Snow Byte and the Seven Formats: A Digital Preservation Fairy Tale

The following is a guest post by Tess Webre, an intern with NDIIPP at the Library of Congress.

In a recent meeting, some colleagues and I discussed the age in which individuals should start understanding the basics of digital preservation. I suggested that, with children creating digital files earlier and earlier, it should be taught as early as possible. The question, of course, is how to get youngsters interested in preserving their data. Fortunately, while doing some research I was able to find a digital preservation fairy tale in the digital archives of the Brother’s Grimm. Here is the never-before published tale of Snow Byte and the Seven Formats (movie rights pending). I promise it will make a great bedtime story – they’ll fall right to sleep.  (I would like to thank my wonderful classmate Sara Allen for her invaluable contribution and illustrations)

Snow Byte and the Seven Formats

Written by Tess Webre, Illustrations by Sara Allen

nce upon a time in a land far far away there was a beautiful princess named Snow Byte. Snow Byte was a wonderful child who loved and was beloved by all who knew her, except for one. Her father, the king, had married a new wife and, as is often the case in fairy tales, her stepmother was evil. In fact, she was evil because she was a sorceress named Obsolescence, but the king didn’t know that. He wasn’t a very observant king.

Obsolescence was not only evil, she was shallow. She was obsessed with being the most beautiful woman in the entire kingdom. She created an enchanted smartphone with a magic mirror app that would tell her who was the fairest in the land. One day, Obsolescence looked at her magic mirror app.

“Mirror, mirror on the phone, who’s the fairest in the town?”

“You are fair, my Queen this is true. Yet, Snow Byte is fairer than you.”

Furious with this news, Obsolescence grew determined to kill Snow Byte. She used her enchanted smartphone to make all of Snow Byte’s digital files inaccessible by destroying all of her storage media. She then called Snow Byte into the chamber to demand that she run an errand for her. The errand would require Snow Byte to go through the enchanted forest, filled with trolls.

“Don’t worry, there is a spell that you have in your files that will save you from harm.”

Before leaving, Snow Byte checked and found that all of her files were inaccessible, thus she had no spell. Fortunately, she kept archived copies of this data in a trusted digital repository, and after a few phone calls and a few transfers, she was able to get her archived spells.

Wandering through the forest, Snow Byte came across the worst kind of troll in the forest, an Internet Troll. The troll immediately started berating her on her choices and life decisions. She tried to use the spell to repel him, but found that it didn’t work.

“Please,” scoffed the troll, “the queen gave me an antidote for that spell a while ago. She really doesn’t want you around. It might be because you are wearing that dress. It’s a really ugly dress.”

Angry, Snow Byte was about to defend her dress, when a group of woodland creatures came up to her. They told her that the queen had sent this troll to harass her to death and that the best thing she could do was ignore it. Snow Byte turned her back on the troll and walked away.

Snow Byte continued to wander through the forest, depressed that she could not come home, when she found a cottage. Finding no one at home Snow Byte walked right in to discover that there were seven tiny beds. She noted that on each bed was the name of a different file format.  There was WARC, TIFF, TXT, PDF, JPEG, MPEG and, of course, DOC.

Shocked by the unsanitary manner in the cottage, even for developers, Snow Byte immediately started organizing and cleaning. With the help of some random woodland creatures that followed her around, she created a strict metadata schema to organize all their files and objects, and updated their storage media. This was so exhausting that she fell asleep when she was finished.

When the seven formats came home from data-mining they were shocked to see the cottage so clean and a girl in the house. They woke her up and demanded she explain herself. Snow Byte told them about her wicked stepmother and the formats had a vote to let her stay.

Obsolescence, upon finding out that her rival was still alive, grew so angry that she decided to kill Snow Byte herself. She disguised herself as an old woman and programmed a poisoned app on her enchanted smartphone that would cause Snow Byte to fall into a coma. Using her sorceress powers, she found the cottage and waited for the formats to go off data-mining for the day.  She knocked on the door and Snow Byte answered.

“Deary, I just made this new smartphone and I wondered if you wanted to try it.”

“Is that an Apple phone?”

“No deary,” Obsolescence replied, “it’s completely different.”

Snow Byte took the phone and was amazed by how quickly it worked, how wonderful the touch screen responded, and all of the marvelous apps.

“Try this app, deary,” said Obsolescence, pointing to the poisoned app, “I think you will love it.”

Snow Byte opened the app and instantly fell into a coma. Obsolescence was so pleased with herself that she wrote a note saying that she had successfully killed Snow Byte and that the seven formats could do nothing about it. She skipped all the way home only to fall off a cliff and die.

When the seven formats came home they found Snow Byte in a coma and were flabbergasted. They found the note and were shocked.

“Something must have happened with this smartphone!” DOC declared.

At that moment a handsome prince named Dublin rode by and asked why there was a commotion. The seven formats told him what happened.  At that moment, one of the seven formats located a file called “poison app” but found that it contained no real information they could understand because it was in a proprietary file format that none of them could read.  Dublin took a look at the file and found it to have an XML wrapper of metadata. It showed that only the kiss of a prince would wake Snow Byte.

“This is a bit uncomfortable,” he said, “I apparently have to kiss her to wake her up.”

“Wait, what?” asked the formats, “you can’t expect us to believe that.”

“Yeah,” said Dublin, “you see how this file is gibberish. Well, if I decompress the file I find that there is a separate metadata wrapper on the spell she cast. It’s right here.”

