3bn of digital data lost in EU every year

News Web User May 20, 2010

Advances in technology are making €3bn worth of data obsolete every year in the EU, according to the European Commission's Planets project.

Sixteen European academic institutions are attempting to preserve digital assets that risk being lost as they were created with technologies now considered obsolete.

The European Commission's Planets (Preservation and Long-term Access through Networked Services) project, set up in 2006, is being co-ordinated by the British Library. Member institutions include the National Archives and universities in several European nations.

This week, a time capsule containing a record of current digital formats was placed inside Swiss Fort Knox - a high security digital storage facility hidden deep in the Swiss Alps.

Details of formats such as JPEG, HTML and PDF were included in the capsule, stored on media including CD, DVD, solid-state flash memory and even paper to preserve the 'Digital Genome'.

Adam Farquhar, head of Digital Library Technology at the British Library, said: "Anyone using a relatively modern PC who has ever gone back and tried to read material stored on a floppy disk will instantly recognise the frustration of trying to access obsolete formats. Yet the death of the floppy disk is just the tip of the iceberg.

"Even if you possess the necessary hardware to access a particular storage format and the files haven't become corrupt, without the supporting software and compatible operating systems, knowing what is on the disk, let alone reading the files in question will be impossible," he continued.

It is estimated that 100GB of digital data exists for every human being on Earth - more than you could store on a trillion compact discs.

Earlier this week, the British Library announced that it was to make a newspaper archive dating back 350 years freely available online.

Which obsolete file formats do you miss the most? Which current formats would you like to see become extinct? Have your say in the Comments section below.