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February 27, 2009

Where did my files go?

Posted: 12:00 PM ET

Think back to the last time someone handed you a floppy disk that had valuable files on it.  It's probably been a few years.  Most people no longer even have a floppy drive with which to access the disk. This is where problems start to arise for some people and businesses. 

Will today's technology become obsolete as quickly as this floppy drive computer?

For years, individuals and companies have stored important data on floppy disks and magnetic tapes that have either decayed in quality or are no longer accessible due to lack of available hardware to run them. Up to 20 percent of the information recorded by NASA for the 1976 Viking mission was lost because it was on magnetic tape.

Thousands of years ago people were writing on stone tablets.  Over time stone tablets turned into writing on paper and then all of a sudden we were recording onto magnetic tape, floppy disks, flash memory and most recently, Blu-Ray DVDs. Recording formats are changing so quickly nowadays that people need to be thinking about whether their files are going to be accessible in a few years in their current format. 

Preserving digital material isn’t as easy as filing away a few papers.  You must make sure the file format you store them on will make them easily accessible in the years to come. 

Take, for example, JVC’s Everio line of hard-drive camcorders.  Instead of recording in a standard format such as .avi or .mpeg, they record in .tod.  Only a few programs can even read that file format because it is so obscure.  So you have to go through a lengthy conversion process where there is a potential for a loss of image and audio quality.  Who knows - maybe in 10 years .tod files will not be supported by any program, and those videos will be lost.

Technology has helped us preserve history at a greater rate than in years past but it requires us to be more proactive while doing it.

So here's the question: Should there be more of a standard format for preserving digital files, and should there be better support for future use of those varied formats? 

- Christopher Piatt, CNN Media Coordinator

Filed under: computers

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JeramieH   February 27th, 2009 1:41 pm ET

We need something akin to a simplified XML for long term (hundreds of years) storage. It's pretty self explanatory from a little browsing. But what physical medium could we use to guarantee that data is still around hundreds of years from now, possibly surviving wars or whatnot. You'd hate to think that a monumental feat like the human genome project would end up as a shiny mirror disk buried in the rubble somewhere.

larry   February 27th, 2009 2:00 pm ET

I routinley same my word processing file in RTF, Music and movies in MP3's and picture in JPEG. Long ago i developed an extrme disleke for proritary file formats. I just with checkbook programs had the same thing. you may loose some information (Especially in documents but it almost alwasy has to do with macros and obscure formatting that almost no one uses.

Henry   February 27th, 2009 2:05 pm ET

Why do comapnies use obscure recording formats? Take a look at recent patent litigation by the patent trolls who argue that software to convert or record in multiple formats (none of which they invented!) is somehow "inventive" and that they are entitled to mege-million dollar awards.

I don't blame JVC at all for using .tod. At least they can run their business profitably w/o havign to pay a patent tax here in the USA.

Darrell   February 27th, 2009 2:06 pm ET

I have every file and every email I ever created or received going back to 1974.
All are on current technology storage devices in current file formats.
I even have every computer, in working order going back to my Osborne.
Still have working 8" Floppy drives.
The secret to successful storage of digital data is to refresh the files by copying them to another storage device every 3 years.
Also File translation is require for formats that have become obsolete.

Gary Hart   February 27th, 2009 2:17 pm ET

Yes, standardization is needed, but is difficult to accomplish without marginalizing healthy competition. Interchangeability between applications, or, the ability for competing applications to read competitors files, is one approach.

There are standards that have been created by users, such as, PDF, JPEG, and MP3. Backward compatibility is feature that should be required of software companies to retain a file types value.

What we need a Secretary General of IT.

wilson09   February 27th, 2009 2:46 pm ET

Standard are great but how can we really decide on one when there is always something better to come. To choose a standard it must be the best, but do we even know what that is now? This is a piece on the Global Technology Integrator (

Pat   February 27th, 2009 3:07 pm ET

Degradation of old media is a Much larger concern.

strieby   February 27th, 2009 3:22 pm ET

Standards are very difficult to establish. Years ago due to technology moving not quite as fast when a new meda hit the market it had a few years to get established as a standard. Now days as fast a someone creates a new and much better standard for media with in a short period of the some else invents a better and cheaper one. So as a result no one standard gets a chance to be the prevailing one.

Arnold   February 27th, 2009 3:25 pm ET

A European project is underway to preserve access to old data formats.

