The Documentalist

Humorous Take on How Digital Data Die

Posted in technology by Sarah on March 25, 2010

A colleague at HURIDOCS forwarded the following blog link to me and it touches on so many issues that are relevant to archiving and preservation in human rights that I am reblogging it here for you to consider.  It’s a fun read with important information.  Enjoy!  –Sarah

Image courtesy of

Giz Explains: How Data Dies (and How it Can Be Saved)

Bits don’t have expiration dates. But memories will only live forever if the media and file formats holding them remain intact and coherent. Time can be as deadly to data storage as it is to carbon-based life forms.

There are lots of ways data can die: YouTube can pull a video offline before anybody snags it, your hard drive can crash, taking ultra-rare Grateful Dead bootlegs that you never got a chance to upload to Usenet with it, or maybe you designed a brilliant piece of visual art a decade ago in some kooky file format that simply doesn’t exist anymore, and there’s no possible way to view the file without traveling to some creepy dude’s basement a thousand miles away.

What we’re talking about is digital rot—or data rot or bit decay or whatever you’d like to call it—systemic processes which can mean death to data. Kind of a problem when you’d like to keep it around forever. Let’s paint this in broad strokes: You can roughly break the major kinds of rot into hardware, software and network. That is, the hardware that breaks down, the formats that go extinct, and the online stuff that vanishes one way or another.

Please read the entire post here for an informative discussion of how hardware, formats and “online stuff” can trip us up as we try to preserve it and also for some possible solutions to these problems.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: