Future-Safe Archives for Digital Content

Dave Winer says “citizen journalism” doesn’t reflect the growing recognition that any person can be a source of news, and anyone can document news:

I think that term doesn’t capture what’s going on, it’s anachronistic, as horseless buggy seems today. Who would think you could hitch a horse to a car to get around, but people did used to do that. In the future, we’ll get our news from the sources, so the question is how to create a record of what the sources are saying.

In order to reliably store the growing bodies of knowledge produced by ordinary people, Winer says we need “future-safe” archives that aren’t based on the currently popular storage media (remember the floppy disk?). Instead, content needs to be created in future-safe formats, stored simply, and safeguarded by organizations that are known for their longevity:

1. I want my content to be just like most of the rest of the content on the net. That way any tools create to preserve other people’s stuff will apply to mine. 

2. We need long-lived organizations to take part in a system we create to allow people to future-safe their content. Examples include major universities, the US government, insurance companies. The last place we should turn is the tech industry, where entities are decidedly not long-lived. This is probably not a domain for entrepreneurship.  

3. If you can afford to pay to future-safe your content, you should. An endowment is the result, which generates annuities, that keeps the archive running.  

4. Rather than converting content, it would be better if it was initially created in future-safe form. That way the professor’s archive would already be preserved, from the moment he or she presses Save. 

5. The format must be factored for simplicity. Our descendents are going to have to understand it. Let’s not embarass ourselves, or cause them to give up. 

6. The format should probably be static HTML.

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