The BBC recently reported: "Called Keeping Emulation Environments Portable (Keep), the project aims to create software that can recognise, play and open all types of computer file from the 1970s onwards."

Take a look at

Catapult   February 27th, 2009 3:58 pm ET

I am looking forward to the day when someone invents an "intelligent" device that will read a format, any format, search back in its archives for the utilities required to read the data, allowing the user to then write it back out to whatever the format-du-jour happens to be. If the device cannot find any format conversion utilities for a specific format, maybe it can use decryption technology to decode the information.

If the thing is for home use, there's no hurry and the decoding software/firmware does not have to be tremendously efficient. I'd be glad to let it "cook" overnight, hell, for a week if it can recover grandma's 1953 recipe for apple dumplings or my 1962 tax returns.

digitalswitcher   February 27th, 2009 4:26 pm ET

I have said this since my first digital camera. My parents can easily produce photos from the 1930's, but my kids lives have been documented on digital media. I would hate to think that those images could be lost forever due to a simple I/O error. Today, they are backed up on several different media types with the most current being DVD. I am well aware that I am going to have to stay on top of the tech curve to preserve them for the future. I assume the next is a solid state hard drive.

SOM1UNO   February 27th, 2009 4:27 pm ET

There is currently NO long term data storage solution.
There is only a series of changes to media storage solutions and file formats they use and support.

Big Problem   February 27th, 2009 4:41 pm ET

Yes, and this is a huge problem going forward in the federal government. Emails that are saved today may not be accessible tomorrow. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is working towards coming up with some kind of standard for preserving federal "permanent records" (like those missing emails from the Bush Administration), but nothing has been resolved yet. This becomes a big issue for things like the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other government openness programs. It isn't always the case that government workers are evil and intentionally hide records – sometimes they simply can't find them, or if they do find them, the files are saved on outdated media formats that can no longer be read. Migrating all of that data to the latest and greatest format each time is insanely expensive. Expect to hear more about this in the coming years, as the government is beginning to review records that were created in the Reagan years. The Reagan administration was the first to use email, so this problem will only grow as we move forward.

Alex   February 27th, 2009 4:48 pm ET

Print to Paper? Not technologically advanced, but if you really need to keep something, print it and put in in a safe. Oh but that takes away money from companies selling backup stuff, that changes constantly...

Todd   February 27th, 2009 4:49 pm ET

I just had to rig an old internal zip drive to run USB so I can get all my old files off of it, then I dumped it in the garbage along with 3-4 GB worth of zip disks. So I can kind of relate.

With HD space so cheap, I just keep everything on a few TB's I have in a server. Most companies have plenty of storage options and have a well capable IT department, so really older formats only plague smaller run organizations or individuals as in my case.

Dungarees   February 27th, 2009 5:50 pm ET

The difficulty, as wilson09 says, is to determine what is. If we determined that the standard was the 3.5" floppy disk, how would you tell people not to use a CD as a storage device, or tell those people using CDs that DVDs couldn't be used. Should you then have to tell people that all computers must have a DVD able to store 4 GB of information, for standard's sake, even though it might be more functional to use a 1, 4, 16 or 32 GB thumb drive?

I understand the difficulty of having all your files in WordStar or Lotus 1-2-3 or dBase II format (there never was a dBase I) and finding they've been overtaken by programs that can no longer read them. But, as the US Navy found when they did a survey just a few years ago on what software was being use, there are people that still use these programs (maybe not a lot of people, but some) and the files are still used because they're relevant; it's just they can't necessarily be easily transferred to new formats.

Having a single standard would be nice; but it would inhibit, if not stop, innovation.

Larry Sessions   February 27th, 2009 5:52 pm ET

Yes, yes, absolutely yes. Any company should be able to produce a format that allows for their particular special features, but common sense demands that all the basic information should be readable and playable by any standard equipment from now until the end of time.

Simon   February 27th, 2009 5:55 pm ET

How about Adobe keeps everyone up to date with updates instead of coming out with a brand new version every single year!

jfc   February 27th, 2009 5:57 pm ET

The International Standards Organization does standardize file formats, including those which are extensible to make them essentially backwards compatible. Unfortunately some technology companies who claim to favor open source standards are, in reality, trying to lock you into standards they owned and had no intention of making open source. Thankfully OpenXML won over said so-called open source standards.

