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Digital Preservation: Fighting the Battle for Fleeting Attention

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Advertisers and economists talk about a concept known as the value proposition. It refers to what makes a product or service valuable to others.

IMG_1892.JPG, by tantek, on Flickr
IMG_1892.JPG, by tantek, on Flickr

In the context of how preserving institutions communicate, the value proposition bluntly asks:  why should anyone pay attention to what an organization has to say?  When we talk about digital preservation, what is it about our message that makes it useful and worthy of attention?

After all, there is already plenty of competition for people’s attention, commitment and passion.   A teenager with a smartphone has access to more information today than a U.S. president did a few years ago.  And, as Nick Poole from the UK Collections Trust says, today’s generation also expects information services to be highly relevant and empowering to their interests.  “To tomorrow’s consumers,” says Poole, “any aspect of life which constrains the sense of agency is broken, and will be worked around or ignored.”

There are levels of value, the most basic of which is fleeting attention.  Can our tweets, blog posts or Facebook entries snag your interest?  We here at NDIIPP are mindful of this basic requirement.  But we also aim to reach our audience at a deeper level.  What we really want from people is to care so much that they will engage — leave a comment, say — as well as be influenced by our point of view.  To that end, we strive to create social media content that is interesting and addresses issues that people care about.  If we do our job well, that content will spread on social networks through sharing.

Personal Archiving--Times Square, by wlef70, on Flickr
Personal Archiving--Times Square, by wlef70, on Flickr

There are different audiences for digital preservation, and it’s useful to keep them in mind.  Here on The Signal we think of three general audiences: 1) information professionals; 2) researchers, students and teachers; and 3) the general public.  We try to speak to the unique interests of each group, and we publish posts that are primarily addressed to a specific audience.  More often we attempt to touch on topics and interests that we hope have broad appeal to diverse perspectives.  That’s actually easier to do than we first suspected, given the rapid rise in interest about advice for keeping collections of personal digital information.

To this point, we’re pleased with how well we are communicating and interacting with people.  But there is room for improvement, especially considering the ever-increasing competition for that most precious and scarce resource: your attention.

We would love to hear your suggestions for how we, along with the digital preservation community in general, can do better in getting the message out.

Comments (2)

  1. I am in your first target group – information professionals. I provide advice to others that would also probably be classified as information professionals (or perhaps information paraprofessionals or information volunteers), but most of them work for very low budget institutions. I find almost all of your posts useful, but many of them are not accessible to people without a strong background in archives, digital preservation, etc. I am kind of a filter, and I direct those posts that I think would be useful to the folks I work with. Perhaps very obvious tags or color coding or whatever classifying a post might be useful. I know there is a danger that this sort of classification would keep people from reading posts that they might find useful, but it could also keep people from feeling even more overwhelmed and scared about digital preservation than they already are. This classification of posts, of course, would create more work for you all and has all the attendant problems that metadata decisions always bring!

    I also think perhaps fewer posts might be helpful for drawing people in. I know this is contrary to the advice bloggers are often given. However, as I said before, I at least look at all your posts. I only read the posts once a week or so, and sometimes I am surprised at how many posts I have not yet read and wonder how I am every going to be up-to-date enough on digital preservation to provide the folks I work with with sound advice!

    • Susan: Thanks for your great comment. You are definitely a key audience member, most especially because you serve as bridge/filter to others. Your feedback about the orientation of many posts around some of the more technical aspects of digital preservation is useful. We debate this topic internally: just how detailed should we get? While all our writers are advised to keep things clear, they are thoughtful experts who appreciate the freedom explore things in a manner that they are comfortable with. So the result is somewhat mixed in terms of accessibility.

      We also debate how frequently to post. We set an initial goal of one post a day–but only if we felt we had quality content to sustain that rate. When we got started I personally wasn’t sure that we could do that–but so far we have. It’s a fair question about how many posts are enough. We feel that we contribute more signal (sorry for that) than noise, but it is certainly understandable how people can feel swamped by information. We do put out a monthly summary (our Digital Preservation Newsletter) that highlights a few posts; maybe there are other ways for us to summarize posts in a way that is useful.

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