Digital preservation is tricky. Issues arise, such as URL rot (a phenomenon you’ve likely encountered, where a formerly functional URL no longer works) and file incompatability (an artifact can no longer be opened on new operations systems, browsers, etc.). Another problem that digital artifacts encounter as they age, much like human beings, is the gradual alteration of visual (or physical) appearance. Even if the content of an original digital artifact is retained, the layout or visual experience may not survive the multiple updates and iterations that occur in the surrounding digital landscape.
I think about digital preservation often because I interact with and create content for websites and blogs on a daily basis. As I write this post, or any correspondence on the Internet, really, I have trained myself to assume that the thing I’m creating is impermanent and far more vulnerable than anything I write with pen or pencil on paper. I equate the digital with the ephemeral, a pessimistic stance on my part (perhaps) that is likely more indicative of my minimalist tendencies than anything else.
I just received my MLIS in Archives & Information Sciences, so I should be more hopeful about digital preservation efforts. And I want to be.
Yesterday, I awoke to some good news. A friend emailed me an article from Hyperallergic about Rhizome‘s efforts to preserve social media. (Rhizome, by the way, was founded in 1996 and is an Internet-based arts organization located within the New Museum in New York City ). In a project announced publicly a few days ago, Rhizome hopes to develop a tool that will not only preserve the textual content of a piece of new media, but will also preserve it’s design and interface so that the digital artifact is entirely faithful to the original. It IS the original.
The new conservation tool is called Colloq. Rhizome claims that Colloq will:
help artists preserve social media projects not only by archiving them, but by replicating the exact look and layout of the sites used, and the interactions with users
Prior to Colloq, Rhizome‘s archive, called Artbase, could only house projects that were both created and hosted by an individual artist. With the development of Colloq, Rhizome hopes to accession art that is hosted by a variety of entities, sometimes completely out of the hands of the original artist. (Side note: Artbase is well worth a look if you're at all interested in digital archives or digital preservation.)
The code for Colloq was developed with Ilya Kreymar (formerly of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine), and is publicly available via GitHub.
The first Colloq-archived project that Rhizome is offering to the public is, in my opinion, surprisingly vapid. Although it does demonstrate Colloq’s capacity to archive social media content, the choice of subject (or artist) seems a bit questionable. The project I’m speaking about, Excellences and Perfections, is ostensibly a performance piece by an artist who inhabits four different personas over the course of several months and posts photographs of herself and the world around her to Instagram and Facebook. Yet, all four of the personalities conveyed in the project seem somewhat homogenized by the common theme of sex and narcissism. Perhaps it’s just my jealousy poking through (the artist is gorgeous and impeccable), but I’m not sure how this project extends beyond the type of model shots disseminated every day on Facebook, Instagram, OKCupid, et cetera et cetera. In other words, I'm not sure if I think this is "art"...but that's probably a conversation for another day.
Bottom line is, Colloq sounds promising and I am excited to see how the project develops further.