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Remember how I was complaining just a few minutes ago about links that download PDFs automatically? Well, I just started reading one of them and it’s great. Yeah, life can be funny that way.

Ensuring the Longevity of Digital Information
by Jeff Rothenberg
Revision: February 22, 1999
Click here to download the PDF.

Here’s his great opener:

The year is 2045, and my grandchildren (as yet unborn) are exploring the attic of my house (as yet unbought). They find a letter dated 1995 and a CD-ROM (compact disk). The letter claims that the disk contains a document that provides the key to obtaining my fortune (as yet unearned).

My grandchildren are understandably excited, but they have never seen a CD before—except in old movies—and even if they can somehow find a suitable disk drive, how will they run the software necessary to interpret the information on the disk? How can they read my obsolete digital document?

Later on in the article he points out how important the letter is in this scenario. It’s crucial because it identifies the disk as something of value. Without the letter (on paper, of course) there’s no way someone is going to go to heroic lengths to read the data. Trust me on this one.

As a footnote, I was delighted to learn that Jeff is responsible for one of my favorite soundbytes about digital preservation:

Digital information lasts forever—or five years, whichever comes first.

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