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Is Your Business Bound for Digital Amnesia or Digital Preservation?

by Jill Foster on February 10, 2009

Mary Fumento

Mary Fumento

Guest post from Mary Fumento, regular guest contributor to Women Grow Business and a librarian by trade. She thinks and breathes digital libraries, resources, and technology. And on a great day, she writes about it all. Best yet, she likes to explain these resources to others on how they can help their work or enterprise.

If nothing lasts forever, then digital preservation doesn’t either. That’s especially so with the Internet.

Consider this new and massive case of digital amnesia.
When President Obama took office, the Bush administration essentially disappeared from the White House web pages. For instance, try to find former Secretary of Health & Human Services, Michael Leavitt, at the new White House site or even at HHS (…and Leavitt paid his taxes!). Your best bet is looking on a milk carton. But fortunately, some web guru had thought to build online archives for the George W. Bush White House.

Whatever you think of George W’s presidency, it covered an incredibly important eight years of history. So you’d better start worrying about the data on your own slightly humbler website.

Google is not the eternal online archive.
Many believe commercial organizations such as Google are archiving web info forever; but Google and others archive only that which they wish. Thus, information is disappearing from the Internet just as quickly as it is appearing regardless of merit.

Sustainable Digital Preservation (for business & beyond)
Last week the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access, commissioned last year to address the economics of digital preservation, released its interim report declaring:

[There's] …an urgent need for a strategy—and investment—to meet the challenges facing the preservation of and continued access to digital information.

When it came to the White House, even the revered Internet Archive seemed to have little interested in preservation.

In 2001, it indexed 387 pages on the White House. Last year it indexed merely 15.

So what’s happening?!
Thus it appears even the Internet Archive falls a bit short on its original intent to “build an Internet library, with the purpose of offering permanent access for researchers, historians, and scholars to historical collections that exist in digital format.” So start worrying right now about preserving your own web data and not just becoming another source of those dreaded 404s.

Why information preservation makes sense for business
If you think your information is ephemeral or just not worth preserving, fine. But chances are you didn’t spend all that effort and money to see your intellectual capital disappear into the ether.

  • Web sites change. You redesign, change logos, or move web hosts.
  • Things break. No server is immune from crashing or hacking.
  • Your staff changes. Or you may be sabotaged by disgruntled current employees.
  • Your business needs reminders of successful ventures i.e. what worked & what looked good.
  • Legal issues. Protect your interests and prove content was yours.
  • Save time and money. Don’t reinvent content if you can help it.

How to preserve data for your business

  • Often your web hosting will do it for you. Ask for assistance.
  • Have a plan. Do an inventory and then follow a regular schedule.
  • Back up, back up, back up data! (with good strategies per Tech Soup on organizations backing-up their info). Use an external hard drive (own one with 1.5 terabytes on the cheap) or better yet back up offsite. Then back up on a frequent, pre-determined schedule.
  • Don’t forget backing-up your graphics; include statistics/traffic reports.
  • And know how your visitors have changed their behavior over time, for better or for worse.

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