Paul   February 27th, 2009 6:07 pm ET

Use open-source software and open formats, and most importantly TRANSFER your data from old formats to new as new ones come out. Over the years I have taken my floppy disk data archives and burned them to CDs, then taken those CD archives and burned them to DVD... Even CDs burned on one drive may not be able to be read on another, which is something I ran into. Luckily I still had my old CD drive on a shelf in the basement and was able to hook it up and access my old discs.

I have old QIC-80 tapes full of my old documents and projects that I cannot access because the tape drive cannot physically be connected to a modern computer (and the software was DOS-based). Who knows what was on those tapes that will be lost forever? I sure don't.

Russell   February 27th, 2009 8:55 pm ET

I work as an archivist and can tell you we are currently in a state of flux. The national standard for audio storage is STILL 1/4 in. audio tape! And I'm not sure I disagree with that (and have managed to retain all of the audiotapes I've digitized). There is a potential for a HUGE amount of wasted effort in an institution's drive to "go digital" if it's done thoughtlessly on the first pass.

And just a word to those of you trying to open documents in old formats for which you may no longer have the software: I've found that OpenOffice (which is a free download) offers a lot of possibilities for both opening and saving files in a variety of formats...something MS Word is often loathe to do.

Nick P   February 27th, 2009 9:54 pm ET

This is more of a bigger picture issue which involves everyone in the world. The issue is not whether you as an individual can save your data or picture or file, but whether in 1000 years someone can look at this and see something or understand what they are seeing. As in the previous comment, having a shiny silver disc found in some rubble means nothing except that its shiny. So far we have found nothing that can withstand 1000 years, or exposure to cosmic , x rays etc, except a stone or clay tablet. Yes, its true we can stay on top of it within our lifetime by constantly updating our media, however, what happens to that when we are gone. It just goes to show that technology is not that good except it gets smaller and shinier every year. This is really a large philisophical question and needs to be lloked at in a really, really big timescale type of question. Preserving our heritage used to be important. Stone tablets were basic, but they survived the centuries.

dan   February 28th, 2009 3:34 am ET

I agree with an earlier post. As technology moves forward it is your or a companies responsibilty to upgrade your records to a newer format before your records are completely obsolete. There is generally a few years when this still possible. I realize that this is easier for individuals to do than corporations, but there is along period of time to spread out the costs for a company. If companies had'nt been doing this over the years, there would still be masses of info on punch cards much less floppies. Eventually you are forced to move to a newer storage techonology.

dwight huth   February 28th, 2009 4:24 am ET

Yes, it would be nice to use one format for everything, but then people would be crying that it was monopoly to have only one format type. To me if wouldnt make a difference as long as the quality was good and the format didnt decay or degrade after sitting 20 years. It would be like taking a Pink Floyd vinyl playing it once and then sticking it somewhere out of light and heat for 20 years. When I went back to get the vinyl, the second playing should be as crisp and clear as the first time it was played. Only problem with standard format is pirating and hackers. With only one format to use a malisciously intent person could easy load up a cd full of songs and attached to each song was a virus that after the song was played so many times would creep into the PC and propogate into a fullfledged zombie hive. They then hand the cd off to a friend who copies it and makes five for his family, another copy here another copy there, 20 over here and so one.

One format could lead to a whole network of PC users infected not knowing what to do. So what do they do? They call the same guy that distributed the cd who has now conviently opened a PC repair and virus removal shop at the center of towne.

Anyway, I am not for having 100 different formats to choose from but maybe 10 or 15 would suffice. It would give companies freedom in creating their own format while keeping hackers and virus pirates at bay.

Franko   February 28th, 2009 10:43 am ET

With the bankers stress testing their, to sourvive, capital
Stress testing of storage media, as a competative advantage, soon to come ?

Temperature cycle +-100°C, extrapolate the BER (Bit Error Rate) to a Million years - Error Correction Coded to a Billion years ? - Why not ? After all, some of the continental crust rocks are more than a billion years old.

6ftrabbit   February 28th, 2009 1:41 pm ET

The progression of technology has been from durable relatively permanent mediums (stone, fired clay) thru animal skin (parchment), magnetic, and now laser, and soon atomic/quantum. Each step offers less information permanence than it's predecessor. What does that tell you about the future? Hmmm? It tells me we will soon know nothing about what happened 24 hours ago, except what is stored between our ears. And that is also deteriorating rapidly, partly because of the 24 hr news cycle.

