Sometimes, tech blogs get it all wrong
Aug 3rd, 2017 by Isaiah Beard

Tech blogs are great sometimes for showing people nice “hacks” (or really, just features) that people can use to get the most of the technology they use.  But, they don’t always get their facts correct.

One glaring example is an article I came across last week, explaining how to remove Exif Metadata from photos on your iPhone.  This metadata, the author insists, is the enemy, allegedly gunking up your phone with needless data:

Unless you’re a super professional photographer or are wanting to get a bit more in-depth with your photographs/info for a project of some sort, then EXIF data has little use to you besides weighing down your iPhone with unnecessary metadata.

What they’re suggesting is that 1. Metadata takes up a lot of space, and 2. It “bogs down” your phone. Both of these things are false.

What is EXIF metadata?

EXIF is a standard for technical metadata that is embedded intro most photos.  Some of it if fairly routine: information about the editing software used, the make and model of camera, and editing history.  But there is also some relatively useful information just as date and time stamping and location data often contained in EXIF, especially for photographs taken by smartphones.  The data is necessary for your photo software to organize your photos by time and place… very useful if you have thousands of photos and want to quickly search for a specific one.

The authors of the above article recommend that you “strip” you photos of all the metadata to solve some problem that doesn’t really exist. This isn’t such a great idea, because metadata is how your phone (and your tablet, and your computer) organize your memories. When you say, “Hey Siri/Google/Alexa/Cortana, show me those photos I took last year from Timbuktu,” your assistant needs to have location and time data matched up with the photo. That’s metadata. And metadata is how it knows the difference between the photos you took last year at Timbuktu, from the photos you took last night at Olive Garden.

If you remove all that, it would be like someone taking a few thousand physical photos out of their boxes/envelopes/albums, erasing anything written on the back of them, and then scattering them all on the floor, many of them face-down. Then saying “quick! Find that photo of Aunt Agnes on the third night of her first honeymoon!”

You’d go nuts trying to find that picture, and you’ll probably give up before you actually stumble on it. Likewise, if you wipe all your photo metadata on your phone, your smartphone will suddenly act a lot dumber, and will suddenly be unable to find a lot of things it used to just magically know.

Does metadata take up a lot of space? No. At work, we have a small repository with 11.46 Terabytes of data… enough to fill about 359 iPhone 7+s to the brim. Of all that data, 0.01% of that is metadata. And we are VERY detailed about our metadata, more so than what the average smartphone records.

Metadata doesn’t “bog down” your phone. It actually makes your phone do a lot of the things you expect it to do.

That said, there ARE some cases where you might want to make a copy of a picture or a video, and then wipe its metadata. Sharing a picture with someone else but wanting to remain anonymous, for example. Or, posting a video but preserving your privacy on social media. For reasons like that, yes, this is useful tool. Just not something you want to do on your whole collection of media, “just because.”

ALCTS Presentation: Preserving Your Digital Life
Jul 13th, 2016 by Isaiah Beard

So much of our personal histories are now being recorded digitally, a point I make quite often in this blog.  In particular, smartphone sand social media have made it so that chances are good that the past several years of your life, and the foreseeable future, will be documented in some way by you, in the form of photos, videos, text messages, and even live streaming social media posts.  With that being the case, the ability to document them the right way, and make those memories last, is becoming a necessary life skill.  And so, Personal Digital Archiving is now the emerging buzzphrase among the digital preservation community.

Preservationists like myself are certainly recognizing this need, and we’re starting to lend some of our expertise to the public. As part of this effort, myself and Krista White, Digital Humanities Librarian at Rutgers Libraries, gave a seminar both in-person and on the web that describes some of the terminology and technical issues that people need to be aware of when recording something for posterity. The session, titled “Preserving Your Digital Life” was sponsored by the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services.

The video of the webinar is available on YouTube, and can be seen below.  I hope it helps people who have personal media and need to know what the first steps are to keeping it around for years to come.



Floppy disks and modern gadgets: Keeping a safe distance
Mar 25th, 2016 by Isaiah Beard

iPhone and 3.5" floppy

Never do this: smartphones can be deadly to magnetically stored data in some circumstances.

In my dealings with preserving older, born-digital documents and data, I’ve run into this situation quite often: Someone comes into the DCRC with a 3.5″ floppy disk or other magnetic media and asks if we can help them migrate the data to more modern storage, such as a USB flash drive.  We do maintain a couple of floppy drives for this purpose, so normally we can help.  However, we sometimes cringe and express a bit of concern at how they’re holding the floppy disk(s) being brought in, or rather, what people commonly hold those old disks against.

What’s the problem?  Smartphones, and sometimes tablets or even modern laptops. With mobile devices being nearly ubiquitous in the US and particularly among college students and faculty, it’s a normal occurrence to see them being carried around in one’s hand. It’s also not uncommon to stack a smartphone against some other object a person might be carrying… like a book, or a laptop, or, unfortunately, that floppy disk you might want to recover data from.

Read the rest of this entry »

Civil rights and Activism in the Digital Age
Jan 21st, 2015 by Isaiah Beard

The recent Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, in juxtaposition with multiple civil rights-related incidents of the past year, have set the stage for people to discuss the civil rights landscape in the US, and debate our progress (or perhaps, lack thereof).  We are once again living in a  time of unrest, where racial divides are back in the spotlight. Further tempering the debate is the increasingly thorny issue of civil rights in the digital age. The unanswered question: Where does a person’s right to keep their data private end, and the government’s right to pry in the name of safety begin?

In the past, I have written about ways to “keep you stuff safe.”  At the time, the context was simple, and most users and data experts (myself included) remained relatively naïve about what that truly meant.  The discussion of data safety often revolved around making sure you didn’t lose your data; that it was safely backed up.

Now, “keeping your stuff safe” also refers to security: keeping the data safely away from hackers who might want to profit from your loss. And perhaps more controversially: protecting individual privacy from unwarranted state intrusion.

These issues – civil rights, privacy, race, and personal data – have collided pretty spectacularly of late.  Protests relating to various ill-fated run-ins with law enforcement are being talked about in parallel with the civil rights marches of old.  But, there is one major component that differentiates now from then: the prevalence of smartphones, mobile internet, and digital recording.

Read the rest of this entry »

Library of Congress releases recommended format specifications
Jun 24th, 2014 by Isaiah Beard



For a very long time now, preservationists have been looking for someone to take a leadership role in defining a set of standards for the types of file formats we should be using to keep our collections safe.  In the absence of such an authority, many organizations have resorted to developing their own standards (Rutgers, for instances, has its own guidelines for digital preservation outlined on this very site), or deferring to specifications already developed by other institutions or partnerships.  As a result, while there is some general consensus about what we should be doing, there are occasionally differences and disagreements here and there.

The Library of Congress, too, has been working on this issue as well, and today they’ve taken some steps by releasing a set of recommended format specifications for a variety of object types.  These guidelines are useful in that they provide a baseline to go by, for those who are trying to preserve their content, both in the analog and digital realm.

blog post discussing the recommendations has also been posted, including an acknowledgement by Ted Westervelt, the head of acquisitions and cataloging for U.S. Serials – Arts, Humanities & Sciences, that the LoC need to ramp up its digital preservation initiatives.

There is no point pretending that the Library is collecting digital content on the scale and scope with which it is collecting analog content.  We would like to and the specifications are one step to help get us there, but we are not there yet and it will take some time and effort.  However, the specifications are meant to engage with the world outside the Library.  And, inside the Library and outside it, no one is under any illusion that digital content and analog content are two separate and unrelated spheres and never the twain shall meet.

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Rights: Creative Commons License
AWSOM Powered