Over recent years significant progress has been made in understanding the issues involved in preserving complex materials and environments. Recent work undertaken in the Planets and KEEP projects has shown that the problems involved in preserving materials and environments, while substantial, are by no means intractable.
In order to continue to make progress it is important to engage and energise the wider DP community. An important aspect of this involves articulating the state of the art by synthesising the research results so far achieved in a number of independent projects, and clearly signposting areas where work remains to be done.
These were the principal objectives which POCOS addressed. It is essential to note that the nature of complex digital objects is such that there are multiple layers of difficulty encountered when attempting to analyse them. These layers could be superficially likened to Cantor’s “levels of infinity” in terms of mapping out the size of the problem space, and this needs careful treatment in the analysis of the topic as well as in the symposia.
The first “level of infinity” is that of detail:
- the problem of drilling down through many layers of technical elements, showing levels of interconnectedness both within digital objects themselves, and also with their technical environments. Such an analysis proved an almost insurmountable challenge in the video games field until the KEEP project, carrying out the first broad, systematic, in-depth study of its kind, researched how video games should be run under emulation. KEEP disseminated their findings via an IGDA white paper on Games Preservation in collaboration with partners at Stanford University. Similar advances have been made in a Planets project report where running interactive digital art under emulation was examined in depth and scientific experiments conducted within the Planets Testbed environment. Analysing and mapping such a great level of detail is not just confined to emulation. The migration community has responded to the task of recording each aspect of a digital object by developing ontologies of significant properties, and the Planets project played an important role in both conducting and disseminating this research.
However, significant properties under migration encompasses not only the “level of infinity” concerning detail, but also another one to do with scale:
- Emulation in practice necessitates mapping out the necessary hardware, software, middleware etc. that makes up the technical environment of each digital object. The characterisation work in Planets, and technical environment modelling activity in KEEP represent the state of the art in this problem space and have provided a firm foundation from which to develop the area.
One new area of research introduced by POCOS was that of Computer History – involving a community that has not been widely engaged in digital preservation / emulation and can contribute much to this project. Also, modelling large complex data has been successfully tackled by computer scientists working in the business community using data warehousing, but this knowledge has been slow to transfer to other domains. The POCOS consortium included members belonging to both the computer history and the data warehousing fields, who brought clarity and relevance to the debate resulting from years of synthesising, extending and applying the results of research springing from cross-fertilisation between these domains. This formed the basis for undertaking the main project objectives: Identifying the relevant national and international initiatives, plus the main protagonists in the area.