Friday, 19 December 2008

The 12 files of Christmas

(Well, half a dozen, maybe.) OK, it’s Christmas, or the Holiday Season if you really must, and I may have a present for you!

My readers will know that I have an interest in obsolete and obsolescent data and files. I’ve tried in the past to get people to tell me about their stuff that had become inaccessible, with only limited success. So, after our work Christmas lunch, with the warm glow of turkey and Christmas pudding still upon me, and a feeling of general goodwill, I thought I’d offer you an opportunity to give me a challenge.

I will do my best to recover the first half dozen interesting files that I’m told about… of course, what I really mean is that I’ll try and get the community to help recover the data. That’s you!

OK, I define interesting, and it won’t necessarily be clear in advance. The first one of a kind might be interesting, the second one would not. Data from some application common of its time may be more interesting than something hand-coded by you, for you. Data might be more interesting (to me) than text. Something quite simple locked onto strange obsolete media might be interesting, but then again it might be so intractable it stops being interesting. We may even pay someone to extract files from your media, if it’s sufficiently interesting (and if we can find someone equipped to do it).

The only reference for this sort of activity that I know of is (Ross & Gow, 1999, see below), commissioned by the Digital Archiving Working Group.

What about the small print? Well, this is a bit of fun with a learning outcome, but I can’t accept liability for what happens. You have to send me your data, of course, and you are going to have to accept the risk that it might all go wrong. If it’s your only copy, and you don’t (or can’t) take a copy, it might get lost or destroyed in the process. You’ll need to accept that risk; if you don't like it, don't send it. I might not be able to recover anything at all, for many reasons. I’ll send you back any data I can recover, but can’t guarantee to send back any media.

The point of this is to tell the stories of recovering data, so don’t send me anything if you don’t want the story told. I don’t mind keeping your identity private (in fact good practice says that’s the default, although I will ask you if you mind being identified). You can ask for your data to be kept private, but if possible I’d like the right to publish extracts of the data, to illustrate the story.

Don’t send me any data yet! (It’s like those adverts: send no money now!) Send me an email with a description of your data. I’m not including my email address here, but you can find it out easily enough. Include “12 files of Christmas” in your subject line. Tell me about your data: what kind of files, what sort of content, what application, what computer/operating system, what media, roughly what size. Tell me why it’s important to you (eg it’s your thesis or the data that support it, your first address book with long-lost relative’s address on it, etc). Tell me if (no, tell me that) you can grant me the rights to do what’s necessary (making copies or authorising others to make copies, making derivative works, etc).

Is that all? Oh, we need a closing date… that had better be twelfth night, so 11:59 pm GMT on 5 January, 2009 (according to Wikipedia)!

Any final caveats? Yes; I have not run this past any legal people yet, and they may tell me the risks of being sued are too great, or come up with a 12-page contract you wouldn’t want to sign. If that happens, I’ll come back here and ‘fess up.

Ross, S., & Gow, A. (1999). Digital Archaeology: Rescuing Neglected and Damaged Data Resources (Study report). London: University of Glasgow.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Hi,
    I'm juanjo from

    Is there any possibility on colaboration with this or another files?


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