Digital preservation goes rogue: ArchiveTeam scrapes the web to preserve heritage
Jul 2nd, 2012 by Isaiah Beard

Mobile Me is Closed

MobileMe was shut down on July 1 by Apple, as part of its efforts to transition users to other services. Not making the transition, however, were users’ public web sites, shareable Photo Galleries and iDisk, a cloud storage service similar to Dropbox.

Note: It’s important that readers of this article understand that the purpose of this post is to document a growing, grass-roots movement to archive the web, in spite of some rather controversial methods practiced by this movement. While I sympathize with the philosophy, I am not affiliated with, nor do I condone all of their actions, nor is this something we at Rutgers would do without first clearing permissions and rights to archive any content.

One of the big problems with the web is its inherent lack of permanence. There is no formal archiving structure, and like anything digital, it’s very easy for something deemed important by someone to just disappear overnight, with little or no notice.   Sometimes these deletions happen on a mass scale, affecting millions of websites of varying quality, and sometimes arguably of significant cultural value.

Now it appears that, for better or for worse, a group of individuals are working to do something about it… with or without our permission.

Read the rest of this entry »

Indiana University Moves Forward with its Media Preservation Initiative
Jan 23rd, 2012 by Isaiah Beard

1/2 inch, consumer, open reel video format used in the 1960s-70s. This format suffers from Sticky Shed Syndrome, making playback difficult. Working machines for this long-obsolete format are scarce. Source: IUB Media Preservation Initiative, used with permission. Note: IUB has asked me to stress that the above photo is not representative of all media collections at the university.

The Media Preservation Site at Indiana University – Bloomington (IUB) makes its message loud and clear the moment you first set your eyes on it: “Our History is At Risk.”

Home to at least 3 million media objects, including sound and moving image recordings, photos, documents, and artifacts, IUB has come to grips with the issue at hand: a great deal of their heritage is locked within obsolete electronic and analog playback formats for sound and moving images.  As an old format becomes obsolete, it gets harder by the day to find working equipment to play back these objects.  And that assumes that the objects can be played back, not having succumbed to age, wear and physical decay. Lacquer from old aluminum audio discs can delaminate, making them unplayable. Video tapes from the 1960s, 70s and 80s can suffer from a condition where the binding agent that holds the recording material to the plastic base sheds, allowing audio and video recordings to literally flake into nothingness. Film, too, has its own serious decay problems.

With its vast collection, faculty and staff at IUB knew the situation could become serious if nothing was done.  Their first step was to take stock of the situation, and consult outside experts (myself included) to get input how how best to address the problem.

Their efforts began nearly 18 months ago when a group of IUB faculty and staff, concerned about the potential fate of important special collections on campus, approached their Office of the Vice Provost for Research about the critical issues of media, and to impress upon them that time was of the essence to address these issues.

“Even though [IU Bloomington's] needs are now documented, and it is far better equipped than most universities in the country to meet them, there is no guarantee that IU can adequately preserve its collections in the near future.”

The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States, Council on Library and Information Resources for The Library of Congress, Washington 

The culmination of their efforts to date have been documented on the IUB Media Preservation Website, where they document their comprehensive effort to preserve IUB’s vast audio, video, and film holdings.  Some important documents from their study and efforts including IUB’s Director of Media Preservation Services Mike Casey‘s  Media Preservation Survey (PDF), outlining the collection holders, preservation stakeholders, the risks involved, and potential preservation strategies.  A follow-on public report (12MB PDF) also lays out the situation and what steps are being taken to save their special collections and historic content.  Continued engagement, updates, and discussion on decisions made and procedures undertaken are regularly made available on their Media Preservation Blog.

The IUB Media Preservation Blog

IUB has many years of work ahead of it, not only to transfer older content into more modern digital formats, but also to continue to maintain those archives, preserve new content, and keep pace with new technologies and formats to ensure that their collections are accessible.  It’s encouraging to see them in action, and their efforts stand as a potential framework for other organizations in a similar bind to model their initiatives after.

