William Kilbride

William Kilbride

Last updated on 3 November 2022

The annual review of The Bitlist, the Global List of Digitally Endangered Species, has been a fixed point for World Digital Preservation Day since its inception.  This year's revisions are the work of a small task force and have been compiled and edited by Dr Amy Currie, general editor of the list.  The following excerpt, the Director's Introduction highlights the major trends and offers a call to action.  The full list can be found here: http://doi.org/10.7207/dpcbitlist-22 


The BitList 2022 is the third interim review of the list since its initial publication in 2017. It builds on the work of previous BitList juries, and in particular the comprehensive review in 2021.

BitList History

The BitList 2022 offers a brief update and reflection on the state of the art since the last year. The list was assessed by a Taskforce on behalf of the DPC’s Advocacy and Community Engagement Sub-Committee which guides DPC’s advocacy work on behalf of the DPC’s global membership.  The Taskforce were briefed to identify and comment on trends towards increased or reduced risk against every entry on the list as published in 2021. There are no new entries to the list nor has the Taskforce substantially changed, rescoped or restructured entries in the 2021 BitList.

The outcome of the review has been to identify thirteen cases where trends associated with entries have changed since 2021.  This introduction summarizes those trends.  There are eight cases where entries are now trending towards significantly greater risk and five cases where trends towards reduced risk have accelerated.  This reflects how the state of the art in digital preservation has advanced over the last year and the external conditions which aggravate or ameliorate risk. These external forces are especially important in 2022 as the state of the art has also been disrupted – has much else – by the Coronavirus Pandemic. Significant other external aggravating factors include Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the political instability in Iran which are ongoing at the time of publication.  2022 has been a period of significant economic turmoil with rapid rises in inflation and interest rates around the world, as well as instability in currency and trade.  Ongoing ecological and environmental challenges continue to amplify the risks faced by digital resources.

Increasing Risk Trends

The Taskforce identified the following eight items on the list now trending to even greater risk (where trends towards increased risk have accelerated):

  • ‘Completed Investigations based on Open Source Intelligence Sources’

  • ‘Consumer Social Media Free at the Point of Use’

  • ‘Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming Platforms and Experiences’

  • ‘Open Source Intelligence Sources of Current Conflicts’

  • ‘Politically Sensitive Data’

  • ‘Records of Local Government’

  • ‘Records of Non-Governmental Agencies’

  • ‘Records of Quasi Non-Governmental Agencies’

With the exception of multiplayer gaming, these trends respond to external factors rather than inherent changes within technology. 

For example, political instability heightens the significance, the volume and the risks associated with social media protest and politically sensitive data.  Instability in public policy and economic uncertainty creates risks for a range of government and quasi-non-governmental entities, while armed conflict creates means open-source intelligence source become more important.

The clearest example of this in 2022 has been Iran.  Digital art and social media activism have burgeoned in response to gendered violence and acts of political repression in the latter half of the year.  The digital output has been prodigious, and much of it is released anonymously due to security concerns. However, preservation infrastructures inside the country, such as national libraries and collecting archives within universities are themselves the locus of protest therefore unlikely, unable or unwilling to preserve content that is explicitly and radically critical of the regime. The risk of loss here is palpable, not just because this content reflects a critical historical moment, but also because it forms a counternarrative to what is more easily by the regime – it is collective memory in the making. There are relatively few institutions in the world with the curatorial competence to address the preservation challenges of social media, when these are deeply entangled with geopolitical interests. It is too early to know the outcome of the current upheaval, but it seems certain that historically important, technically fragile, politically motivated materials will already have been lost. 

Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February 2022 has a similar effect, though in this case a range of government and independent actors have reacted to secure digital archives and digital cultural heritage. However, this attack has a longer-term if slower and more complete chilling effect on the BitList. There are significant deposits of rare-earth elements and ores in the geology of Eastern Ukraine including those areas now occupied and close to the front line.  It has been claimed that control over these resources, which are essential in the manufacture of electronics, are in part responsible for the war.  Prolonged conflict over the raw materials like this will have a long and destabilising effect on every aspect of computing.

