Understanding Digital Preservation

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RT16_mizen_Page_01[Presented at RootsTech 2016 in Salt Lake City, February 4-5, 2016. This presentation is an update to my previous presentation at Forever Live!, Preservation is Forever]

This past year I went to Disney with my family. The trip lased one week; yet, the memories are forever.

RT16_mizen_Page_04For Disney, Forever means 30 days, since all photos in Disney MemoryMaker expire in 30 days. Disney will even tell you the very minute photos expire. They expire at 11:59pm EST on the 30th day.

Disney is not alone. Photos on other online photo sites have expirations as well. For Costco, Snapfish, Walgreens, and Walmart this expiration date is one year, if you don’t place an order. Heritage Makers gives you a bit longer with 18 months.

RT16_mizen_Page_07Hard disk drives and optical media aren’t much better. Seagate was recently hit with a class action lawsuit for disk failure, and other manufacturer’s drives will only last 5-10 years. I am sure everyone here has seen the dreaded “File Not Found” or some other similar error. The other problem with hard disk failure is that you can never predict when it will happen.

RT16_mizen_Page_08Optical discs also have problems. I was recently at the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge, England. I had a chance to see the Doomsday discs, which were intended to recreate a book on England that survives from the 10th century. The discs did not even last 25 years before failing. This is hardly forever.

RT16_mizen_Page_09Forever, on the other hand, promises to preserve your photos for 100 years or longer and they give you specific details. Your content will be available for your lifetime plus 100 years, it will be accessible with current technology, and it will be preserved through natural disasters, wars, terrorism, economic depressions, and other events that cause major disruptions in society.

RT16_mizen_Page_10The Terms of Service on Forever’s web site includes specific wording designed to protect you and your photos. Forever specifically states that your content will be available for your lifetime plus 100 years, although their goal is to preserve your information much longer than that. Forever also states that they will update your files to be compatible with new technology and that they will protect your photos from natural disasters, wars, terrorism, economic depressions and other disruptions.

RT16_mizen_Page_11Traditional photos have lasted more than 100 years and digital photos should as well. The photos on this page are the four wedding photos for my great grandparents and all these photo are over 100 years old. I would hate to think that today’s digital photos will last only a few years and not be around for future generations.

RT16_mizen_Page_12The Forever Guarantee Fund ensures permanent preservation. This fund provides the financial resources to preserve files stored on Forever. The majority of the money Forever collects for guaranteed storage goes into this fund. The money is set aside and  is available only to preserve your photos and other files.

RT16_mizen_Page_16The situation is actually much worse than I have described because most services can shut down and delete your photos at any time.   Shutterfly and Dropbox explicitly state that they can terminate your account at any time. Pinterest simply reserves the right to refuse service at any time. All this talk about termination is scary!

RT16_mizen_Page_17Terms of Service can also change at any time. Facebook is noted for continually changing its service, and Google can suspend or stop a service altogether. And with Amazon, free isn’t really free, since Amazon may suspend or restrict you account and you must renew your membership each year.

RT16_mizen_Page_20To understand this situation, we need to look at the business models companies operate under. E-commerce and social media sites are not photo preservation sites. E-commerce sites sell products, and social media sites sell advertising. Photo preservation sites preserve photos. The objectives are different. Do not confuse them. Photo preservation requires a site with a business model based on preserving photos, not one based on advertising or selling photo products.

RT16_mizen_Page_21Now we need to talk about statistics. I’m not saying that specific service is going to fail in a given year, only that there is a probability of that happening. For the photo industry, my estimate is that the probability of a specific service shutting down or otherwise discontinuing service is between five and ten per cent. If that is true, there is a fifty percent chance that your photos will be lost within a decade. Ten years is certainly not forever.

RT16_mizen_Page_21Forever is for more than just photos. Forever now preserves documents as PDF files. With this feature you can preserve everything from letters to birth certificates to census records on Forever.

RT16_mizen_Page_23Finally, Forever also offers photo books. Printing preserves photos, but we also recommend preserving the digital files. Multiple copies and multiple approaches to preserving digital photos are always a good thing. In addition, despite our best intentions, many things are never printed, and printed materials can be lost in natural disasters. In these cases, Forever’s Guaranteed Storage provide security, ensuring that your photos will be preserved for generations.

Now for a quiz:

  1. Digital photos are…
    A. Just like traditional film photos.
    B. Preserved in digital cameras or on cell phones.
    C. Saved by posting them to Facebook.
    D. Vulnerable to viruses, hardware failure, deletion, and easily lost to new technology.
  2. The average photo site will preserve photos…
    A. For the next 365 days, except for leap year when you get an extra day.
    B. Until you run out of money and stop ordering.
    C. Until it runs out of money and fails.
    D. All of the above.
  3. E-commerce and preservation are
    A. The headings from two Jeopardy categories.
    B. The names of two competing NFL teams.
    C. Two rock bands.
    D. Different business objectives that should not be confused.
  4. The Forever Guarantee Fund is
    A. A Department of Homeland Security plan to fight terrorism.
    B. Flint, Michigan’s plan to remove lead from their drinking water.
    C. The U.S. Government’s program to bail out the banking industry.
    D. Millions of  dollars dedicated to preserving photos for the future.
  5. Ed and Noah are
    A. 40,000 photos old.
    B. The future.
    C. Preserved for at least 100 years with Forever.
    D. All of the above.

In all cases, the answer is D.

The complete presentation is available at Mizen, Understanding Digital Preservation, 2016. Special thanks to Nick Kelsh for taking photos of  my presentation.


About Mark Mizen

I have over twenty years professional experience in all aspects of photography and digital imaging. I am Chair of the ISO WG5 TG2 committee responsible for physical properties and durability of imaging material and am currently with HID Global working on systems for security printing for IDs, licenses, and credit cards. Previously, I was Director of Digital Development at Creative Memories from 2009 to 2012 and was responsible for the Creative Memories digital products and services. I also established and directed the Creative Memories Technology Center, which evaluated new products prior to product introduction, assisted with production difficulties, and provided technical information to support product sales.
This entry was posted in Digital Files, Digital Photos, online storage, Optical Discs, Photo Books, Presentations. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Understanding Digital Preservation

  1. grandmajj52 says:

    Excellent post!!

  2. momfawn says:

    Mark Mizen and Nick Kelsh — what a marvelous combination!

  3. Nancy says:

    Hi Mark, can you tell us what the quality of the books from Forever are? I have asked and no one seems to even understand my question when I ask if they are acid free, lignin free etc. Are they archival quality? I did find out that they are stitched with metal rather than string bound. It seems a company called “Forever” would also want their books ‘forever’, too. I would think it would be a huge part of their advertising. Since I can’t get an answer, I thought perhaps you knew.

    • Mark Mizen says:

      I haven’t ordered recently; however, from what I have seen, the quality is good. You need to ensure that your photos are not too dark, since printed photos generally appear darker than photos on the screen. If a photo remotely looks too dark, lighten it. I have a photo book that I am planning to order within the next couple of weeks and I am planning to order it through Forever. I like the 12×12 soft-cover books..

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