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Ethics Week 4: It’s 2020. Where is Your Work?

This week, I’ve been reading up on archival and maintenance systems, with a special eye to digital scholarship. How do we store and maintain things? How are systems designed to facilitate their own updates, and to keep their contents both safe and accessible?

What I’m talking about has a couple of different aspects attached to it, since there are a lot of different factors in data storage. Here are some quick questions to ask when it comes to archiving your work:

  • Who is the entity organizing this storage?
    Different entities store different data for different reasons and in different ways. Consider: Google Books, the Gould Library, JSTOR, the Internet Archives 
  • What types of information are being stored?
    Consider file formats, storage limits, and what types of information the storing body might prioritize (and why). 
  • When was this system created, and how is it being maintained?
    Digital systems require maintenance, just like physical ones. Old websites are hard to navigate; outdated software can cause security issues. 
  • Where is your information stored, and where is it accessible?
    Is your paper being paywalled? Can the people who need to find it, find it? And conversely, is the storing entity capable of secure storage? 
  • Why is this entity storing your information?
    Have they expressed a commitment to the long-term accessibility of knowledge? Do they have a profit motive (and, if they lose profits, will that commitment waver)? 
  • How is this entity demonstrating their commitment to preserving information?
    Are they transparent with their motives, their methods, and their means? Are they likely to waver in difficult times?

No system is perfect, but looking to an entity’s motives and methods can be particularly illuminating. Also worth investigating is how comparable companies that have shut down dealt with their records, whether they kept them after closing down, and whether those items are still accessible by their creators, or by the general public.

Vine, for example, hosted short videos which could be made through its phone app, but went defunct after struggling to find a way to consistently monetize its content. The site still has videos available to view and to download, but people can no longer post new videos, and I couldn’t find a source on whether creators can remove their old videos or control who can see them.

Moving forward, I’ll continue looking into how digital systems are maintained and what they might store; this will also tie into a side project I’m working on, where I will be researching the history of the internet.

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