5% serious. If someone builds an AGI that cares about what people think and wants to learn about ethics, helping others, altruism, etc., then it will read through the entire Internet as background material. If your conversations are online, you can play a small role in shaping the opinions of the AGI. More mundanely, in the short term, your content will be factored into aggregate statistics about what people on the web are up to – e.g., trending articles and topics as displayed by search engines, bookmarking sites, popularity graphs, or whatever.

    Similarly, content needs to be continually backed up if it is to be accessible by a future AGI.

Tractability

There are several levels of tractability with regard to digital preservation:

  • The tractability of the ultimate goal of archiving all of the web. This is impossible to do fully, but at least a large amount of the web can be (and has been) archived. Some things to consider there are:
    • How difficult is it to enumerate all sites that need to be archived?
  • The tractability of archiving individual sites. Static pages that just have HTML/CSS are the easiest, but those that have more complicated media (e.g. Flash, videos) are more difficult to archive, as are sites that use AJAX/Javascript to dynamically load content (e.g. sites that employ infinite scrolling). In addition, some sites use IP blocking to prevent people from archiving the site.
    • Figuring out the scope of websites seems tractable. Even for sites like the Internet Archive, there seem to be concrete figures on what it would take to fully backup the site.
  • In general, unlike causes that involve technological progress (e.g. artificial intelligence) or policy changes (e.g. open borders), digital preservation produces definite results given increased effort or resources.

Neglectedness

  • List of digital preservation initiatives
  • Digital Preservation Policies Study (pg 6), which is for institutions, which is a bit different:

    Across many sectors the development of institutional preservation policies is currently sporadic and digital preservation issues are rarely considered in key strategic plans. The lack of preservation policies and as a result the lack of consideration of digital preservation issues in other institutional strategies is seen as a major stumbling block and has prompted the commissioning of this study.

  • Raising Digital Preservation Awareness to Combat Complacency and Fear:

    If digital content is so incredibly valuable, yet so terribly fragile, why is preserving it such a challenge? The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access considered the social issues behind this question. It found that two of the major reasons are complacency that the problem is not urgent and fear that the problem is too big to take on. While these look to be opposites, both complacency and fear are the result of insufficient understanding. People may even know about a problem intellectually but haven’t received the right messages to get them motivated.

Differential intellectual progress

Looking at digital preservation from the viewpoint of Differential intellectual progress, it is important to note that since archiving old content does not directly produce technological or intellectual advances there are no direct increases in the relevant risks (e.g. the risk of producing harmful nanotechnology). However it must be noted that there still indirect risks involved; for instance, preserving content regarding certain technologies or promoting blind technological advancement will increase the visibility of such content, which may in turn increase risks.

See also