That project you are posting online, or maybe it’s a paper, maybe its a conference presentation, maybe it’s an OER– does it matter if it will be accessible in 5, 10, 20 years? How durable is your digital content? Is it hosted on someone else’s server? Is it constructed in a technology that will not be usable in the future?

At the time of putting something online, it seems rather durable. You can see it, others can. Do you think it will end up in that special room on the 4th floor of the internet?

Behold the Repository

By The National Archives (UK) (The National Archives (UK)) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By The National Archives (UK) (The National Archives (UK)) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Central, fortified, it is the ideal for long term security, durability of its contents. Yes, yellow corridors of the archives.

Digitally? Rather suspect as Pat Lockley recently showed us in The Plight of OER:

Behold The Institution

Is my experience generalizable? Disregarding the answer, I proceed.

My formative web years, 14 of them, was spent created tens of thousands (or more, no idea how to count) of web sites at the Maricopa Community Colleges, putting our office’s projects online, putting its publications online, putting the outcomes of its events online, putting into place online grant application/review/reporting systems, heck, even a repository.

Every single bit I worked on… is gone. Well, not completely, thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine you can find not only the Maricopa Center for Learning & Instruction’s web site on the day I left (April 6, 2006), but it’s evolution back to 1996 when the Wayback Machine started

wayback

I have my own archive, all of the source files from the web server, stored on a 40 Gb hard drive

My 14 years of web work from the Maricopa Community Colleges
My 14 years of web work from the Maricopa Community Colleges

And when I need to refer, link to my past work, I’ve put some of it back onlone, hosted in my own domain at http://mcli.cogdogblog.com.

Now I do not expect my old office would keep the web site built from the late 1990s as their current site. Web sites evolve, but the way nearly all organizations evolve is to pave the new over the old. But when personnel change, when leadership changes, usually the last thing anyone considers is the institutions history. Like the stream mode of social media, they only think of the present.

There was good reason to get rid of some of my old sites. Some just did not work anymore like the Hero’s Journey Project (wayback link). A number of the sites from the early and mid 1990s worked by having perl scripts write to openly editable text files. There were likely issues with the old wikis.

The bulk of it was just static HTML, like the Labyrinth-Forum publication from our office (alan’s archive link) or heck, my very first conference presentation about the web published on the web (alan’s archive link).

But institutions pretty much just clearcut their web history.

Do I really have to make a case for the importance of maintaining a history? The quote to reach for is usually Santayana’s one about forgetting history dooming one to repeating. While a powerful statement, it only focused on history as a means of not duplicating negative events– there is so much more when we lose track of the positive as well. It’s Audrey Watters’ constant reminding that Ed-Tech, Silicon Valley bring us shiny visions that run their driverless cars over the past.

Behold the Blogs

Look at the case made by Vivien Rolfe and David Kernohan in their OER16 presentation that “Most of the *really good stuff* is in the blogs – blog citations are a significant part of the OER literature” — and laid out in FOTA glory (aka in a blog post) by David:

Faced with this I’ve heard it said on a number of occasions that “the good stuff is in the blogs”, and I decided that the time had come to test this.

If open education blogs do have academic merit, I would expect them to be cited in the more traditional literature, both around the subject each covers and further afield. This might seem circular – but as there are clearly gaps in the literature one might reasonably expect blog posts to be filling these.

Yet, we find many people vetting why they stopped blogging, sheepishly blogging about why they have not blogged in a while or blogging about getting back to blogging.

Of course, the reason is a lack of time for blogging. Yet, I bet most people fill a good chunk of their day doing this:

  • Opening a web interface to a form.
  • Writing a catchy title
  • Writing a few paragraphs of thoughts, ideas, rants, questions.
  • Adding links to support their position or to suggest resources.
  • Attaching media files, documents, etc.
  • Clicking a button to finish.

We call this “email”. People seem to have a lot of time for writing things for an audience of 1 or 2.

Listen to this guy – The future of blogging is blogging:

I have more reservations about this online space, and encouraging others to engage in it, than I used to. One can no longer claim it is necessarily a friendly, supportive space. But I still find the edublogosphere the place to explore thoughts, and to engage in conversations that are more meaningful, intelligent and challenging than any other place, including physical venues such as conferences. One significant impact of the maturity of the edublogosphere is that those initial online friendships have grown into working collaborations, friendships, community.

So, no the edublogosphere isn’t what it was. And that’s just great. Becoming a blogger is still the best academic decision I ever made.

