A Digital Dark Age?

Most of us now have a cupboard or two’s worth of old media that we’re keeping because one day we might want to go back to it. Floppy disks, old hard drives, audio and video cassettes, CDs and so on. But how many of us no longer posses a device capable of reading/playing that media? There’s a software equivalent too: files that you are no longer able to read. Perhaps the license expired, or the application isn’t compatible with modern hardware or operating systems. And then there are files that were locked into defunct cloud services, with no equivalent of Google Takeout – or services that simply went away one day.

So are we entering a new “Digital Dark Age”? This may well be the case if we do not take care to carefully curate our data and metadata. A number of studies show significant link rot in academic publications, but we have also made significant progress through initiatives such as DataCite’s Digital Object Identifiers, and the CLOCKSS archive network for orphaned or abandoned scholarly content. And moving beyond academia, the Internet Archive’s Internet Arcade provides a great (and fun!) example of what can be done in terms of code and data re-use when enough people are sufficiently motivated – see video above.

At Jisc we are just kicking off our Research Data Spring initiative, which is a two year project looking to close any gaps which presently put “research at risk”. Please do take a look at and vote on the ideas people have submitted, and add your own – the first round of Research Data Spring ideation closes on January 12th 2015.

[This piece originally appeared on the Jisc Technology Foresight blog]

Martin Hamilton

Martin Hamilton works for Jisc in London as their resident Futurist.