The Bit List: how to preserve our digital future?

In our modern age, we are curators of an ever-growing digital expanse, yet the fragility of this intangible heritage is starkly evident. The Bit List 2023, a clarion call for the preservation of our digital culture and history, mirrors the esteemed International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List in both its form and urgent intent.

Orchestrated under the vigilant eye of the doctor in archaeology William Kilbride, Executive Director of the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC), this seminal report spotlights the vulnerabilities of digital preservation and insists on prompt, decisive action to coincide with Digital Preservation Day on the 2nd of November.

The Bit List: echoing IUCN’s clarity and conviction

Mirroring the IUCN’s definitive approach to biodiversity, The Bit List 2023, shaped by the contributions of revered institutions such as Yale University, various United Nations bodies, and myriad global organizations, brings to the forefront the pressing issues facing digital preservation. “Just as the IUCN Red List has become an indispensable resource in the fight to preserve our planet’s biological diversity, The Bit List aims to protect our digital diversity with the same rigour and intensity,” asserts Kilbride.

The document’s call to arms is underpinned by international cooperation, with input from a rich tapestry of cultures and expertise. Despite this broadened review process, the findings are unsettling. Since the 2021 report, the digital domain remains perilously unstable, with little headway in securing the vast array of digital content. Kilbride describes our era as one rife with “permacrisis,” marked by pandemics, conflict, and political unrest, further endangering the integrity of our digital data.

DPC Director
DPC Director

The DPC’s directives are comprehensive and robust: advocate for the rights of digital protests, reinforce the legal defences of digital cultural artefacts during wartime and push for digital preservation literacy across industries. The global digital preservation community is summoned not only to endorse The Bit List but to actively participate in its evolution and leverage it as a cornerstone to navigate and conquer technical impediments.

List expansion: a measure of escalating concern

With 87 entries, the 2023 Bit List sees a substantial increase from 2021’s 73. This expansion is not mere inflation; it reflects the growing complexities of the digital domain. The list’s dynamism is evident as classifications shift, signalling changing vulnerabilities and conservation successes. The reclassifications serve as a pulse check on our digital ecosystem’s health.

Notable shifts include the “Shut Down or Discontinued Video Games” moving to “Practically Extinct” and “Published Research Data Appended to Journal Articles” now listed as “Vulnerable,” a slight but significant improvement. Most alarming is the relabeling of “Unpublished Research Data” to “Critically Endangered.” Kilbride remarks, “The reclassifications in the Bit List serve as a barometer for our digital climate — fluctuating, unpredictable, and in need of immediate attention.”

Unwavering commitment amidst an evolving challenge

Despite adding new entries, The Bit List Council has made only incremental updates to its prior recommendations, signalling a disturbing disregard for their past warnings. This steadfastness from the Council highlights a distressing reality: the world has yet to take the necessary strides to secure the future of our digital landscape.

The creation of The Bit List is anything but casual. An exhaustive and inclusive review process forms its backbone, involving a coalition of preservationists and experts worldwide. The list’s assembly, drawing from the collective insights of over 50 DPC Member agencies, embodies a diverse spectrum of wisdom. This meticulous attention ensures that The Bit List serves as a true reflection of global expertise in digital preservation.

In response, the DPC’s action plan is explicit. Protect digital materials amid political upheaval, fortify legal frameworks to defend digital cultural heritage in wartime, facilitate the preservation of social media content, and invest in the fortification of digital preservation capabilities. These are not suggestions; they are mandates for preserving our digital heritage.

The Bit List 2023 is more than a directory of at-risk digital materials; it is a call to action, a strategic guide, and a declaration that the guardianship of our digital legacy is a shared global duty. As the digital realm evolves, The Bit List remains an essential guidepost, directing our preservation efforts and ensuring that our digital past endures for posterity.

“The Bit List,” Kilbride states, “is our collective commitment manifested, ensuring that the myriad bits and bytes that document our existence are not relegated to the footnotes of history.”

Gabriel Robert, a digital journalist passionate about innovation, start-ups, art and social media. With a keen eye for emerging trends and an insatiable curiosity, Gabriel brings a fresh perspective to the world of tech news and media. Whether exploring the latest advancements in AI and machine learning or uncovering the stories behind the world's most innovative textile start-up, Gabriel is always on the cutting edge of the industry. Follow along for a front-row seat to the latest developments in the ever-evolving tech landscape.