Jon   February 28th, 2009 3:13 pm ET

I don't think it's worth it to worry about format these days. With the click of a mouse or button you can generally save a file in two or three formats and converting them to others is simple.

Franko   February 28th, 2009 3:31 pm ET

Geological history of Earth's magnetic field is retained in magnetized rocks
Largest, most dense information storage, is the magnetic hard drive
Not carved in rock, but magnetized in rock, is the most reliable ?

Joost Troost   February 28th, 2009 11:06 pm ET


Tom   March 1st, 2009 4:38 am ET

Calling JPEG - a format that intentionally loses information every time it's saved - a standard in a thread about saving data is a bit of an oxymoron. PNG is a much better picture format and I can't wait for the day we get out of JPEGs shadow.

Vincent Clark   March 1st, 2009 5:19 am ET

My older JVC Everio is different, it records in .mod, not .tod.
I spent a long time trying to figure out the best way to convert them, that was until I learned that the .mod is really an mpeg with wrapped in a different container. My lengthy conversion process is changing the files from .mod to .mpeg is writing: rename *.mod *.mpeg. This is a

Yes there should be a better standard, standardization of codecs is the point that should be made, however instead the author of this article just embarrassed himself by using an irrelevant problem (.tod) to highlight the method in which files are backed up (the viking indecent), and proposed a question of having a standard for digital media as well as a standard archiving solution, which should be intelligently discussed.

The decay of tapes has nothing to do with file formats, and has time passes the ability to convert files has become easier not harder. The only way that this would be a problem is if the world decided to purge their codecs.

I have read many articles on this issue, all of which made far more sense to people in the industry than this article. This is a typical fear based poorly researched article written by someone that appears to be written by someone that had leached onto an idea and drew upon their own bad product experience.

The real problem is the fact that a fact check our editor did not prevent this article from being published. This article only would make sense to someone that has absolutelyno clue about the problem at hand. If that is the case I can write plenty of articles for CNN about the epidemic of Media players violating the Data Execution of Bytes within specific file formats in order for software manufactures to better leverage anti-badware resources monitors which can wipe out all your baby's photos with a stroke of the keyboard. The last part would only be necissary if the article is to appear on the front page.

Let me propose this question, how can CNN be taken seriously if they continue to allow these kind of articles to appear on the website and how does this impact the ligitmacy of web based articles?

Dave Bailey   March 1st, 2009 9:14 am ET

Just think what will our future generations will be facing when they try to download and decode this mess we've created. Maybe we should start looking into a universal format that can accept any existing and obsolete formats. We'll also need to identify a better long term storage media. In 10,000 years even the English language today may not be the same as it is today.

David Anderson   March 1st, 2009 12:13 pm ET

I'm in the process of copying my 5 1/4 inch floppy disks from the 1980s using an old 80386 machine that I bought for $24 from eBay. I purchased a PC to PC serial/parallel cable from MicroCenter to connect my 21st century PC to the older circa 1986 machine. The copying of files over to my RAID1 (mirrored) 1 terabyte drive array is as simple as can be. I believe we have reached a point of standardization of digital media formats to some extent. File system formats may seem like a confusing and daunting mess, but there is a treasure trove of sites on the internet dedicated to helping you convert your esoteric .TOD file to the more standards compliant .AVI format and never having to concern yourself with it again. People who demonstrate that photographs on paper are evidence that the "old way" is better are overlooking the fact that the negatives for those photos are what should have been preserved. The problem is not limited to technology. Can we translate every language we have discovered? No. Have we stored every song or story that was verbally carried on? No. However, we have reached a breaking point where information - some of it as useless as ever - is now in a format that can be converted unchanging digitally for as long as we exist.

Don Williams   March 1st, 2009 1:39 pm ET

I would hope that as the storage medium evolves the person using the data evolves too. All my data files that I used to store on a floppy's were transferred to zip drives, then burned on cd-roms , dvd's and finally they ended up on thumb drives. As the medium gets better the person should follow suit..


