Are we losing our digital memory?

Posted on: October 9, 2012 by Paul Moore Olmstead

As digital media, especially social media such as Twitter, become an integral part of historical events, are we risking the loss of an important part of our historical memory?

A recent academic study ( showed that a significant proportion of the digital information - Facebook entries and tweets but especially websites that they link to – is disappearing at an alarming rate. This study focused on the Arab Spring and found that 11% of all sites linked to about the uprising had disappeared completely after 1 year and that another 20% had been archived. And after 2 and a half years the figures were 30 and 41% respectively!

There are ways to access historical tweets but for the most part they are not easy to use and usally cost money - but that still doesn’t resolve the problem of the missing links. At the same time initiatives such as Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archive project ( keep copies of many websites but it is it is very incomplete and in any case linking the 2 sources is difficult.

Long term digital preservation has been recognised as a serious problem for a long term now but usually there we are talking about time scales of decades. But with the massive uptake of social media and their increasingly important role in public events the timescale is of months or at most a few years! This is a problem for future (and present) historians but it is also a problem that can have political and legal implications.

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About Paul Moore Olmstead
Director of Strategic Business Development for Global Media, Atos and member of the Scientific Community
Paul Moore Olmstead has been working in the area of innovation in the media market for over 15 years. He is based in London, UK and has dual Canadian/Spanish citizenship and degrees in Economics from the University of Toronto and Computer Business Systems at Ryerson University. Previously he spent many years on the BBC Account for Atos where he was responsible for Innovation and Sustainability and before that was the head of Media in Atos Research & Innovation. With over 25 years experience in IT, Paul has worked in wide variety of areas, including public procurement, accounting, mobility, Smart Cities, analytics and media. Paul has worked in such areas as video streaming, 3D, digital preservation, social media, video analytics and recommender systems. He has been collaborating as an external expert for the European Commission for over 10 years and has been a member of the Atos Scientific Community since 2011 where he leads research in the Media area. As well, Paul is responsible for the Media Industry in the Atos Expert Community.

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