Dublin showed the phone to the formats and it displayed this:

<rdfs:comment>
death only prevented by kiss from prince she will then wake up
</rdfs:comment>

“It clearly shows a prince kissing her and then her waking up. I mean, I don’t want to be a jerk or anything, but it’s clearly there.”

Dublin leaned down and kissed Snow Byte and she instantly woke up.  The formats rejoiced and Snow Byte thanked the prince. They fell in love, were married and lived happily ever after because they always preserved their data.

21 Comments

  1. Oxa
    March 15, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    This is a very creative piece. I’d suggest, however, that if you intend it for kids that you dumb down the language quite a bit. Obsolescence? Berate? Repository? Antidote? etc. This vocabulary is not understood by most 10-year olds.

  2. Lisa Allen
    March 15, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    Very creative and witty story. Loved the illustrations!

  3. Gary McGath
    March 15, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    This one should go right alongside Mike Rubin’s “The Programmer and the Elves”!
    http://pigsandfishes.com/filks/mikefilk/progelves.html

  4. Beth Thomas
    March 15, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    Clever and entertaining. Love the originality of the story and of the illustrations. Some delightful talent there! Wonderful way to teach a difficult subject. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to enjoy text and drawings!

  5. 4foster
    March 16, 2013 at 6:32 am

    A great story, well told and illustrated.
    @Oxa, the point of the story is to educate and inform. All of the words -and the concepts behind them- that you criticised can be easily explained in the context of the story and our kids will be better for it.

  6. Carl H. BLoss
    March 16, 2013 at 7:55 am

    Don’t under estimate the vocabulary of a 10 year old. I never “dumbed-down” any lesson, any vocabulary, so a CHILD could understand it! How else could they ever manage words such as: pneumonultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis. Look it up – you might be surprised! Even my own 2nd graders could pronounce, spell and use it correctly. Carl

  7. Ralph Turner
    March 16, 2013 at 11:08 am

    Have you ever tried to open a .doc file that is ten years old in MS Word? Can’t do it. It would be wonderful if we could open these old files but at this point only hard copy is dependable. I can’t open any of my 5 1/4″ disk files. There are work-arounds but it takes a lot of experimentation. For instance you can open old .doc files in Open Office and then resaveit in a more modern MS Word format. A lot of fussing around. I suggest printing out a copy and putting it in a notebook.

  8. Donna
    March 16, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Funny, creative and excellently done. Kudos!

  9. Kristy Gravlin
    March 17, 2013 at 12:36 am

    The trick to good story telling is watching the eyes of the listener[s]. If, indeed, the kids are not following the story because of the vocabulary being used at times, the teacher will simply throw in a few explanatory phrases until she sees by their eyes that they are “with” her. Any experienced story teller will do that “automatically” with little thought about it beyond ‘the need is there.’ I was more lost, of course, by some of the computer lingo…but perhaps they won’t be. Or the same rule will exist — so I’d better not try telling the story until -I- get it.

  10. MP
    March 17, 2013 at 6:24 am

    Interesting version of a well loved fairy tale!

  11. Susan Manus
    March 18, 2013 at 9:07 am

    Thanks for all the great comments – and good to see all the discussion on this, especially from educators who can offer advice about using this for young audiences. I think it offers a good lesson, and I loved the illustrations too, especially how the girl’s dress is decorated with 1′s and 0′s!

  12. Susan Manus
    March 18, 2013 at 9:10 am

    And for Ralph – yes, that is frustrating to try and open older documents. We advise that people migrate, or update their important documents to the latest versions every few years, in order to keep them accessible.

  13. Jennie
    March 18, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Your take on ‘Snow White’ is catchy, colorful, and creative. It’s a good alternative fairy tale in our high tech world!

  14. Tim Allen
    March 20, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Loved the story and the artwork and believe the vocabulary is terrific!
    Suggest changing: When the seven formats came home they found Snow Byte in a coma and were flabbergasted. They found the note and were shocked.
    To: When the seven formats came home they found Snow Byte in a coma and were shocked. They found the note and were flabbergasted.
    I especially liked that the evil step mother/sorceress was named Obsolescence.

  15. Laura England-Biggs
    March 21, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    I agree that you don’t need to dumb down the vocabulary – perfect time to say “Do you know what ___ means?” and introduce rich vocabulary into their worlds. Wonderful story!

    Tim’s suggested change (swapping flabbergasted and shocked) seems a little more appropriate to me as well but still loved no matter what.

  16. Denise Koch
    March 21, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    Enjoyed, loved the Illustrations

  17. Bridget
    March 24, 2013 at 11:12 am

    I was hooked at the updated version of the mirror!! Great adaptation.

  18. Paula Simoes
    April 1, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Nice story, but I find it strange you put an open format, like pdf, alongside with a closed, proprietary format like doc. Maybe you can change the name of the formats to open ones? (odf, for example) Otherwise, it does not make sense.

  19. Marcos Marado
    April 2, 2013 at 5:27 am

    Good story, but… DOC? Changing versions every few years? What you need to fight Obsolescence is open formats and document freedom: http://documentfreedom.org

  20. Annette Strauch
    April 24, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Lovely story, however, there is more for the complex dynamic evil ;-) !! My advice to fight Obsolescence is to try it with System Preservation or “Migration through Emulation”, but I am sure they will both try out everything that is available. The end.

  21. Arif
    May 15, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Interesting and creative…, however I think it may not be for very young kids

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