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Bits Breaking Bad 2: The Atlas of Digital Damages, Revisited

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Last October, I wrote about The Atlas of Digital Damages on Flickr. The idea was that it would be instructive to showcase digital content that suffered from problems roughly equivalent to physical content that was deteriorating due to mistakes or neglect.

Since I last wrote about it, the atlas has acquired more examples reflecting all kinds of problems, from corrupted bit streams, to programs that didn’t work correctly, to media failure. Some examples are below. If you have any of your own, please add them to the site!

PDF with missing font, by prwheatley, on Flickr
PDF with missing font, by prwheatley, on Flickr
Untitled and !!@?$*FATAL*DISK*ERROR!!@#?$*!!@#?$, both by Daniel Rehn, on Flickr
Untitled and !!@?$*FATAL*DISK*ERROR!!@#?$*!!@#?$, both by Daniel Rehn, on Flickr
Bad XML, by wlef70, and Image Rendering Error, by prwheatley, on Flickr
Bad XML, by wlef70, and Image Rendering Error, by prwheatley, on Flickr
Google error, that's all we know, by wlef70, on Flickr
Google error, that’s all we know, by wlef70, on Flickr

Comments (5)

  1. In fact at the same time as I wrote my blog I launched the Atlas of Digital Damages set up by me to collect stories of things that went wrong when everybody thought the bits were preserved, with an explanation why it went wrong. I still am convinced that we need these stories to make the case for digital preservation (apart from our success stories of, for example, saved websites that are no longer on the internet). But sometimes I think we were more willing to tell about our failures in the early days…
    So every story is welcome on [email protected] .

  2. I forgot to add that the stories will be anonymized, if preferred.

  3. I find this information to be very important. I am a co-Principal Investigator for a grant from the federal Institute for Museum and Library Services, in which we examine the issue of digital preservation’s challenges to medium-sized and smaller institutions with restricted resources. As a part of our project, we are investigating some of the basic assumptions on which the whole endeavor of digital preservation is based, like the assertion that media like CDs, DVDs, and portable hard drives readily become damaged and lose data, or lose data through the process of media decay/bit rot. I have been looking for peer-reviewed research articles or other publications demonstrating these assertions, but have found only a reliance on anecdotal data. Do you know of any publications looking at this matter? If not, you should pull your materials together into a more official publication.

    • Drew, thanks for your comment. I have seen some studies that look at CD-Rom longevity, such as “NIST/Library of Congress (LoC) Optical Media Longevity Study”, but am not aware of research that considers formats such as flash drives, hard disks, etc. One place to check is the Storage Networking Industry Associationh ttp://, which is a trade association interested in various aspects of storage technolgies.


  4. The NIST/LOC issued a final report on Optical disk Longevity suty in September 2007 ( which concluded that at that time most CDs using Pthalocycaine as the dye layer had a life expectancy of greater then 30 years. It speculated that the variation in DVD longevity may be because DVD media technology was quickly evolving (e.g.: recording speed) at the time.

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