Digital Preservation: What and whom are we saving?

The SXSWi panel on Digital Preservation and Blogs was very informative and a bit overwhelming. Carrie Bickner-Zeldman's first question was about whether it's already too late to be saving the early weblogs, and that was a bit sobering at 10AM on a Monday morning.

I liked the information provided on experiments about preserving blogs. Like many preservation projects questions arose about what is worth saving. I liked the personal stories about starting and keeping blogs going. To a question about updating past blog posts, Alison Headley said "Blogging is publishing; I don't take back." But some people do "take back". There is no accounting for ....

Questions about what parts of a blog to preserve included this one: Is the CSS important? This is interesting: apparently blogs have parts, so is there some standard model of a weblog that can apply to the diverse instances? I don't think this is figured out.

Josh Greenberg, a historian, was concerned about what to save. Since we don't really have any idea what will be important in the future, we should save everything. But the questions about blog parts show just how difficult it is to decide what needs to be saved. And once we've decided on what, there are the pesky questions of how, and then the work of establishing a workable practice. Right, and then how would I actually learn about this practice, and finally, would I really use it?

I found myself wondering if we're not getting a bit too obsessed with preservation when we talk about weblogs. Is everything worth saving? In addition to what is being saved I'm wondering who is being saved? Am I hoping for a certain kind of immortality by blogging? There's a line in the Sherlock Holmes story that revolves around breaking a code where Holmes says to Watson "What one man can invent another can discover." Maybe it would be nice to save everything, if we could figure it out. But is it really necessary? I don't know.

But on the other hand, I hope that the experiments being done to preserve blogs get publicity. We all have first hand experience of how fragile digital data and information are. So we need stories of what's been tried, and how well it's worked. We need to know about successes and failures. This panel only touched the surface, but blogs are fast becoming tools for all sorts of work. I see them being part of the daily record of scientific research in some fields. How soon before someone is using a blog as a lab notebook (it's probably happening already -- if you know please let me know). I'd like to see this topic revisited next year at SXSW and I'd also like to see it surface at other preservation and archiving meetings.

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