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Digital preservation in 2016: 5 predictions

2015 saw hot debate surrounding the long-term preservation of digital content, with Google’s Vint Cerf warning of a “Digital Dark Age” and some professors suggesting that important scientific research should be printed out. In this article, I discuss the next five trends in digital preservation.

Media and file formats will continue to become obsolete

Sony is planning the end of its production of Betamax tapes in March, but arguably the demise of Betamax as a media format has been one of the longest in history. Other more recent media and file formats are not set to have the same longevity, with 10 years now being a more likely tipping point for obsolescence than 30+ years. Think of the floppy disk, the CD-ROM, Lotus 1-2-3 or WordStar.

The solution is of course to digitise and to digitally preserve to protect and future-proof vital information against file format and software obsolescence.

The decline of monolithic, siloed applications

The days of monolithic, siloed applications are numbered, and in 2016 we’ll see a continued move to decommission these systems. At the moment, 60- 90 per cent of IT budget is being spent to keep legacy applications alive simply to provide access to the content and records they contain. IT teams are looking for ways to accelerate the decommissioning process by moving critical long-term and permanent digital records to the safety of secure and open archival repositories. It’s in these repositories that records can be quickly and easily found, as well as future-proofed for the long-term.

Digital preservation will go mainstream

2016 will be the year digital preservation goes mainstream. Cultural organisations around the world with historically valuable digital content have long realised the importance of properly managing and preserving digital content to ensure future usability, however we are seeing many commercial and government organisations also now waking up to the need to protect vital long-term digital information, for regulatory needs or competitive advantage. Technology refresh rates continue to accelerate, putting files that have already been retained for 10 years (or need to be retained for longer than 10 years) at risk of not being readable or useable when required.

Use of the cloud for preserving digital content will continue to increase

Many organisations will turn to the cloud when considering their archival storage needs, but in this instance, cloud storage by itself is not enough. Protecting critical digital content and ensuring records can be accessed and read requires an end to end digital preservation strategy and platform. The cloud really shines when paired with a digital preservation platform, because assets are stored and easily accessible, but also protected from obsolescence, and deployment is quick and easy and priced to fit inside most budgets

Technology refresh cycles will get faster, but it’s not all doom and gloom

In February, Vint Cerf’s comments on the “Digital Dark Age” were widely published and discussed, raising fears over images and documents being lost as hardware and software become obsolete. Since then, the debate has continued, with some professors calling for printed copies of scientific data to avoid vital research being lost.

The good news is that organisations are waking up to the inevitable increased speed of technology cycles, and the Digital Dark Age debate has, in particular, been helpful in driving digital preservation on to the C-level agenda.

Ultimately, the Digital Dark Age didn’t descend on 2015, and 2016 looks set to be another great year where organisations embrace digital preservation, making it easier to find and reuse critical long-term digital information as well as find new ways of sharing their rich heritage with the public. Far from falling further into a Digital Dark Age, I think we’re well positioned in 2016 to emerge into a bit of a digital renaissance.

Jon Tilbury is CEO at Preservica