Thursday, 5 July 2012

Jason Scott and the Archive Team

If you haven't heard of the archive team I suggest you look them up and even become an archiving activist or even hero!

I had heard of the archive team before and like many, I believed that this rogue group are like over "energetic hackers" with an agenda to preserve the lives of people that companies destroy.

This is an agenda I fully support but had not been inspired to take part until recently when I had the absolute pleasure of listening to a keynote speech by Jason Scott, one of the founding members of the archive team. Jason sums up himself as an "energetic hacker" and he is a man who shares many of my beliefs which I sum up in this post.

1) Publishing is moving too fast for archives to keep up.

Jason compares archiving peoples lives on the web in systems like geocities, MobileMe and others like trying to catch fireflies. They fly up and while you have time to say "How Pretty", you have no time to realise what the firefly does and its value to the community.

Once you do realise the value, they are already gone.

This is true of nature, buildings and even people themselves! In many cases there is nothing we can do, but what about digital information?

Cathy Marshall presents a survey carried out at the Library of Congress of digital lives with some children and one quote stuck out:

"Why don't we just save facebook as this is our diary, yearbook, guinness book of records..."

This is absolutely something that can be done, and something that the archive team are doing...great... but why aren't others?

One word... Policy

2) Just get on with it, ask for forgiveness later.

It is much easy to ask for forgiveness that it is to reconstruct a building that has been knocked down. Once it is gone, nothing can be done. Something that has been saved, can still be removed...

Jason and archive team apply this policy, archiving whole websites and peoples public content, indexing it and making it available on torrent sites. And this has saved a lot of peoples content from the trash can.

Again, POLICY is a blocker to people just doing this, the other blocker is the belief that people will not want you to archive and share their data... let's address that...

3) People know what they want, so ask them!

Question for you to consider: Should your medical record be shared?

What if it was shared with researchers worldwide so that a cure might be found quicker?

What if your medical record became the top hit for your name of google?

It is this last point that seems to be key to most people, many people don't mind historical information being made available, however they just don't want such information to be any more prominent that it was.

Finally the hardest thing to archive is to allow the user to still be in control of their data and allow it to be deleted if they want it too. A big problem with all of these systems is that companies and archives assume ownership of peoples data, it is not their data, it belongs to the curators of the data and control should remain with those people.

If you lend a dinner set to a friend or neighbour for a big party they are planning, you expect to be able to get it back, not for them to take control of it and then throw it away instead of give it back to you.


It is time that policy was changed. It definitely should not get in the way of progress!