Gary   March 1st, 2009 2:13 pm ET

Care must also be taken not to allow files stored in what is intended as a permanent archive to be in a compressed format that applies its compression algorithm to a file every time it is saved. In such cases it is possible for new viewers of files in compressed formats like JPEG (.jpg) to load them into programs that contain "autocorrect" functions and other tools for editing files, alter them and then save the "improved" files on top of themselves, thereby obliterating the originals.

Cropping an original in order to produce a copy for a special purpose is especially dangerous when saved with the same name as the original because part of the original contents is lost forever. Persons, objects, landscapes and other details cropped out can never be retrieved.

Even if the intent is not to save the original, the new user will inadvertently degrade the files and introduce compression artifacts that, once saved over the originals, cause detail from the original files to be irretrievably lost. Sometimes this occurs several times in a single sitting causing files to be degraded several generations before the individual is even aware of the damage being done

Consequently, if one has a digital camera that saves files in a format that uses compression, it would be wise, immediately after downloading files from camera to a folder on one's computer to resave, copy or export those files to new files in a lossless format like Tag Image File Format (.tif) without compression.

For example, Microsoft Office Picture Manager (which came with my copy of MS Office 2000) allows one to view a directory and select all or part of its contents, select "Export" from the "File" menu, check the box for files to be saved with their original names, select the option for files to be exported in TIFF format and keep the default option for files to be exported in their original size. If one groups files in folders and subfolders by subject matters and/or dates of creation, one can go through the collection folder by folder, select all the files in a folder and export them to TIFF format in the same or a different folder.

There are other programs that will perform file conversions in a similar manner, and it is important for archivists, whether of business or family/personal files, to utilize one of these programs to convert these files to lossless formats.

Pedro Lopez   March 1st, 2009 3:37 pm ET

The problem is proprietary formats. Each manufacturer, or groups of manufacturers wants their own formato to lock in customers and lock out competition.

And then when they have a dominant format they modify it every few years to force upgrades, a form of planned obsolescence.

XML was supposed to solve part of this, but Microsoft has effectively killed it because it threatened their monopoly. This is a problem without a market solution. And with electronic book readers entering the market with DRM (digital "rights" management), soon to become worse.

Gary   March 1st, 2009 3:38 pm ET

I failed to note in my earlier comment that using a lossless format like TIFF produces files that use a lot more space than a compressed format would. When I say "a lot," I mean it. For example, I just saved a file that was 64.4 kilobyte (KB) in JPEG format as a TIFF file, and the size went up to 955 KB (an increase of 1,483%). A 2.05 megabyte (MB) JPEG file can balloon to a 12.2 MB TIFF (an increase of 595%). JPEG has lossless versions that can be selected in some programs that may produce smaller file sizes.

However, hard drive storage has become incredibly cheap lately with 1 terabyte (TB) hard drives costing as little as $99 or even $89. 1 TB of space would be able to hold over 1 million TIFF files that are 955 KB in size. 1 TB can hold about 81,967 12.2 MB TIFF files. At the prices quoted above, most digital archivists can afford to purchase two drives and use one for originals and the other for backups. Perhaps best of all, if both are extermal drives, they can easily be grabbed and taken along in the event of an emergency.

Nick   March 1st, 2009 3:55 pm ET

It's clear to me that open standards are the best way to ensure that data can be used over time. That's OGG (for the digital video devices mentioned in the article) and ODF or DocBook (XML formats, as suggested in the comments).
The scope and implications of these formats are completely different from settling on a floppy disk or Blu-Ray hardware as a standard. I understand why the article does this, but to commenters: open formats can easily be extended with backward compatibility and be stored on any hardware device.
Governments are leading the way in putting their data in open formats for archiving and for sharing with all users. While OGG is rarely-used, I think Firefox's support for it may help turn the tide.

Johnny Rotten   March 1st, 2009 8:11 pm ET

The mistake people believe is that all the info they want to save has more value than it does.
It's possible to create terabytes of data about one's life using today's technology.
What's interesting is how to throw away as much information as possible and still have a nice life, not figuring how out to save more.
Saving more, is as interesting as saving all the toilet paper you've used over your life.
What is the information for? 4 billion people on the planet, each with a life story. So what.
Paper and words and paintings have proven themselves to be the current best medium for long term storage. But the more important thing that has led to long term storability is "interesting data".
Most data people are talking about isn't worth saving. That's the problem.
If it had value, it would be saved. (rembrants etc).
If people want the ability to save no-value data, the current best solution is to print it on archival paper. Look at archival quality inks for pictures.

