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The Library of Congress > Digital Preservation > News Archive > Digital Genome Deposited in Swiss Fort Knox

May 27, 2010 --What would be the digital-age equivalent of the Rosetta Stone? (external link) The partners of the Planets project (external link) (Preservation and Long-term Access through Networked Services) have just taken their best guess.

Planets logoOn May 18, 2010, Planets deposited a time capsule (external link) deep in a data vault in southwestern Switzerland containing a digital "genome" from which they hope future generations will be able to reconstruct some types of digital file formats in use today, should the formats become obsolete in a number of years.

The "genome" is comprised of files in five different file formats, which were selected as being in frequent use today and also at a high risk of becoming obsolete in the near future: JPEG, Java source code, .MOV video, HTML and PDF. Files in the capsule are stored in their original formats as well as archival formats (such as PDF/A), with detailed, multi-lingual instructions for how to convert the files across a variety of computer platforms. The data are stored on a range of media types, including flash drives and printed paper, to maximize the chances that future generations will be able to interpret it.

Obsolescence is a serious problem for those who work with digital files, because digital formats are frequently proprietary in nature and very difficult to work with as technologies advance – just imagine all the information that was stored on floppy disks less than 20 years ago, which most computers today can no longer read.

The Planets project conducts research into the durability of digital formats, and aims to raise awareness that the historical record for the digital age is likely to succumb to data loss due to the lightning-fast progression of technological change.

See this Reuters video (external link) for coverage of the event and interviews with Planets representatives. The Planets website (external link) also mentions that an online version of the time capsule will be made available so that the public can experiment with the technology as well; libraries, archives and museums are encouraged to replicate the capsule for exhibition and demonstration purposes.