How long will present archives stay readable?

  Diemmess 17:51 14 Aug 2007

Or did the Ancient Egyptians have the right idea?
Chipping readable cipher on a likely slab of stone has perhaps the best chance of surviving through the years but no chance of being a popular way of saving information for later generations.

Present computerisation of almost all accounts of human activity is fine for the short lifetime the bulk of such data has before it becomes irrelevant and unnecessary.

What about really important stuff including things that seem trivial now but in 50 years may be vital clues to something needing a solution?

The Indian ink pen and either parchment or paper have rather given way in turn to libraries of tomes, to microfiche and now computer data.

It concerns me that most of us are happy to commit our important details to magnetic electrical or optical storage, knowing that all three have a limited life, very limited if the medium is poor quality or stored in any but cool, dry, static free safety.

Most inkjet prints will fade and even laser toner will give up in time all affected by paper quality as well.

Then comes the day when these archives are accessed.
Judging from the way computers and their OSs are in constant change it may take both intelligence and lotsa money to build equipment to make these "permanent" records readable.

Am I right in thinking that all data is saved at the grunt level of hexadecimal machine code, though mercifully the application does some very subtle interpretation.

I'm confusing myself now, but I'd love to know what other members think?

  wee eddie 19:06 14 Aug 2007

The Archeologist's of the future can get all they need from old copies of Hello Magazine!

  Diemmess 21:38 14 Aug 2007

It maybe that modern languages won't change much.

However, computer languages change all the time and my point is that unless there are frequent restorations and re-saves through the years, the medium may either fail or the means of interpretation change so much that unretouched archives are no longer valid.

I'll sleep at fine at night, but I would like someone to polish their crystal ball and offer a guess as to what will survive from the torrent of relative trivia that is archived every day on this planet.

  DieSse 21:47 14 Aug 2007

"but the language they used quickly disappeared"

That's quickly as in thousands of years??


  Forum Editor 00:12 15 Aug 2007

as far as computer languages are concerned - digital data is digital data, and will be as easily read in a thousand years time as it is today.

Archives will survive as long as anyone is interested in preserving them, and as the years (and centuries) roll on I imagine that more and more reliable methods of data archiving will be developed. It isn't as if we only have this one chance, using present-day technologies, and that's it.

My archive will probably last for at least 50 years, maybe much longer, and after that it's up to someone else to decide whether the material is worth bothering with.

  crosstrainer 01:18 15 Aug 2007

The case that since the planet (Earth) is on it's way out..And not a political party seems to carry any clought what will happen?

  robgf 01:33 15 Aug 2007

Certainly over the long term there is some risk. Digital data is usually stored with some compression and this can be extremely complex with media such as DVDs.

So if in a thousand years a cache of DVDs are discovered, possibly containing the FEs memoirs. Reading them would be rather tricky, assuming the media hasn't completely degraded, you would need to redevelop a DVD player, for which the specs may no longer exist.
You would also need to develop the software to decompress the data, which is virtually like decoding decryption, if you haven't got the key.

It has already happened to a degree, the BBC Domesday Project ran into problems a mere 15 years after its inception.
click here

On a more practical level, never store your important photographs on CD/DVDs, get them printed by Boots (or any other popular store :) ).
As I have had a couple of friends who have asked for help, when they found that they couldn't view CDs they had made only a few years previously.
One of them had distributed CDs of wedding photos to everyone, but found that they didn't work a few years later.
My copy didn't work either and no recovery software worked. But fortunately I had printed out a set of the photos to send to my mum (she hates computers) and she still had them, which was better than nothing, even if they were only 6*4 photos.

  wiz-king 05:37 15 Aug 2007

A lot longer than some of the 'older' ones.
When I were but a lad .. I worked in a research laboratory where we had to store pen recorder traces of chemical reactions and their resultant analysis, these were made with multi-coloured ink recorders and could be a couple of feet long. We used to make a 'wet' copy with an brand new copying machine that had paper which would have to be dried before rolling up to store or send out to someone. This was considered a great advance over thermal paper recordings that faded when they got warm. I looked at one a few month ago the pen recorder trace has lost the yellow ink but it still showed up with UV light, the copy was gone - not a trace of it remained! So much for the modern technology, I hope modern photocopies last a bit longer.

  Forum Editor 07:15 15 Aug 2007

"...the planet (Earth) is on it's way out"

Since when? The planet Earth will be alive and kicking for many hundreds of millions of years yet, unless something comes hurtling in from outer space to destroy it.

  Diemmess 18:11 15 Aug 2007

Perhaps I'm thinking of historians and archaeologists.

Our civil services will do a belt & braces job with hard copy of every boring document that is produced and regardless of their IT toys which seem time and again to promise much, but end in tears.

fourm member - [our descendants may be most interested in the stuff we don't bother to preserve.]..... how true, and very human.

What do National Newspapers do? Do they still put everything on microfiche?

Only using top quality products:-
Magnetic tape and floppys are known to degrade in time.
I would hesitate to trust home burned CD/DVDs for a decade.

As FE said, digital info is just that and can be recovered, but when the medium degrades it will not be readable regardless of the extra problems of sorting out the formatting and structure of the long disused or forgotten application that spawned the data.

Crystal ball?
What is the best hope for a stable future medium?

  DieSse 18:18 15 Aug 2007

That's "thousands of years" as in approx 5,000BC to 450AD

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