what we remember is sometimes not the searchable content.
In these instances we narrow
the search space through circumstance reconstruction—a
kind of semantic way-finding
to the content… “something from
2004 when Mum came to visit, so it
must have been August and it was
a picture and it would have been….”
Again, Apple’s Time Machine in
Mac OS X Leopard explores this,
giving you a snapshot in time
of your files. This is an appealing idea.
A lot of human information
interaction is serendipitous,
based on vague, ill-formulated,
semantic associations not clear
on text and numbers, and
enacted as browsing, encountering, and being reminded—
not explicitly remembering. A
text-search string still does not
find a figurative image, and file
metadata are volatile. But reconstructing context is a powerful
memory-jogger bringing back
the abstract textual that goes
with the recognized visual.
Search will also need to
return results that cut across
different media. Google’s
Universal Search, which provides results from video, images, new, local, and book search,
is a step in this direction.
Yahoo!’s OneSearch does this
nicely for cell phones. Ask.com
does it too, but prettier.
The world is waiting for the
designer who can (re)create and
implement the memory palaces
and mnemonic techniques used
by renaissance scholars and
described by Frances Yates in
The Art of Memory.
3. Data is dynamic, not static.
The great promise of an archive
is to assure long-term access to
information. That sounds like
stasis, but it isn’t. To be effective
over decades, archival systems
need to migrate data from disk
to disk, and in some cases, emulate the environments of the
applications that use the data.
In considering personal data
storage, we need to consider the
easy migration of personal data
from one location to another.
But personal and social data
are always evolving; they are
not stable. Formats change,
data migrates between storage
methods and places, and security and access methods evolve.
Smart organizations are looking
to support users in their understanding of the consequences
of that volatility. Services are
beginning to take on the responsibility of educating users as
well as funding research into
data migration and fighting
against format obsolescence
(often by supporting current as
well as legacy formats).
Digital rights management
schemes that allow limited
access today may fail in ways
that allow no access tomorrow.
For designers these considerations may lead to uncomfortable practices. Refusing to
innovate in favor of traditional
practices and technologies;
sticking close to the file system
rather than adding a layer on
top; and avoiding the unique in
favor of the conventional as a
way to support future users and
avoid evolutionary dead ends all
go against the desire to improve
on past practice.
4. From personal to social data.
Archives sit at the boundary
between public and private data.
Data that was once private may,
through an archive, gradually be
made public. That presents new
opportunities and challenges
the digital environment.
One opportunity is in cataloging, which is expensive for both
institutions and individuals.
When the individual is overwhelmed with too much content
to name, tag, sort, and store, we
could always harness the crowd,
get the group to tag and organize. Crowdsourcing and services like Amazon’s Mechanical
Turk harness human intelligence to solve problems that
computers find hard—like
tagging and organizing and
storing. Archiving is a collaborative practice, and it is going to
become ever more so.
But this solution brings
up another issue we need to
keep in mind: Who becomes
responsible for the content created through a collaborative
enterprise, and how are ownership and responsibility for that
content conceived of by the
service providers? An article in
Wikipedia is distinct from the
contributors who created it, but
if a photo that has been collectively tagged in a photo-sharing
site like Flickr “belongs” to an
individual who subsequently
leaves Flickr, what happens to
the content? Many people are
crushed when the comments
they have made on blogs disappear because the blog “owner”
stopped maintaining the blog.
Relying on social approaches
to archiving may be a practical necessity, but open archives
must be built to withstand
and respond to a wide variety
of attacks, not only from individual malware authors, but
from political partisans, abusers
of copyright law, and even governments that wish to control
access to historical records.
The Society of American