I’ve been thinking lately about digital permanence, or rather the lack of it. The internet offers us an opportunity to preserve our work for future generations like never before, but we haven’t made much progress on providing frameworks and services that will allow us to do so.
We’ve all lost old files (or new ones). I’ve had web sites that are now completely gone from the internet. I have years of chat logs that are locked up in formats I can no longer read. I even have boxes of Zip and floppy disks somewhere, as well as aged recordable CDs that probably aren’t faring too well. That’s the reality of digital data: sometimes it degrades, but usually the technological ecosystem moves on around it, leaving it isolated and inaccessible.
There are common file formats, of course. Plain text presents few worries (encodings and line-endings are some of those worries, but they’re surmountable), and most web-suitable image formats are going to be readable for many years to come. For movies, formats come and go, but we can usually convert between them. We don’t have much to worry about within the five-year timespan.
But what about ten years from now? Or twenty?
What about the distant day when you take your final breath?