Peter   March 1st, 2009 8:22 pm ET

Over the past two decades, each new hard drive was about 10x the size of the previous one, so I could copy all of my data. If the exponential growth continues, media shouldn't die (given a backup strategy).

In terms of formats, I would suggest that it would be useful to have manufacturers certify devices "future proof" by giving some way to read/write those formats programmatically (if slowly). If JVC distributed a small chunk of Lisp that could return a pixel at (x,y,t) from a tod file, and we standardized on Lisp (it's been around for 50 years), it wouldn't cost much, but would solve the problem.

scythe   March 1st, 2009 9:05 pm ET

Henry: Regarding
>I don't blame JVC at all for using .tod
May I introduce you to Ogg:
Free formats for any use; why not use them? Ogg's music format is already ahead of mp3 and AAC.

Bob   March 1st, 2009 9:05 pm ET

Yes, we need a standard format. Even simple Microsoft Word documents (with these new .docx files) aren't compatible on all versions of Word.

It'll make life so much easier and efficient for everyone if there was a standard format for each type of data, such as one format for word documents, one for images, one for videos, etc....

But, companies make to much money forcing us to buy different programs for all our different gadgets, so it'll never happen.

Ogg Vorbis (and others)   March 2nd, 2009 1:07 am ET

Ogg is a freely available container, often used for Vorbis (lossy) encoding of audio. There are also freely available encodings for video (Theora & others), lossless audio (FLACC), text (Writ & CMML), and others. There is no patent on these and no royalty is required, unlike the more popular methods.

Scriber   March 2nd, 2009 8:22 am ET

It seems to me that we are compromising our history and technology by saving all our info on disposable magnetic and plastic media. The fact that we today can access information on stone tablets and the like from ancient history, gives us a hint that we should move to a more permanent media. Even paper can survive long periods of time in some cases. Sure you could make endless backups and backups, but in a catastrophic event all that will be lost. Maybe someone should invent an equivalent to the stone tablet for today's available technologies, maybe a "nano-engraving" on metal or something like that. Perhaps this technology exists already, does anyone know?

Enrique A. Troconis   March 2nd, 2009 9:14 am ET

Preservation of records is another compelling reason to use Open Source Software. Even if if the "format" is phased out, most likely the software to code over it (and thus the full description of the implementation) will be available for as long as the Internet exists and is freely accessed.

Gene Baker   March 2nd, 2009 9:36 am ET

This question is so obvious that it is stunning that no high level PC rep or our Gummint has not tossed a few hundred mill at this. It is a question that absolutely MUST to be answered.

One option, I feel, would be to actually preserve readable (or shorthand style) text and images in a transparent medium, something akin to amber. Accurate nanometer printing capability is widely available.

In the future all one would have to do would be to read english (or some understandable language format) and have an optical lens of some kind. Both of which will likely be around much longer than any PC language.

This method may actually force a reduction of self serving legalese and BS which is what comprises a large amount of what is written anyway. We will likely lose a large amount of information but some of the truly important ideas, formulas and images might be saved.

Remember the KISS principle.

Malkntnt   March 2nd, 2009 12:02 pm ET

Yes and no. Tools to easily convert from one format to another should be provided to the public free of change.

The reason for all the format troubles is PATENTS. A company does not want to have to PAY to use some other format, so they create their own to get around this.

We MUST continue to create new tech. New tech means new ways of doing things, new compression rates and features.

PUBLIC DOMAIN conversion kits are the answer.

chris   March 2nd, 2009 12:45 pm ET

The best way to preserve memories is to take a good, long look and try to keep them in your head for as long as you can.

Derrick Chapman   March 2nd, 2009 1:13 pm ET

Two words: open source.

If the format is non-proprietary and if it is self-identifying in a header, any format is much easier to resurrect in whole or in part if it is accidentally deleted. And it is easier to convert without loss of data to a different format.

Chris   March 2nd, 2009 2:25 pm ET

This is the definition of Archiving. It is not the media we keep our stuff on that matters, it is the content. Having a copy is not the only need, as you all are aware. It is the accessibility of that data, that matter the most. Give your data to a Storage as a service (STaaS) organization. That way, you the user do not have to worry about media, just it's accessibility. The STaaS provider worries about media and your accessibility.

My 2 cents.

