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Assessing the Durability of Formats in a Digital Preservation Environment (09 Nov 2004)
Imagine, for a moment, how difficult it was for people to communicate before the meter and the yard were invented. Two people looking at the same mountain could have two very different opinions on how far the mountain was. Moreover, they could not communicate that knowledge to a third person not present at the scene since they had none of the words necessary to encode that information. Once the English system and the metric system were invented and conversions between the two were established, people across the world could receive the raw measurement between point A and point B and use that information to make individual decisions based on personal preferences.

Similarly, digital preservation is in a dire need of measurement and communication tools, including the aspect of digital preservation discussed in this article: measuring preservation durability of digital formats. People in charge of preserving our national heritage or public records must make decisions today that will have impacts well into the future. It is cheaper and safer to analyze and compare potential actions before actions are actually taken, and making a poor preservation decision today can lead to content loss or the need to engage in expensive salvaging efforts later. Yet, up till now there have been no objective means to identify which digital format is most apt to sustain the passage of time. There has been no way to compare two format specifications. There has been no scale to measure format specifications' preservation durability. Finally, there have been no metrics to communicate the measurements to a wide audience, recognizing differences in awareness, expertise, language and interests.
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