Mass File Format Obsolences – A Digital Preservation Urban Myth?

Some years ago (February 2006) Chris Rusbridge, director of the DCC,wrote a great article in Ariadne entitled “Excuse Me… Some Digital Preservation Fallacies?” . The aim of the article was to challenge some potential “digital preservation urban myths” , a number of common assertions about digital preservation that had begun to worry him.

One of the assumptions Chris challenged was that a large number of commercially-orientated file formats become rapidly obsolete and inaccessible. He had been unable to find any good examples where a large amount of content is completely inaccessible today.

Memories of Chris’s article came back to me when  reading some recent press reports in the BBC and national newspapers mentioning that:

“Britain’s National Archive estimates that it holds enough information to fill about 580,000 encyclopaedias in formats that are no longer widely available.”

So should I start emailing Chris now? I’m afraid not. I remember that 580,000 figure from an a 2007 TNA press release. Going back to it, you can see that this figure of 580,000 encyclopaedias was intended as an approximation for the TNA’s combined paper and digital records. A growing proportion of this is digital and to quote the press release ” in some instances, applications that support older file formats are no longer commercially available”.

Sorry Chris no email yet :-)

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