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The Fragility and Shelf Life of Digital Data

.: Bob Michaelson posted a link to an interesting article on the looming crisis involving the storage and preservation of digital data. The article is titled Fragile digital data in danger of fading past history's reach. The key problem of course, is that digital storage media keep changing. A book is a book is a book. The paper may deteriorate over time, but the format hasn't changed for millenia. Except:

The problem is that, compared to the sturdy format of paper and books, digital information is extremely fragile, disappearing as software becomes obsolete, hardware breaks down and viruses wipe out volumes.

"Digital media can be very ephemeral. They can decay," says Anne Okerson, of the Council on Library and Information Resources. "For example, will a Word or Word Perfect document still be readable in 10 years, several versions later? Mine aren't ... how about a CD? Doubtful."

Even if the media on which information is saved endure for years, what happens when the technology to extract and read it becomes obsolete?

Jon Prial, IBM's vice president of content management, asks, "If something is saved digitally now, the question becomes, can I save a CD somewhere for 1,000 years? If I can, will there be something to play it on?"

Obsolete formats are also mentioned. At home, I have two reel-to-reel audio tapes, and nothing on which to play them. How many of us still have 5.25" floppies? Camera companies are ceasing or have already stopped making cameras which use film. Audio and video cassettes are the latest technologies to be mothballed by the manufacturers.

It's a serious concern that shows no immediate signs of resolution.

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