Preservation and Innovation

In a recent comment on this blog Kevin Ashley makes the point that having an interest in the preservation of Web resources doesn’t mean that one is anti-innovation. As Kevin points out “I see a distinction being made between preserving an experience and preserving the information which the experience makes available. Both are valid preservation approaches and both achieve different ends.

There’s a real difficulty, though, in applying either of these preservation approaches in a environment of rapid technological development. And within higher education we are likely to see examples of such innovation, whether this is scientific researchers involved in new ways of visualisating scientific data or teaching staff who wish to ensure students gain experiences in use of Social Web technologies.

How are such tensions to be addressed? Should, for example, use of immersive environments such as Second Life be banned until preservation techniques have been developed which will ensure that such complex environments can be preserved? Such a draconian approach is alien to the educational sector’s IT development culture (although such approaches are taken in other areas such as biological and medical research). And as I’ve described in a post on “Is Second Life Accessible?” innovative technologies such as Second Life can bring substantuial benefits to the user community – in this case a user with cerebral palsy who feels that Second Life provides a really useful tool for people who are unable to get around, who have problems of mobility in real life “because you can have friends without having to go out and physically find them“.

The tensions between preservation and innovation perhaps reflect similar tensions between accessibility and innovation, with differing opinions being held by the various interested parties. In the case of Second Life (where we are seeing virtual worlds being continually assembled, developed and then redeveloped) there does seem to be an awareness of the need to preserve such virtual worlds, with the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities having received funding from the Library of Congress’s National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) for a two-year project on Preserving Virtual Worlds. And yet the $590,000 funding for this project, which will not, of course, guarantee that a solution to the problem with be available at the end of the funding, indicates that the preservation of immersive worlds will not be an easy undertaking.

Returning to Kevin’s comment that there is a “distinction [to be] made between preserving an experience and preserving the information which the experience makes available. Both are valid preservation approaches and both achieve different ends. perhaps it is important to focus on these distinctions when we are seeking to preserve our innovative services. Might the video clip of the Second Life experience be the appropriate solution for the pioneers of this technology until the research programmes have devised ways of preserving the much richer and resuable environment? And might not this be an approach which can also be taken for our innovative Web services?

1 thought on “Preservation and Innovation

  1. Richard M. Davis

    Hi Brian

    I wonder if anyone really has suggested innovative developments be “banned” until their preservation implications are fully understood? As we know, the Web alone would be a plain and sorry place now if that were the case.

    What is consistently overlooked in many discussions about preservation is the fact that it is – has to be – selective. Appraisal of what things ought to be preserved – informed but ultimately subjective – is essential to make any collection meaningful or useful, and for deciding how best to go about it.

    In the SL case, we clearly can’t preserve every object, great or small, or every second of every user’s activity there, or every possible path, etc. – any more than we can in this world. Decisions need to be taken about what things in SL – from continents to conferences to individual users’ adornments – are worth recording, and why. That should help us decide how to do it, and, in turn, which DP approach best suits their preservation.

    Like you say in your last para, we need to remind/help innovators to engage with all sorts of preservation possibilities, else they may regret themselves the loss of evidence of their work in 10 years time. And feasibility is a totally reasonable consideration when deciding what to do: keeping something, somehow, is better than nothing, as you and Ed have mentioned elsewhere.

    But I’m also inclined to think also that, by the time an innovation is being rolled out and embedded across large institutions, it will be more mature and understood than globally novel, and at a phase where responsible institutional proponents should be ready to engage with preservation issues and include it in their planning.

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