Domesday, .doc and DRM

I’ve just listened to a radio programme about the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1065, discussing among other things, the economic conditions at the time. How did they know? The programme participants were using material from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (written between 876 and 1174) and the Domesday Book, commissioned in 1085). Give or take, they were referencing material written 1000 years ago.

To celebrate the 900th anniversary of the Domesday Book the BBC created a project based on the BBC microcomputer and a Phillips LVROM. Over a million people took part in a collaboration with Acorn, Philips and Logica. The programming language used was BCPL, picked originally for its machine independence but the actual implementation proved less portable

In 2002 the modern Domesday project was back in the news and the BBC somewhat sadly noted

    “The information gathered by the Domesday Project has been difficult to access for 16 years […] By contrast, the original Domesday Book, an inventory of England compiled in 1086 by Norman monks, is in fine condition in the Public Record Office in Kew, London.”

as part of an article about the CAMILEON project designed to restore the archive to its original condition.

Moving forward to 2011 the work has been completed and the BBC has put the entire project online and very nice it looks too. It took a lot of work to get this project live again as discussed here.

I doubt there is a more obvious example of the importance of open standards, interoperability and accessibility.

How’s it all going?

The UK government’s commitment to open standards issued in January 2011 lasted all the way to March 2011.

We’re not holding our breath on interoperability either.

Despite talking a good story in January 2011, it only took until May 2011 for the EU to walk in the usual direction. As one commentator noted:

    the “deal will have a huge knock-on effect, […] as other bodies and organizations seek to keep pace with the Commission’s technology practices”.

In 2007 we reported an example of the consequences of these “technology practices” when the OU issued the following guidance

    “It is important to note that mathematical notation created in Word 2007 will not be preserved if the document is subsequently opened or saved in a previous version of Word.”

and it’s not obvious that the situation will improve.

Of course when it comes to access you’d have thought RNIB would have a clue but as the BBC programme “In Touch” reported in 2009 and again in 2010 you’d have thought wrong. Of course the BBC acted similarly and wasn’t very keen on alternatives.

Despite the lessons of the Domesday Project, will digital information stored now be readable in 1000 years?

— Gerry Gavigan, Chair, 3 June 2011

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