Historic Preservation: Standards Needed To Protect Data

Sunday, 2007-December-23 at 22:05

Andy Updegrove has a new article about long-term preservation needs for the film industry.

I just want to emphasize one part there. This part:

According to the report, these benefits include a worldwide standard; guaranteed long-terms [sic] access (100-year minimum) with no loss in quality; the ability to create duplicate masters to fulfill future (and unknown) distribution needs and opportunities; and immunity from escalating financial investment.

How about a hypothetical to bring this back into the open standard file formats issue?

Let us imagine that you’ve been hired to do computer support in a facility that has computerized records dating back ten years or more. Some of those records were created with the formerly-leading product that is currently a very distant second in the market. Others were created with ancient versions of the current software that you currently use.

How do you meet your responsibility to preserve and protect that data?

What if your employer no longer owns any software that can open the other file format? What if the file format is proprietary, and is subject to trade secret and other restrictions to keep customers hostage to the vendor’s products? What if your current product has changed formats and can no longer reliably read the data from the original file format? What if you know of something that can open it, but are forbidden by IP restrictions from using the product?

What if someone needs access to the old data for a report? What if the failure to complete this report could lead to the shut down of the facility where you are working?

Now what do you do?

So you see that it is vitally important to successful data-preservation efforts to have an open standard file format that is unencumbered by patents or other intellectual property rights that would restrict anyone at any time in any place from implementing something to read, write, translate, reformat, and repurpose the file and its contents. This format would need to be flexible, because there is no telling what uses for current data will exist in the future. There is probably good cause to specify the physical (that is, hardware and media) standards the same way, and to ensure that these too are open and unencumbered.

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