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Our useless digital archives

by Giles Turnbull -- 2002/03/04

A prestigious digital history project conducted by the BBC in the 1980s is now just so much junk, because no-one can figure out a way to read the disks the data was stored on. What does this tell us about all the data we are committing to electronic storage now?

We've touched on this before at WriteTheWeb. The problem boils down to something pretty simple: more people are assigning more of their data to the internet. People are replacing diaries with weblogs. Companies are replacing file stores with intranets and extranets. Even governments want to digitise everything and keep it in server farms.

Is this a wise policy?

There's a popular old saying: unless data is stored in several different places (geographically and conceptually), it doesn't really exist. Today's librarians and archivists need to devote serious thought to more traditional back-ups of modern datasets. Otherwise we could all be left looking very foolish in 15 years from now.


Discussion icon Update

Posted by: gilest at 2004-03-22

Charles Eicher writes:

"The main premise of this article is incorrect. The BBC recently translated the entire project to a modern storage format.

This conversion project is widely known due to a story on

The Domesday Project is now considered a case study in digital data preservation, rather than a case study in obsolescence. I just thought you might like to know the facts, and possibly update your article."