Managing the catastrophic loss of information and knowledge


The amount of information already out there is mind-boggling. Equally so is the amount each of us generate through emails, photos and multimedia content generation. All this means, according to an IDC report (The Diverse and Exploding Digital Universe), that in 2007 for the first time, “the amount of information created, captured, or replicated exceeded available storage for the first time in 2007. Not all information created and transmitted gets stored, but by 2011, almost half of the digital universe will not have a permanent home”.

That’s frightening and raises a number of questions.

  • What will biographers, researchers, social scientists and others do in the future when much, if not all of the communications of their subjects may be rendered inaccessible by a single data centre outage, or lost to even the subjects themselves by failing to backup data?
  • With bigger hard drives comes the risk of more information loss. This century may create more information than all others before it, but it will also lose more information. What are the technologies that can be used for cheap, reliable, easy to use local data storage that can create mini data centres for communities of users unable to afford comprehensive backup solutions of their own? Is there a case here for e-gov initiatives that actually promote backup solutions amongst citizens (I know of none to date).
  • What are the data standards that can be used to store information produced today by the machines that will replace PCs and mobiles phones 25 years hence?
  • Social networking sites are information black-holes as well as rich in personal information. If a site goes out of business, so does the information. How can we prevent this?
  • For organisations such as the UN and even large NGOs (as well as corporations) information management in an age where there is more produced than can be stored is a nightmare. The organisations I work with can’t even find what they are producing today, leave aside searching for and accessing information produced a few years ago. How can institutional memory survive in a context of inevitable information loss?
  • How does one harvest knowledge from all this information, much of it useless for the purposes and processes we want to be informed by?
  • Old news is good news. What’s news to me is not just the latest RSS feed from BBC, but also resources that are pertinent to my life and work that may have been produced years ago. Buried in intranets or behind subscription walls or deep in social networks and websites, what are the technologies that will help locate and deliver these in a timely, easily and intuitively configurable and sustained manner across a range of media and devices?

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