Chris   March 2nd, 2009 2:28 pm ET

I forgot to mention, choose your STaaS organization, wisely.

Jim Simon   March 2nd, 2009 2:29 pm ET

its not the medium – ie ,8 in floppys ,cdrw. 3.5 floppys , tape or cassette ,remember those in CPM language lol- thay have to be stored right like i was a recording engineering and we had a master tape valt keep a 65 no humidity .it stored master from all the old classica rock and roll
records of the 60s and 70s . it turn out to be important because it is the master tapes that the digitize to make cdr which we all in joy today .so if you medium is important store it right .if you lesten to any thing older then 1979 you owe a thank you to Wally Heider owner of the recording studio he did this in the 60s.who would have though it would have been so important to keep those tapes good in the 60s.....jim

Jim   March 2nd, 2009 3:23 pm ET

Makes you wonder? We have photos that have survived some 150 years. How long does data survive on your computer? Do you have your personal files from your first computer from the 80's? Do you have any 15 year old hard drives laying around with your stuff on them? Any foolproof way to read them on Microsoft's latest and greatest operating system? Of course NOT! Your digital family photos will be gone within a generation. Movies on VHS tape – gone in a few more years. Read a floppy disk in 2020? Not a chance. Controlled obsolescence makes it a throw away world and your data is also throw away!

MS (they get the blame because they drive the industry and make obscene profits by violating anti-trust laws) doesn't care how standardized file formats designed for the long haul or lifetime storage devices and solutions would help preserve YOUR data. They change formats and OS regularly for profits ONLY. Ever see a mass storage device guaranteed to last 20 years – 10 years – 1 year? Hard drives have 90 DAY warranties. Your important pictures, documents and personal data means nothing to the computer industry or we wouldn't be having this discussion!

Your best shot might be burning all photos to CD in .JPG and .PNG format and all documents in .TXT format – but don't bet that your great grandchildren will even know what you looked like or what you wrote!

The 19th and 20th century may well be better documented than the 21st Century will be. Remember, there are 2 kinds of computer users – those that have lost data and those that will!

Ducker   March 2nd, 2009 4:53 pm ET

My work PC still has a floppy drive....jajaja take that globalization!

Ben   March 2nd, 2009 6:48 pm ET

Never trust a computer with vital information. Keep a paper copy of anything that is truly essential and irreplaceable. For ultimate longevity, carve it in a clay table. Or just don't worry about it.

Scott Vigil   March 2nd, 2009 7:57 pm ET

Let's use our highways to store our most treasured messages for posterity. All we have to do is lay our future highways in certain coded patterns. This will leave a message that will last quite a while.

Alternatively, let's locate our land fills so that when looked upon from above, they spell out messages like magnetic regions on a hard disk. Think of it as our version of the "Bible Codes".

apulo   March 3rd, 2009 10:45 am ET

JVC file names end in mod not tod and all you have to do is rename the file to mpg to play it.

Danno   March 3rd, 2009 12:25 pm ET

I had some floppies with old drivers and what not. I don't have the vid cards, but hey i got the drivers! anyhow, I packrat that stuff... Maybe i need to plug in the old PII cpu i got and pull those off and onto the network for safe keeping... Boy if there was ever a business opportunity, this is it...convert floppies to DVD's....

James J.   March 3rd, 2009 1:40 pm ET

I'm not a techie by any means but we considered this problem years ago as we converted from 5 1/4 inch floppies (remember those any of you gray haired office workers?) to 3 1/2 inch. I have had the same computer on my desk for 3 years and I've never put a floppy in the drive, I don't think we even have such a thing in the whole office.

Ort   March 4th, 2009 3:24 pm ET

Working for tech support currently, and spending years in the government working in telecommunications gives me a little insight into data storage.

Paper if forever but if a fire happens its gone. Its hard to store, and if somebody wants a copy its either fax or courier. Different formats of electronically stores text can cause problems as different formats require different programs to open (and the user is at the mercy of the markers of the software, I remember when Office 2000 was being developed, there was consideration to leave the .doc formatting behind), that of course did change, but with the docx that is currently being used unless you are using MS Office 2007 you can not change). For electronic documents I agree with another poster, .rtf.

Digitial media is a much more complicated case and I am sure books could be written about that, but mp3, ogg should work for audio files for at least a few years. Avi, mpeg or mkv should for video files for at least a while.

