‘It’s like a fire. You just have to move on’: Toward adaptive services for personal archiving 

   Cathy Marshall , Microsoft Research

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University November 2, 2007

Most of us engage in magical thinking when it comes to the long term fate of our digital stuff. This magical thinking may manifest itself in several ways: technological optimism ("JPEG is so common; why would it stop working?"), radical ephemeralism ("It's like a fire: you just have to move on"), or simply a gap between principals and practice ("I should move my novel off of that zip disk while the drive still works, but I'm too busy right now"). At this point, a strategy that hinges on benign neglect and lots of copies seems to be the best we can hope for.

For the last few years, with various collaborators, I have tried to understand the current state of personal digital archiving in practice with the aim of designing services for the long-term storage, preservation, and access of digital belongings. Our studies have not only confirmed that experienced computer users have accumulated a substantial amount of digital stuff that they care about, but also that they have already lost irreplaceable artifacts such as photos, creative efforts, research data, and important records. Although informants report digital safekeeping strategies, they are neither able to implement them consistently, nor will these strategies address many of the real problems associated with archiving. I will discuss four central themes of personal digital archiving and some additional challenges introduced by home computing environments. I’ll also talk about how these themes relate to emerging institutional archiving technologies, best practices, and information policies.

This talk will reveal how far we’ve gotten on our quixotic mission and why we won’t give up, even in the face of adversity, table-pounding, and social ostracism.

Cathy Marshall is a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Corporation. Her research on personal digital libraries lies in the disciplinary interstices of computer science, information science, and the humanities. She was a long-time member of the research staff at Xerox PARC and is an affiliate of the Center for the Study of Digital Libraries at Texas A&M University. She has delivered keynote addresses at the WWW and Hypertext Conferences as well as at CNI and other library and information science venues. She has served as Program Chair for the IEEE/ACM Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (twice) and for the ACM Hypertext Conference. Her homepage is http://www.csdl.tamu.edu/~marshall; there you will find her publications, her blog, her contact information, and how she is related to Elvis.

View this talk on line at CS547 on Stanford OnLine and video

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