The following is a guest post by Emily Reynolds, a 2012 Junior Fellow.
One of the many highlights of the DigitalPreservation 2012 conference last month was the Preserving Digital Culture panel, which featured speakers discussing the preservation of born-digital art and other creative output. While much of the conference addressed the often automated management of big data, these speakers addressed materials that require much more individual attention. Similar to preserving physical artwork, digital art must be preserved meticulously to maintain the artist’s original vision.
Doug Reside spoke about the complexities of preserving digital materials from the playwright Jonathan Larson. Excavating layers of digital text, he was able to reconstruct several iterations of the play RENT as it was written. With digital text, determining the exact sequence of versions that the creator went through becomes much more complicated than with printed text, as materials can easily be overwritten or slightly modified.
Megan Winget talked about which properties are most essential to capture in preserving new media. She described digital preservation as a wicked problem; her ideas in this regard are outlined in an earlier post. Winget referenced the article Twisty Little Passages Almost All Alike: Applying the FRBR Model to a Classic Computer Game, which ties many of these issues into videogame preservation. As the distinctions between versions of items become less clear, the need for systems that will help to manage these networks of complex works becomes ever more important.
Ben Fino-Radin discussed the Rhizome ArtBase, a web-based art archive. The project began as a web index of contemporary digital art, but the linked information often disappeared. The ArtBase now captures artwork to preserve it independently of the original website. Because each work is captured exactly as the artist intended, Rhizome works directly with artists to determine what constitutes a successful capture. They employ a flexible, individualized strategy, using a variety of tools for each project. The focus on individual art objects, as well as the importance of capturing all properties of the original work, distinguishes the project from most web harvesting projects.
The Digital Archaeology project, which Jim Boulton spoke about, takes a somewhat different approach to preserving web content thought to be culturally important. Boulton collected hardware and software contemporary to several older websites so they could be displayed in their original context. This isn’t an approach that can be replicated on a mass scale, and was only intended for exhibits at Internet Week Europe and Internet Week New York.
Slide presentations from the panel can be found on the NDIIPP DigitalPreservation 2012 website.