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Future-safe archives

Monday, December 10, 2007 by Dave Winer.

I just woke up in Paris, it's 5:34AM here, but back in California, it still never ceases to amaze me, the day hasn't yet flipped. You guys haven't even gone to bed yet! Now that's amazing to me. What perseverence! Keep up the good work everybody. ;-> Permalink to this paragraph

I just started posting a couple of twits that really should be a blog post, so let's get started. Permalink to this paragraph

First at some point, after a suitable period of mourning, I'd like to rasie the issue of what's to happen with Marc Orchant's web presence. Permalink to this paragraph

Which of course is a way of focusing attention on all of our web presences.  Permalink to this paragraph

None of us like to think of it, but truth is none of us are going to live forever. Permalink to this paragraph

Yet if you read this, it's likely that you're creating a digital body that can and imho should continue to exist even after your physical body stops existing. Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named monalisa.jpgPeople are humble, no one wants to come out and say their work has any value that's worth preserving past their death, but come on, we know that's not true. If Shakespeare were alive today, he'd be writing on the web. As would Hemingway or Faulkner, Vonnegut or Mailer, John Lennon or Dylan Thomas, Carl Sandberg or Robert Frost. Mozart, Bach and Beethoven. You think there isn't any great literature out there on the web? I wouldn't be so sure about that. What if there is? And what if a baby born today becomes a great creative force? Or what if there's a social disaster like the Holocaust? Did you know that there are preserved diaries from pre-revolutionary America? Writings of ordinary people can be of enormous help to historians. And if we believe in citizen journalism (I do) why not citizen historians? Shouldn't we be thinking out into the future? We should! Permalink to this paragraph

With all possible humility, I'd like to tell you that a few days after I die my entire web presence will likely disappear. My servers require some attention from me from time to time. The first time that happens, poof, there goes 10-plus years of Scripting News, and all the docs for the OPML Editor and the OPML spec, the XML-RPC site, to name just a few. Anyway, within a couple of months it will all certainly disappear, unless someone pays my hosting and DSL bills. Maybe someone will, but isn't it ridiculous that that's what it depends on? Permalink to this paragraph

And when my sites disappear so will my uncle's. He died in 2003. His site is still accessible because I keep it that way. When I die, who will will take over for me? I'm sure the world will survive without his writing, but why? If I love the memory of my uncle, and I do, what can I do to reserve a place for him in the archive of the future. It seems such a small thing, but it's most of what remains of his life.  Permalink to this paragraph

And what of academics, Nobel Laureates and others? I know for a fact that a great university (Harvard) has no plan to protect their web-based work after they pass. It's so ironic that the web offers an archival solution for non-digital work, yet the web information is more fragile than the physical stuff. Permalink to this paragraph

Preserving our digital heritage is going to require some foresight, some planning, but it seems possible and we surely can do much better. Marc's fate awaits us all. While we're still alive, there's still time to solve this problem. When we're gone, it will be too late. Part of his legacy can be that he helped focus us on this issue, and his life work could be a great test case. Do we want to see his work preserved? And if so, how will it be done? Permalink to this paragraph

PS: The RSS 2.0 site will likely persist, because I gave it to Berkman, and then used it as a test case to learn about future-safing. It seems likely to continue to exist, knock wood, praise Murphy, as long as Harvard exists.  Permalink to this paragraph

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