Keeping Your Stuff Safe, Part 2: the Local Route
Sep 19th, 2011 by Isaiah Beard

An External Hard Drive: the easiest method for making a quick copy of your important stuff. Photo taken by flickr user Miss Karen

All, right, so you’ve heard it over and over and again, and you know it’s true: you need to make regular backups of your stuff. But how?  What options do typical computer users have?

In the past few years, the options for preservation and backups have expanded quite a bit, giving users an enormous array of solutions to choose from.  Of course, the diverse options can be confusing: what’s the best choice for you?

The backup options out there can be grouped into two major categories: local storage and cloud storage.  Each has their strengths and weaknesses, and will appeal to different users based on where and how they use their computers.  Some of the best and most secure backup strategies make use of both solutions… a backup-of-the-backup, so to speak.  I’ll discuss that further in a later write-up.

In this article, I’ll talk about local storage.  In the next article, we’ll go into cloud-based solutions.

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Keeping Your Stuff Safe, Part 1: Why you need a Plan B
Sep 16th, 2011 by Isaiah Beard

A hard disk drive with damaged platters, caused by a head crash. The data on this drive is not recoverable.

Whether we like it or not, those of us who rely on electronics to get our work done are guaranteed one thing: a data loss event.  This means that at least once in our  lifetimes (and sometimes more than that), every one of us who uses a computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone or similar device is going to one day stare at our screens and realize that the piece of information we expected to be there, just isn’t.

It can happen any number of ways.  Sometimes, we users make a mistake and accidentally erase something we shouldn’t have… or someone else might’ve accidentally deleted something of ours that they shouldn’t have. Other times, it’s the computer’s fault: buggy software might’ve claimed to save something but didn’t, or a 10-year-old hard drive finally decided to give up the ghost.  And sometimes, acts of nature (power outage, natural disaster, or other events beyond our control) will intervene and cause vital work to be lost.

Of course, we’ve all heard it time and time again: to protect your documents, photos, drawings, artwork, and other important data, you need to have backups.  Unfortunately, while we all have heard this before and know it to be true, we don’t always follow through.  In the past it’s been tedious to do regular backups; a chore we all dread.  And so, it always falls but he wayside, and often, we get back into a backup regimen only after something bad has happened, and it’s already too late.

But take heart.  A lot has changed recently.  There ARE personal backup solutions out there that are surprisingly easy… and even automatic!  keeping your stuff safe doesn’t have to be a tedious chore anymore… as long as you’re willing to invest a little time and effort at the beginning, and in some cases a small amount of cash on an ongoing basis.

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In the Cloud, you can’t choose your neighbors
Jun 23rd, 2011 by Isaiah Beard

Some recent, high-profile security-related events are adding another wrinkle of complexity for those who are trusting the cloud for their data storage and content delivery: who your neighbors are, and what they might be doing.

On June 21, the FBI raided a Reston, Virginia based server farm for Swiss hosting provider Digital One.  While the agency isn’t commenting, the speculation is that they were looking for data related to a single hacker group - LulzSec – responsible for recent numberous high-profile security breaches waged against Sony Corporation and several law enforcement agencies.

Unfortunately, that raid entailed the physical removal of multiple pieces of server hardware that, among other things, served as the virtual, cloud-based home for dozens of other websites.  Most of these affected parties are presumed to be legitimate customers that were storing data or serving web content… conducting real business that wasn’t running afoul of any laws.

As a result, several high profile corporate content developers, including Instapaper, Curbed Network, and Digital One’s own website and support system, were either suffering degraded service or were taken completely offline for more than a day.  Without a backup, the data could have been lost indefinitely while the FBI conducts whatever investigation on whatever client captured their interest.

The ramifications of this event are clear: Cloud services are shared services.  One of the big advantages of the Cloud is the notion that multiple entities can share the same large datacenter and resources without necessarily having to buy it all themselves.  Unfortunately, it’s rare in a public Cloud setting that you are allowed to choose who you’re sharing your resources with.  Often, this isn’t a big deal, but if your “neighbor” happens to be attracting a lot of attention (from hackers or law enforcement agencies), then your data and operations may also be affected as a result.

This is yet another reason to consider having a backup plan, and not totally entrusting all of your data to a single Cloud vendor.


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