Back in the late 80’s I was involved in the Atari ST demo scene. Our crew (The Fingerbobs) put out quite a few demos and boot disks over that time and through the magic of VM emulation they are still viewable today.
Digital data is fragile though. Although it’s very easy to copy in the short term, most modern hosting media are far from robust. This is especially true over the long term where format and reader redundancy have turned common storage media such as floppy disks into museum pieces in just a few years.
So how can you preserve your digital data in the long term? Kevin Kelly favours the LOCKS (Lots of Copies Keep ’em Safe) principle. Interestingly, one of the great by products of open source is lots of copies. The current trend for storing your data in the cloud is still no guarantee of safety. Jeremy Keith recently wrote about his experiences of trying to recover his online bookmarks after the sudden death of magnolia.
Whilst hardware emulators such as STeem are helping to keep individual formats alive, a pan European effort is underway to create a universal emulator for any digital object. The KEEP project (Keep Emulation Environments Portable) not only aims to do just this, but also emulate all future environments by being emulatable itself!