Behold What?

I’m ready for you to fireback examples which shoot down my theory — this is one reason I blog, so I can be wrong in public. But I maintain that the digital content that will remain durable on the web, outside of the heroic work done for us, at no cost to us, by the Internet Archive, is majorly the ones maintained, cared for by individuals, and largely in the digital spaces they pay for and manage themselves.

Why? Individuals have a deep stake in their work. Repositories, institutions? The stake varies with politics, staff turnover, leadership fetishes.

Viva the individual.

And heed the words of this wise man To Make Content Findable, Put It Everywhere:

I’ve mentioned before that the impulse many people have about OER — that we need a central high visibility location where we can put ALL THE OER and everyone will know to go there — is flawed. We know it’s flawed because it’s failed for 15 years or so (more if you count early learning object attempts).

If you want someone to find something, don’t put it in one place — put it everywhere.

And that everywhere should start with your own space. Because you care the most about your own stuff.

Seems simple to me. I will continue to put my money on the individual as the force that will maintain our field’s history.

UPDATE: Apr 26, 2016 I’m taking suggestions for exceptions to my assertion- show me an organization; an institution outside of the Internet Archive, that operates in a manner of preserving their digital history and/or produces durable digital content.

Got more? Bueller? Bueller?


Top / Featured Image: I set out exploring the cast terrain of Google Images, with my visor set to view ones licensed for reuse. I had in mind a person standing outside a decrepit building. My first search on “person building ruins” got my plenty of ruins, and a few persons, but never together. Ironically, changing it just to “building ruins” landed me the image I used, about 1 scroll down in the reuslts.

The image is a public domain one from pixabay. It does not say explicitly, but judging from the tags its a photo from the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The post "Digital Durability? My Money is on the Individual" was originally assembled from spare parts of a 1957 Chevy at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2016/04/digital-durability/) on April 26, 2016.

6 Comments

  • dkernohan

    Great post Alan – and the power of blogging is one demonstrated by you several times every day. You’re an exemplar for what we now call “open practice”, just because sharing is your default. We can all learn as you learn.

    (Would note though that the Internet Archive is an excellent and worthy project, and one that I primarily use to find deleted pages with deleted data from the government! It’s one of a very small number of web things that I give money too for reasons of the greater good.)

    • Alan Levine aka CogDog cogdogblog.com

      I shudder to think of a web without the Internet Archive; we’d be just sitting around a small fire with a can of beans trying to reconstruct the web through memories. I’m counting on exceptions to where an organization/institution considers and cultivates its durability; for now Wikipedia is the one that comes to mind.

      I’d also toss a nod of appreciation to the Archive Team (http://www.archiveteam.org/) for diligently working to save (often to the IA) the forgotten parts of the web- but again, this is a collective of individuals who care about history.

  • Sandy

    Alan, what about individual content? Should it, too, be posted in multiple locations? That doesn’t make sense as I write it as I am thinking of my digital stories archives at YouTube and Vimeo. I have never kept copies on an external hard drive because I can always download from the web. and CDs and hard drives seem more vulnerable to household mishap than stashing them on the web.
    But maybe I need to think about archiving in a different light.

    • Alan Levine aka CogDog cogdogblog.com

      I do not have absolute answers, Sandy.

      But I would not consider YouTube/vimeo/soundcloud/flickr as an absolute archive. First of all, they are degraded versions of your original works, and you have guarantee of their durability. For video, my primary source are my project files, e.g. Audacity (audio) iMovie for video, the original construction file that allows you to edit, and republish if needed. What you have in vimeo, Youtube is a flattened video published file, if you ever wanted to re-edit, everyhting is mushed into one.

      That said, for quick stuff, stuff done for a daily create, stuff that you know you likely will never re-edit, if you can live with them not being there in the future, then post them there (I have a good number of those, stuff that us a one time production).

      It’s like what I find in dog training advice, you get opinions from all over the map, and you really need to pick and chose and formulate your own strategies.

  • […] couple months ago @cogdog blogged about Digital Durability and the importance of controlling your own stuff on the web. He quoted @hapgood in […]

  • An Archive of One | bavatuesdays bavatuesdays.com/an-archive-of-one

    […] it up to the way of the world wide web, but if that’s the case Alan’s idea that that any cohesion we get from the web that was will be thanks to a few individuals who had the forethought and took the time to save stuff rings truer than ever. Luckily I have Alan […]

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