What a totally depressing thought for anyone creating online content. Google vice-president Vint Cerf has warned that all digital material, from flippant tweets to online archives, could be entirely lost in future because we will no longer have the software or hardware to read them.
Mr Cerf said at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting that there is the risk of a “forgotten generation or even a forgotten century” when the software needed to read file types containing PDFs, Word documents and all the rest becomes obsolete. Think of the VHS tapes lurking in your attic: they probably still work but you’ll never know because you don’t have a video recorder to play them on.
To address the looming problem, Mr Cerf called for “digital vellum” to be developed, a way of preserving all software and hardware so files can always be accessed no matter how old they get.
Let’s be optimistic that Mr Cerf’s call to action will be heeded, and the digital archives of important historical documents, current legislation and even the embarrassing videos taken on mobile phones, will survive for the edification of future generations.
It’s easy to think of online content as throwaway, erased as soon as a home page or news feed is refreshed. But if your business or organisation is doing it properly, you should be building up a body of good-quality writing, images and video which deserves to survive the ravages of time and software updates.