Protecting Our Digital Heritage: Standards, Collaboration and Awareness

Posted by Oliver Bell 
Regional Standards Officer


Oliver Bell, Regional Standards Officer

For governments, the digital revolution presents some important challenges, including how best to ensure that their digital documents will be accessible and readable essentially forever, regardless of how technology evolves. This is a question I encounter often in my role as a Regional Standards Officer, working with various public agencies in Australia and New Zealand that have responsibility for archiving records and other documents.


Fortunately, the challenge of e-archiving has been addressed over the past decade or so through standards development and other collaborative efforts around the world. International standards offer guidance on how to capture documents and how to use metadata to ensure that they can be located and understood by future generations. Published specifications for the Open Document Format (ODF), Open XML and Portable Document Format (PDF) also ensure that documents in these formats will be readable long after the formats are obsolete.

That said, a lot more work is still to be done.


Although ODF, OpenXML and PDF account for the bulk of documents produced today, other formats need to be documented. Microsoft has put documentation for our Office binary formats, for example, into the hands of the British Library for reference by future generations. We encourage other vendors to take similar steps with their storage formats.

New standards are needed to ensure retention of at least some of the massive volume of data produced in social networking activities, such as the micro-blogging increasingly used by elected officials to interact with constituents. Broad collaboration on enhanced standards and processes would help clarify how much of this data needs to be retained, and how to store it.

Microsoft is committed to working with governments and all other interested parties to meet these challenges and preserve the history of this decade, and the next, and the next.


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