User:ThomasW/Notes The Irony of Writing Online About Digital Preservation

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Broussard, Meredith (2015) The Irony of Writing Online About Digital Preservation, theatlantic.com [Online] Available: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/11/the-irony-of-writing-about-digital-preservation/416184/ (24.11.2015)

I’ve been studying news preservation for the past two years, and I can confidently say that most media companies use a preservation strategy that resembles Swiss cheese.

When a data journalist calls something a “news app,” it doesn’t mean the thing you download from the App Store. ProPublica’s Scott Klein explains: “Inside newsrooms, these interactive databases are sometimes called ‘news applications’—but don’t be confused.

I realized that plumbing, like software, is a complex system built by humans.

Every media company in the world grapples with the issue of digital archiving. Large legacy organizations, like The Atlantic or The New York Times or the BBC, do a better job than smaller companies, but nobody has a solution.

“The challenges of maintaining digital archives over long periods of time are as much social and institutional as technological,” reads a 2003 NSF and Library of Congress report. “Even the most ideal technological solutions will require management and support from institutions that in time go through changes in direction, purpose, management, and funding.”

Facebook only has to manage 11 years’ worth of data, all of which is digital and all of which is structured exactly the way it needs to be structured. A legacy media company might have to deal with more than a hundred years’ worth of data, only some of which is digital, all of which is potentially important to scholars, all of which has different licensing restrictions and preservation needs and is ambiguously structured. Remember when Macromedia Flash was the new hot thing in journalism? Most of those elaborate Flash projects have disappeared now. They’re probably archived on Jaz drives in a storage room somewhere, next to boxes of color slides and piles of floppy disks and other outdated media. Future historians will likely lament this loss.

I’m also reasonably sure that in five years my browser bookmark to the story will be broken because of linkrot: The Atlantic will have redesigned its website and the story’s URL will be different. My 2020 web-searching self will probably look on The Atlantic’s website and fail to find the article because the CMS will have changed, and the search parameters will be set up differently, and I will not be able to find so much as a title for the article in the library databases. Which means I will give up in frustration and rant to anyone who will listen about how disorganized the online world is and how we are losing digital history almost as soon as we make it. This is a shame. Because it’s a really good article, and it deserves to endure.