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Nelson and Colleagues on Shortlist for International Digital Preservation Award

Michael Nelson

The unique Memento architecture that has been dubbed "time travel for the Web," and which has been developed by a team of researchers including Old Dominion University computer scientist Michael Nelson, is a finalist for this year's international Digital Preservation Award.

Five recent breakthroughs in Web technology were on the awards program shortlist announced Sept. 21 by the Institute for Conservation and Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC), which is based in London. The winner will be announced in December.

Nelson, an associate professor in ODU's Department of Computer Science, and Herbert Van de Sompel, a computer scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), lead the Memento research team. Other members are Lyudmila Balakireva, Robert Sanderson and Harihar Shankar of LANL and Scott Ainsworth, a graduate student at ODU. The project has been supported by the Library of Congress under the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program.

"Digital data is fragile so we have to think hard about what sort of digital legacy we want to leave behind," explained William Kilbride of the DPC in an announcement made simultaneously in London and Vienna. "Our generation has invested as never before in digital resources and we've done so because of the opportunity they bring. Pervasive, fluid and fragile, digital data is a defining feature of our age. But it will take a coordinated effort of research and training to ensure that our digital memory is available tomorrow."

Added Kevin Ashley, chair of the judging panel: "This is the fourth time we've invited nominations for the award. We were really impressed by all the nominations this year and had a very hard job cutting the long list down to five. A few years ago we used to worry that we'd face a 'digital dark age' as current formats and technology became obsolete. The quality and range of nominations underlines the growing confidence with which we can face the future and it also puts the spotlight on some very important work which is not celebrated perhaps as much as it should be."

In addition to Memento, this year's finalists include a major program of work to ensure continuity of government documents in the United Kingdom, a tool to help plan for digital preservation, a U.S. research project to help preserve computer games and an international study into the economics of the sustainable digital future.

"We're excited to be considered for the DPC award and honored to be in the company of the other impressive nominees," Nelson said. "We are very appreciative of the Library of Congress for recognizing Memento's importance and funding our research."

The ODU researcher said he and his colleagues believe what differentiates Memento from other preservation projects is that Memento is an amplifying technology - it helps to better integrate existing archives instead of the current situation where archives essentially compete against each other.

"Much like Amazon did with books and music, we're interested in exploring the 'long tail' of archives by providing a framework for inter-archive access. There are many small Web archives, but collectively their holdings can form a formidable resource. When combined with large, well-known archives like the Wayback Machine, we come close to having a history button for the Web," Nelson said.

Memento's approach is based on a straightforward extension of the widely used "HTTP" tool that results in a way to seamlessly navigate current versions of Web resources as well as prior versions that might be held by Web archives and or embedded within wikis. The user simply enters a Web address in the browser, sets the time slider to a desired date and sees the Web as it used to be.

The other shortlisted projects are "Web Continuity" from the National Archives in Kew, England; "PLATO 3: Preservation Planning Made Simple" from Vienna University of Technology; the work of the international Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access; and "Preserving Virtual Worlds" from the University of Illinois.

Judges will reconsider the shortlisted projects and interview project leaders before deciding on the winner, which will be announced Dec. 1 at an awards ceremony in London. Nelson said he and Van de Sompel expect to have a teleconference with the judges soon. The winner receives a monetary award of about $2,000 and a trophy.

The judges, in addition to Kilbride, who is the DPC executive director, and Ashley, who is director, Digital Curation Centre, Edinburgh University, are: Adrian Brown, assistant clerk of the record, Parliamentary Archives; Pip Laurenson, head of Time-based Media Conservation, Tate, U.K.; Zoe Lock, lead technologist for ICT, the Technology Strategy Board, U.K.; Eefke Smit, director for standards and technology, Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers Association, The Netherlands; Dave Thompson, digital curator, The Wellcome Library; Matthew Woollard, director designate, the U.K. Data Archive; and Richard Wright, senior research engineer, BBC.

More information about the award is at http://www.dpconline.org/advocacy/awards orhttp://www.conservationawards.org.uk/.

This article was posted on: September 21, 2010

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