Data preservation has become a bit of a hot issue these days. Like many early adopters, I have maybe a dozen e-books I have bought, paid for and can no longer read. I try and back up my files. I try and save them to my Dropbox account in a non-DRM’d, liberated format. But every time I have migrated computers, a handful of e-books have fallen through the cracks. I accept that this is the way of things.
But how about when the stakes are higher than simply a novel or two? Boing Boing has a fascinating story about a data recovery company that spent three months trying to liberate information from a pile of floppy disks which belonged to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry (also see Ars Technica). The issue? Roddenberry put together his own mixes of hardware and software. One computer had been sold. Another was not operational.
A news release from DataSavers Data Recovery mentions “custom-built operating systems.” Um, we’re not sure about that. TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows suspects that Roddenberry may have simply been using CP/M, then a common OS, which our publisher, David Rothman, ran on his Kaypro 2.
To one extent or another, however, there were other issues such as file formats. How to cope with them? It is unlikely that Roddenberry came up with his own word-processor. Might he have used WordStar? Could a file extension, viewable through a directory command, have been a tip-off?
Furthermore, just what kinds of what kinds of documents had Roddenberry created? Books? Movie scripts? Another TV show, maybe? All DataSavers is prepared to say for the time being—no doubt due to confidentiality agreements—is that it recovered ‘lots’ of documents from the disks. I am sure Roddenberry’s estate will try and monetize whatever of these ‘documents’ that they can.
And on an even bigger scale, I have heard grumblings from friends of mine in the journalism industry, about how to preserve the stories they write for apps, for Facebook, for the dozens of come-and-go social media platforms that prevail online these days. Fifty years from now, how hard will it be to research today’s news events? Where and how will that information be saved?
Questions to ponder, indeed.