Unpreserved Data Can Face Extinction

It's important to save as much digital information as possible.

Dateline 2204, North American Metropolitan Quadrant, Village of Boston—Researchers with the Institute for Information and Data Reclamation yesterday announced a major discovery at an archaeological dig in the Boston area: a large cache of a printed publication called eWEEK, containing technology-oriented writings by noted turn-of-the-millennium writer/humanitarian/technologist/ entertainer Jim Rapoza.

According to Lead Archaeologist Archibald Meeks, these writings represent an early stage in the career of Rapoza, before he became the only person to win a Nobel Prize and a Pulitzer Prize and also be named Last Comic Standing. At the time, said Meeks, Rapoza was writing on the early stages of computing and the World Consciousness, known then as the Internet.

"Were lucky that this early work of Jim Rapoza was published in printed form, as well as in digital form," said Meeks. "If it had just been digital, theres a good chance it would be lost forever, along with the work of many other noted individuals from that time."

According to Felicity Oh, head librarian at the Library of Congress of Countries, States, Corporations and Special Interest Groups, the turn of the millennium was a particularly bad time for the preservation of digital information, with millions of pieces of data from the dawn of the Internet lost forever.

"The worst part," said Oh, "is that governments and companies at that time did little to save important writings, conversations and Web sites but did manage to save millions and millions of useless meeting minutes, company prospectuses and PowerPoint slides in data storage facilities."

Luckily, things did begin to improve in September 2004, when the Library of Congress (an ancestor of Ohs library) awarded $15 million to universities and groups that would work to preserve digital information. Under the organization of an initiative dedicated to digital preservation, this represented a major step in preserving digital memory. (At that time, interested parties would have been directed to a "link" with the construction www.digitalpreservation.gov for more information.)

However, many historians said they wish the Library of Congress had gone further. "One problem was that the library decided to focus on the preservation of digital work of what they determined at the time to be important people, events and movements," said Oh. "This led to questionable decisions, such as saving lots of information from a forgotten software salesperson named Bill Gates. Meanwhile, data from statesmen, scientists, technologists and writers who ended up being truly important was lost, including the childhood blog rantings of little Danny Markham, who eventually attempted world conquest in 2040."

Oh did add that she was surprised that a large amount of information on Jessica Simpson, the ill-fated last president of the former United States, was preserved from that era.

When asked what she would do if she had access to Emperor Clinton-Bushs time machine and could go back to the turn of the millennium, Oh said she would first commend the Library of Congress for creating real incentives for the preservation of digital information. But she would have asked the organization to move quickly to take additional steps that went beyond encouraging institutions to save data after the fact—to put into place procedures and processes at businesses and ISPs that would make it easier to preserve data as its created.

If the mind-set that all data is potentially worth saving had been in place earlier, historically significant information would have been saved. Also rescued, however, would have been information that could have saved businesses time and money—such as the lost software code that would have prevented the World Server Crash of 2015.

As for archaeologist Meeks, he believes he and his colleagues will soon find the much-sought-after issue of People magazine in which Rapoza was the token geek in the 50 Most Beautiful People list. Because only one issue is believed to exist, some think it was actually a joke issue. (Further proof was that one Spencer F. Katt was also included in the list.)

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

To read more Jim Rapoza, subscribe to eWEEK magazine.


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