Most five year olds would be described as a child. However, YouTube has rapidly grown and developed in to a mature tool for change. Change?
It has changed ordinary individuals in to stars, granting them their Warhol fifteen minutes of fame. It has changed advertising, introducing us to viral marketing. It has changed broadcasting, allowing any of us to set up our own YouTube ‘channel’. For a visual medium, it has also changed music.
Famously it has changed the way we communicate, in one well-publicised case – how we complain. David Carroll, a Canadian musician travelled with United Airlines and during the journey his guitar was broken. Receiving little in the way of an apology, let alone compensation, he decided to compose a song about his trials and tribulations, and post it on YouTube. The result? The share price took a dive and £117m ($180m) was wiped off their value. Click on the link in the bottom right of this page to watch Dave Carroll.
The first video was uploaded on to the internet at 8.27pm on Saturday 23 April 2005 and lasted just 19 seconds. Now, in the two months more video is uploaded to YouTube than if all the major US broadcasters had been broadcasting 24hrs a day, 365 days a week, since 1948. It is the third most visited website in the world, (after Google and Facebook). We were slow to discover it in the UK. The first mention of You Tube in the British press was in November 2005. That month, shortly before YouTube was boosted for the first time by investment from a venture-capitalist, the site showed 2m videos a day. Two months later, it broadcast 25m. Today it is well over 1bn.
The three founders, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim saw a handsome return on their investment when Google bought YouTube in a deal worth US$1.65bn in October 2006 – just sixteen months after the first video was uploaded. The most popular videos have been watched in excess of 180 million times, achieving a penetration not achieved by other media. YouTube already provides HD video and 3D. I wonder if the founders thought that the original 19sec film about elephants at San Diego Zoo was the start of a revolution?
About a month ago I wrote how much of our digital records were being lost to history, http://tinyurl.com/y4xlasv. For that reason I was very pleased to read that Twitter are donating their digital archive of public tweets to the Library of Congress.
This archive is not an insignificant amount of data. It is suggested that some 50 million tweets are sent every day, from people around the world. Twitter are going to donate all public tweets since Twitter started in 2006, to the present. This will be several billion tweets. They include the first ever tweet, from the company’s co-founder and the tweet posted by President Obama about winning the election. This move is very much in line with the Library’s record of gathering the accounts of ordinary individuals throughout their history.
The Library has been collecting materials from the web since it began harvesting congressional and presidential campaign websites in 2000. Today the Library holds more than 167 terabytes of web-based information, including legal blogs, websites of candidates for national office and websites of Members of Congress. In addition, the Library leads the congressionally mandated National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program http://www.digitalpreservation.gov, which is pursuing a national strategy to collect, preserve and make available significant digital content, especially information that is created in digital form only, for current and future generations.
They are to be applauded for their efforts, and lets hope that other national libraries are doing the same, or much of our history stored in digital format will be lost forever.
We can read written materials from thousands of years ago. Their physical nature and careful preservation means they will be available to generations to come.
The rate at which digital technology is moving means that formats are created and either abandoned or superseded at an alarming rate. Without careful, and expensive digital preservation, we are in danger of entering a “digital dark age”. Digital preservation is required for analogue materials which have been digitised and materials that were created, or “born”, in digital format.
Our heritage has been presented on many different materials, including stone, vellum, bamboo, silk, paper etc. However, huge amounts of contemporary information exists in digital forms, including emails, blogs, social networking websites, web photo albums, and sites which change their content over time. Ironically, old media such as paper is far more persistent than CD or DVD. The former will last six decades before showing any signs of deterioration, whilst the life expectancy of optical discs (even if stored correctly) can be as little as twenty years. A greater problem comes when such materials only exist somewhere out there in the digital cloud.
The challenge comes in storing such materials in a way that allows us to easily find them again, and in a form which can still be read in the future. The former can be achieved by the use of meta tags. One system which has been suggested is METS ( Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard). METS uses XML to describe the hierarchical structure of digital library objects, the names and locations of the files which constitute the objects and the associated metadata. We also have the Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System (OAIS) and the reference model (ISO 14721:2003).
The last significant threat is that of the obsolescence of the equipment required for the retrieval and playback of digital media. When a software or decoding technology is abandoned, or a hardware device is no longer in production, records created under the environment of such technologies are at great risk of loss, simply because they are not tangible any more. Those of us of a certain age will remember the pioneering Doomsday Project by the BBC in 1986. It created a digital version of the Doomsday Book (an 11th Century census of England), stored on laserdiscs in the LaserVision Read Only Memory (LV-ROM) format, read by a Philips VP415 “Domesday Player” and an Acorn BBC Master computer. The project represented the contributions of one million people. Even at the time the UK’s National Data Archive were informed that the technology used was short lived, but they failed to preserve the material effectively.
A famous example is with NASA, whose early space records were suffering from a “Digital Dark Age” challenge. For over a decade, magnetic tapes from the 1976 Viking landings on Mars were unprocessed. When later analyzed, the data were unreadable as they were in an unknown format and the original programmers had either died or left NASA. The images were eventually extracted through many months of puzzling through the data and examining how the recording machines functioned.
In essence, if you want media to still be there in a thousand years from now, you can not rely on electronics to achieve it for you.