Digital Time Capsule Buried in Swiss Alps

Posted on Thursday, June 3rd, 02010 by Heather Ryan
link Categories: Digital Dark Age, Technology   chat 0 Comments

In order to demonstrate digital impermanence, scientists from the European Planets Project deposited a time capsule containing five of today’s most common types of digital objects into the Swiss Fort Knox data center. The time capsule contains a JPEG photograph, a message in Java source code, a short film in .MOV format, a web-page in HTML and a brochure in PDF.

According to the Planets website, the deposited box also included..

…conversion tools that were used to migrate the objects as well as software to open and view/use these objects and supporting software all the way down to an operating system; descriptions of the file formats, of the file systems and encodings used on the storage media; and description of all these objects and their relationship to supporting technology and recognised standards.

The TimeCapsule will be available to researchers in the future to investigate how much of its content will still be or can be made accessible and usable with the information provided.  An online version will make it possible to see the contents of the TimeCapsule and experiment with technology to preserve them. Replicas will be available to libraries, archives, science museums and others for research and public exhibit.

The Planets TimeCapsule will demonstrate in ten, 20, 30, 50 and hundreds of years the fragility of digital data and the ability of technology to overcome it.

  • .MOV format? You can barely get that to work now thanks to Apple’s lovely little lock on file formats.

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  • Eric

    I don’t think obsolete formats are going to be as much of an issue as they are today. Open source does a fairly good job of keeping up with propitiatory formats and most software I use seems to roll all the file types along. It makes for some very long menus in The GIMP, but at least I know there’s something out there that will read a given format.

    The larger issue is hardware. ATA has been around in various flavors for almost 10 years now, but I don’t think it’ll be easy to find a parallel interface connector on motherboards in 2-3 generations. Before that it was IDE. I still have a motherboard that supports it, but I don’t have a power supply that will run it, or a case it will fit in.

    And what about floppies? Or Zip drives? I don’t even see them at hamfests anymore.

  • John

    File format longevity seems far less important than media (or replication process) longevity. As long as there is a cloud, there will be environments for understanding and decoding legacy code and file formats. No need for an underground cave.

  • cam

    The
    Westinghouse Time Capsule was put together as one of the major exhibits of the
    1939 New York World’s Fair. Not to be
    open until 6939 AD. The capsule
    is buried fifty feet down at exactly 40° 44′ 34″.089 North Latitude, 73°
    50′ 43″.842 West Longitude.


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