Experience in Ukraine has also demonstrated that there is ‘no blue shield on the electronic battlefield’.  While, in principle, tangible cultural heritage can be designated for protection at time of conflict, there is no such treaty obligation for the protection of digital cultural heritage.  Populations become inured to the prevalence of misinformation and disinformation.  

Related to this are the instabilities and opacities of the social media industries and cloud service providers on which much of our digital infrastructure depends. Toxic political rhetoric and hate speech exist in profusion online but their origins are often purposefully occluded, sitting on relatively obscure platforms like Parler or 4Chan and the content is beyond the pale of most collecting institutions in any case.  From a preservation perspective, this makes it hard to track the origins and trends of misinformation and disinformation. 

In parallel, the recent sale of Twitter has created a moment of instability in social media.  Such instability has been reported frequently in the BitList, but the scale of Twitter, evident acrimony between parties prior to the sale and the hostile news coverage afterwards elevates significantly the risks associated with social media in 2022.

Reducing Risk and Material Improvement

The Taskforce identified the following five items on the list trending towards material improvement (where trends towards reduced risk have accelerated):

  • ‘Research Data Published through Repositories’ 

  • ‘Email’ 

  • ‘Published Research Data Appended to Journal Articles’ 

  • ‘Semi-Published Research Data’ 

  • ‘Unpublished Research Data’ 

In contrast, trends towards reduced risk have occurred because of active intervention by the digital preservation community, partly the outcomes of ongoing policy development for research data management, and partly because of continuing refinement and dissemination of core preservation technologies. 

For example the European Open Science Cloud has successfully completed a transition to a new foundation and is making progress with explicit expectations to improve reproducibility; while the ARCHIVER project has completed with the provision of new and enhanced services for the preservation of massive data sets.  These are hopeful signs, moving beyond a promise of action towards improved service provision. 

Similarly a range of initiatives have improved the prospect of email preservation. A program of work funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation in late 2019 has resulted in a two phases of research and development under the heading ‘Email Archiving Building Capacity and Community’ that have now delivered important additions to the email preservation challenge.

These are the only examples where the Task Force was satisfied that material risks identified in 2021 were being actively addressed with practical outcomes.  They also noted the wide range of digital preservation projects and initiatives which address risks.  Especially welcome has been the news that BFI will shortly take responsibility for the preservation of key titles from Netflix.  This represents a commitment to act on a previous recommendation.  It is not yet a ‘material improvement’ but holds significant promise, especially if other service providers follow suit.

The Taskforce also noted evidence that the digital preservation community has continued to grow in size and diversity meaning capability and awareness. DPC membership is a simple but effective barometer of both, having reached the milestone of 137 members in October including our first members in Latin America.  This is welcome: as the risks are increasing, so is the latent capability for preservation and collaboration among practitioners.

The message from the BitList in 2021 remains true therefore: that digital preservation is challenging but tractable, provided resources and capacity are made available.  By drawing attention to these risks the DPC, on behalf of our members and the global digital preservation community explicitly call on governments and agencies of all kinds to note and respond to the subtle and emerging trends that endanger the digital estate. 

Taking into account all of the above, The BitList 2022 is not a paper exercise: it is a call to action. Explicitly therefore, the DPC calls on our members, partners and colleagues globally to take four steps in response:

  • Take steps to enable the preservation of digital materials emerging as a form of protest in the context of political upheaval, and in the case of Iran, to do so urgently.

  • To address the gaps treaty provision that would enable the preservation of digital cultural heritage at a time of conflict, such as envisaged in the 1954 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

  • To remove and reduce barriers to the preservation of social media, enabling reasonable preservation actions by trusted and legitimate actors.

  • Continue and expand the research and provision of digital preservation capability.


#1 PlusNaija 2023-05-10 07:53
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