As far as storing them, CD/DVD's for now, probably Blue-Ray when the price drops, and if its important make more than one. Hard drives as always fail, or at least use two.

On line storage is an option, but be sure not to rely on just on line storage.

As far as file formats, the only consideration is to keep current (and yes after having said that I still have some 5 1/4 floppies around).

Lupin   March 5th, 2009 4:26 pm ET

I kinda have to agree, the two things i would presonally love to see are a long term storage format for archival purposes with later versions will be able to read no problem

and the other would be to see only about 3-4 dominant formats in use for different types of files with hopefully a noticable difference between them. eg: Tiff, Jpg, Png. Png is allows for transparancies but is larger then a jpg. Jpg is a nice format for most image files for internet access. and Tiff is still a solid format for storing detailed images in.

What i wouldn't miss seeing is some of the formats coming from companies such as M4A (apple) which they use over the standard MP3

Bubba   March 6th, 2009 9:36 am ET

My wife wrote her Master's Thesis on an IBM System Six Word Processor as big as a tractor. There isn't a drive around now that can read the huge disks. Luckily, there's a printed copy . . .

Mark-E   March 8th, 2009 3:40 am ET

Files are very easy..there really is no TEST about them–except keep them contained by Priority-be ready to Delete the useless ones..and Re-format the ones that are deemed necessary/if you think you should KEEP every FILE that passes your way–I thnk your mistaken about technology..where your loosing touch with the reality of its "worthlessness"..Keeping up with technology really grounds the attention we attempt to build..building a fortune of files seems heartless.

Mark-E   March 8th, 2009 3:47 am ET

My favorite file type/..DVD-video/or Data Files on DVD..I do use Archive Drives(HDD)/and CDs have replaced Floppies–yet I just did the Recover Act on a FLOPPY–my biggest problem is duplicate files and looking at a file–realizing its the latest/..but really–my files are 8-years I must have messed up about 2-CDs worth of files/..or created about 10-CDs worth of totally useless STUFF.

Jimbo   March 11th, 2009 9:53 am ET

It seems that most people in this thread are missing the point. The article isn't talking about storage formats (e.g. XML, RTF, etc...). The problem is what media should be used to ensure the long term viability of the information.

emerson   March 11th, 2009 2:05 pm ET

The best way to archive data is use multitude of methods, depending on what the data is.

For true archival abilities, you shouldn't use CDR/DVDR's, but rather actual manufactured CDs and DVDs, the kind you get when you buy a music CD or movie DVD. They use a different fundamental production process which will likely last a lot longer than a recordable disk. As for the format, which is a valid argument as to what to use, text is best if possible, then use formats that are HUGELY common today, such as jpg, pdf, gif. If you want to be conservative and expect that in 20 years no one will know what those were, then go with uncompressed black and white bitmaps. They're huge, but easy to figure out, even if all you know is that it's an image of some sort.

Also, microfiche/film is a viable alternative; even if there are no dedicated machines in the future to read them, anyone would be able to see there's REALLY TINY text there and bust out a magnifier to read it.

For motion pictures (video, movies, etc), the best bet is still film. Stored in environmentally well-controlled locations, film can last 50-100 years with little to no degradation of content. It's also relatively easy to figure out if all the projectors go away.

But more importantly, archives need to be stored in geographically diverse locations, as well as multiple formats in each; they become their own Rosetta Stones, and are more protected against disaster.

Franko   March 11th, 2009 5:28 pm ET

Credit card companies have the most secure data retention
You are newer forgotten, conveniently located, especially when behind payment

When will credit card companies offer this as a product, to store your snapshots

dazimmermann   March 11th, 2009 5:43 pm ET

For still pictures, Check out DNG files = Digital Negatives. Simple, open format, includes meta-data, thumb image, and actual image without lossy compression like JPG. Don't think there is a similar standard for video, though.

NEX-C3   November 17th, 2011 1:16 pm ET

זהו הבלוג המושלם לכל מי שרוצה לדעת על הנושא הזה. אתה יודע כל כך קשה כמעט שלה להתווכח איתך (לא שאני באמת רוצה ... haha). אתה בהחלט לשים ספין חדש על נושא thats נכתב על במשך שנים. חומר נהדר, פשוט נהדר!

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Ferocious monster 19-2 atttacks a person regarding bumping light headed river
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