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Content as a Digital Asset

Content must be archived and by not preserving it, we are destroying our digital heritage, reports Puneet Mehrotra.

india Updated: Nov 09, 2006 18:52 IST
Puneet Mehrotra
Puneet Mehrotra

"If past history was all there was to the game, the richest people would be librarians." ---Warren Buffett

Somehow there seem to be many followers of Buffett on the Internet who believe that maintaining their digital history or archiving it isn't important. Buffett maybe a billionaire but billionaires can be wrong, just as Buffett, a self admitted technophobe, has been wrong many a time especially on his technology predictions.

Information Assets

Content on a website maybe digital in nature but ultimately it is an asset. Sometimes it may not even be considered valuable in the present times but who knows what would happen in the years to come.

Would the Harrappan citizens ever imagined that we in the 21st century would be preserving broken pottery and decorating it in expensive museums.

Or if that is taking the matter too far then maybe you can find the value of a 1975 two paise coin. That's not even thirty years yet.

Yet when it comes to websites many webpreneurs and content managers don't seem to have any policy for preserving their Digital Assets. Some of the biggest newspapers and online editions don't have a policy of preserving archives.

Digital Heritage

Maintaining archives is equivalent to preserving your heritage, in this case your digital heritage. In the times to come digital heritage could probably be one of the selling points or even the USP.

Worldwide efforts are being made towards this. The Digital Preservation Coalition amongst others are working towards this. In 2002 DPC organized a meeting on "Web-archiving: Managing and Archiving Online Documents and Records".

According to DPC

"Web sites are an increasingly important part of this country's information and cultural heritage. As such, the question of their preservation through archiving becomes one which organizations need to be increasingly aware of."

This event, organized by Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC), brought together key organizations in the field of web archiving in order to assess the needs of organizations involved in the field to archive their and others' web sites, to find areas of agreement, to highlight good practice, and to influence the wider debate about digital preservation.

Challenges in Archiving - example

If the sheer scale of the amount to be archived presents a major challenge, it is one that the BBC, with a million pages on its web site, and each regularly being updated, faces as a matter of course. Cathy Smith of the BBC spoke about the huge logistical and legal problems that this can involve.

The BBC's Charter responsibilities mean that it must archive its content, while its message boards, live chat forums, etc. mean that Data Protection becomes a serious issue in this context too.

Multi-media content, often created through non-standard production processes, add further problems while proposals to extend the period within which the public can make formal complaints from one year to three years, has important consequences for the amount that will need to be archived.

Ms Smith talked of the need for archived material to be directly accessible to users as a way of avoiding the 'gatekeeper' culture of traditional archives, and once again emphasized the fact that an archive needs to recreate the look and feel of the original record since this was an important aspect of what it is that the BBC does.

Planning for Electronic Archiving

As Cathy Smith of BBC said "an archive needs to recreate the look and feel of the original record", the need for applications that enable such sequencing becomes important. On the user side there is a beautiful application called the Wayback Machine that archives data. The application is available on

Incidentally has to say this about themselves "Internet Archive is building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Like a paper library, we provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public". is performing an extremely noble task of maintaining the web world's digital heritage, but what about the webpreneurs who think maintaining archives is equivalent to piling rubbish? Maybe the points below may make them reconsider their decision.

1. Future selling point

Levis's proudly claims to be established in the mid 19th century, a leading Indian newspaper proudly claims to be a 150 year old newspaper. Maybe 10 years down the line USP could be "ten year archives available" or maybe you could even consider compiling it in a CD and selling it.


Consider the credibility archives will get for your business. Imagine the trust a 1,00,000 page archive develops.

3.Costs, what costs?

If you think server costs of storage are high then obviously you seem to be ill advised. Server costs are at an all time low and even otherwise how much space do text files take? An extra warehouse, extra personnel, extra material costs, extra maintenance costs - NONE of these are required.

4. Novelty value

Browsing through archives adds to the novelty value of a publication. I simply love to read old Headlines and how people reacted to them at that point of time. It is something so unique.

Content is a digital asset, it must be preserved and archived. Not preserving it tantamount to destroying our digital heritage. The benefits of archiving are many and costs are minimal. Its time to take a call and start archiving.

Puneet Mehrotra is a web strategist atwww.cyberzest.comand editswww.thebusinessedition.comyou can email him

First Published: Oct 25, 2006 22:16 IST