Added on 4 November 2021

Today the DPC has released The BitList: the Global List of Digitally Endangered Species 2021.

The BitList offers an accessible snapshot of the concerns expressed by the global digital preservation community with respect to the risks faced by digital content. It is based on the practical experience of professionals with the responsibility to maintain access to content over time.  It is not a theoretical exercise, nor does it serve a political or commercial interest.

In an important development, ‘Adobe Flash Animations and Interactive Applets’ has joined the small set of digital materials designated the highest classification of Practically Extinct

Adobe Flash represents a significant amount of the creativity of websites in the early 2000s, including net-based art and cartoons.  It enabled the sophisticated interaction at low cost over the web but had a chequered history in terms of browser support and security. It was first added to the BitList in 2019 after Adobe’s announced it would withdraw support to Flash Animation. Support has since been withdrawn and so the panel has agreed to reclassify the entry as Practically Extinct.

‘This loss of support has been long signalled by Adobe and noticed by those in the digital preservation community, explained Dr Amy Currie of the Digital Preservation Coalition, ‘Flash was such an important element of the web in the early part of this century, and the removal of support complicates migration and emulation pathways, and it accelerates the erosion of problem-solving capacity to maintain content locked in Flash.’

‘It’s a case study of how popular and widely used formats and applications can fade, taking content with them.’

Flash joins a group of other Practically Extinct entries in this year’s list, which have been assigned this classification because they have become inaccessible by most practical means and methods and where immediate action is required to avoid loss. These include material where recovery is possible in very small samples but is impractical at scale.

Six other items have been identified at materially greater risk than in 2019, changing to a higher BitList classification, and twenty-nine entries have an identified trend towards greater risk. 

Two new items have been added to the 2021 BitList: ‘Virtual Reality Materials and Experiences’ has been added as a new Endangered entry, and ‘Smart Phone Gaming’ as Critically Endangered.

‘New items appear on the list because an established and experienced professional within the digital preservation community has struggled to preserve access to this content and has called for it to be included,’ explained William Kilbride of the DPC.   

‘The categories and classifications of content are broad so that the list can be digested quickly. It is a reference set against which any digital object can be compared.’

The urgency of action or risks faced are amplified by the presence of aggravating factors; and they are ameliorated in the presence of good practice. Entries also overlap. Any given digital object may appear under multiple headings depending on technology, resourcing or organizational context. These overlapping categories and classifications mean that some objects may be at greater risk than initially suggested and that actions to tackle the risks are potentially more complex. A condensed action plan is suggested for every entry on the list.

The BitList was first published in 2017 and since then has undergone a comprehensive review every two years with an interim progress report and commentary in alternate years. A major review of both newly nominated and existing BitList entries was conducted in 2021. As in previous iterations of The BitList, the 2021 review brought together the different backgrounds, knowledge and expertise of a panel of experts and practitioners within the digital preservation community. These members of The BitList 2021 Jury were critical for ensuring the robustness of the list. They gave their feedback as well as recommended names of potential experts and examples of case studies to add to the robustness of the revised list of digitally endangered species

The DPC, which manages and publishes The BitList, maintains ‘neutrality in respect to solutions, approaches, sectors and vendors.’ This position is embedded by constitution, value and practice and maintained scrupulously throughout the DPC’s operations. Thus, the recommendations and classifications have been assembled independently of the interests of vendors or solution providers.

While this year’s edition of The BitList is considerably more robust in content and process than before, the total number of entries is lower than in the previous edition—there are now seventy-three entries on the list compared with seventy-four in the previous year.  This is mostly the result of reframing and merging existing entries rather than a reduction in the scope of the list overall.

By its nature, The BitList is a provisional statement, published and reviewed with the understanding that new risks are arise every day and (inevitably) between editions. The extent of the digital domain, the complexity of the threats, and the sophistication of emerging solutions mean that no process could ever fully capture the risks and challenges faced by digital content around the world.

The Jury also recognizes that differences in emphasis and subtleties of local context may well have been overlooked, and that material changes may have occurred during the process of compilation, which should be taken into consideration for the next revision. We welcome corrections and suggestions on how the list could be improved, encourage you to act and share your own case studies or examples, invite you to participate in the global community which is developing good practice around digital preservation in the enhancement of the list for its next interim review scheduled for November 2022.

Go to the BitList of Digitally Endangered Species

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