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Web person at the Imperial War Museum, just completed PhD about digital sustainability in museums (the original motivation for this blog was as my research diary). Posting occasionally, and usually museum tech stuff but prone to stray. I welcome comments if you want to take anything further. These are my opinions and should not be attributed to my employer or anyone else (unless they thought of them too). Twitter: @jottevanger

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Digital preservation for da masses..? Archive Team, meet the DPC

Jeremy Keith (Adactio) has been fretting over the loss of his bookmarks with the dead-pooling of Magnolia, not to mention Pownce last year. Fortunately for Jeremy, he's a true alpha geek (not to mention trail-blazing, platform-pounding, left-clearing, good guy), so his response is to wonder how he can scrape, spider, and grab by hook or by crook all the stuff of his that he leaves scattered across the Web. Turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that he's not the only one with both the coding prowess and the strong sense of proprietorship over their stuff to try to do something like this. The spanking new Archive Team is up for it, guerilla-stylee, and hatching plans to help yer average Joe: as they put it, "We're gonna rescue your shit". Which is nice.

I like this. There's an active and sophisticated digital preservation community that has developed over many years. It has its roots, as far as I know, largely in the research and higher education communities, libraries, and the IT industry, all with their own priorities and preoccupations (museums are late-comers and minor players at best right now). And of course, lay people must have always played a part in some of this stuff, and some initiatives that could come under the DP banner - like the Internet Archive, I expect - rely heavily on informal communities to stash and curate stuff. Over the years ad hoc groups have sprung up to try to resuscitate corpsed forums, to salvage stuff from dying web-rings, to plan exit strategies for flaky virtual worlds and so on. But I don't think that there's really been a concerted approach to help individuals to keep a-hold of their stuff, spread as it often is across an array of sites from your many Google services, to Flickr and Delicious, to Twitter and your blog, Facebook, Slideshare and as many more as you care to mention. This is a huge variety, and what we might want to preserve in each will vary, as will the context required to make sense of it, so each service may need its own assessment for each individual (convergent evolution of the "significant properties" concept seems inevitable). It's a huge challenge but the Archive Team seem up for it.

I hope that these guys (and Jeremy K) and the "formal" DP community (DPC/DCC etc.) hook up and share knowledge. My guess is the latter have lots to offer in terms of technical expertise, connections, hardware and software, good theorisation, whilst the former group have wicked coding skills, motivation, inside-out knowledge of social software and its users, and a focus on the needs of individuals. They could offer each other a lot.

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