Reduce, reuse, recycle

Posted on 07/11/2019 by Peter Tessel

Today we celebrate World Digital Preservation Day (WDPD) together with the Dutch digital heritage community. The central event today 'The Big Picture of sustainable access' is organised by Het Nieuwe Instituut and Stadsarchief Rotterdam in the context of the Dutch Digital Heritage Network, the network of heritage institutions that jointly develops a system of facilities and services for improving the visibility, usability and sustainability of digital heritage.

When I think of sustainability in the offline world I think of the 3R's for the environment: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. I especially like it when I can put the 3R's to smart and creative use: reduce the number of cars in the street by sharing cars, reuse the bikes of my growing daughters by trading them via, the Dutch subsidiary of eBay, recycle wooden beams and boards while redecorating my house.

However today we would like to use the opportunity to share some thoughts on sustainability in the online world with a few examples of our digital heritage clients. Last year Sound and Vision launched the Games Canon, a collection that tells the history of Dutch Computer Games from 'Nijmeegs Avontuur' (1980) to 'Horizon Zero Dawn' (2017). It illustrates the economic, cultural and technological influence games have on Dutch society. The Games Canon very clearly shows the challenges involved in digital preservation: game consoles of the eighties break down, spare parts are no longer available and storage media (cassette tapes!) expire.

While the preservation of computer games is exceptionally complicated, similar challenges arise with the preservation and management of other types of data. Like old computer games can only be played on specific consoles, currently lots of data is accessible only by specific applications. In jargon: data is stored in silos and isolated from the outside world. However data can be stored in a more useful and sustainable way. By assigning identifiers to data that are universally unique, data on the same entities and concepts contained in different silos can be linked together, and becomes Linked Data.

A good example of the usefulness of Linked Data is a project we did with Sound and Vision where together we linked the person names mentioned in the collection to Wikipedia. The Sound and Vision metadata mainly describes the features of television and radio broadcasts: its genre, broadcast date, length etc. The content of these broadcasts is described to a lesser extent: for example the names of people appearing on a show might be available but not their birthdate, occupation or biography. By linking to (possible) Wikipedia-data on a person, Wikipedia information can be reused with broadcasts and vice versa. By sharing data this way both datasets are enriched at a low cost.

Another advantage of Linked Data is that multiple projects can use the same repository. In contrast to other ways of storing data this is relatively easy, because Linked Data does not have a fixed database schema geared to a specific application. A case in point is the Dutch Network War Collections which aims to make the approximately 450 Dutch collections on WWII accessible and searchable as one. The linked collections are presented as a whole on the collections-portal, but using the same Linked Data other sites are powered too.

To us these examples clearly illustrate that storing and reusing Linked Data is the most sustainable way to manage data either within organizations or on the web. It enables organizations to enrich their data with other available sources and to quickly initiate new projects based on their existing repository. We applaud every initiative to store and reuse Linked Data today and any day of the year and see it as a smart and creative application of the 3R's. Feel free to contact us on how we can help you with reducing development time by reusing and recycling Linked Data.

Happy WDPD!