Thursday Threads: Digital Legacies, Zettabytes of Information, Digital Books, Alternate Network Architectures

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Mind-expanding topics this week. The threads start with a potentially morbid, but definitely intriguing, topic: what is to become of our personal digital legacies? If that isn’t enough to blow your mind, the next topic is an accounting of the amount of information processed in 2008. Still hanging in there? Then think about what could become of the book if we take advantage of its digital nature. You might not have much room to think big thoughts after those threads, but if you do the last one explores what could become of how our machines talk to each other.

My apologies for missing last week’s DLTJ Thursday Threads. I compose these entries on Wednesday evening and last week I snuggled with one of the children as he went to bed and I didn’t get back up again. That’s 31 straight weeks of Thursday Threads without interruption; not bad for an experiment many months ago. I haven’t mentioned this recently, so let me say it now: thank you for all of the positive feedback and for your interest in this series. It has been fun and useful to me to look back on the highlights of the week and put them in some context, and judging by the rising subscription count some readers find it useful too.

Feel free to send this to others you think might be interested in the topics. If you find these threads interesting and useful, you might want to add the Thursday Threads RSS Feed to your feed reader or subscribe to e-mail delivery using the form to the right. If you would like a more raw and immediate version of these types of stories, watch my FriendFeed stream (or subscribe to its feed in your feed reader). Comments and tips, as always, are welcome.

Personal Digital Legacies

Here it is. I’m dead, and this is my last post to my blog. In advance, I asked that once my body finally shut down from the punishments of my cancer, then my family and friends publish this prepared message I wrote—the first part of the process of turning this from an active website to an archive.

- The last post, Penmachine, Derek K. Miller

Ed Summers pointed to this blog post in a tweet in which Ed also said: “apart from being incredibly moving [this post] makes me wonder (again) what archiving services exist for depositing online work.” Also earlier this week was an article forwarded to me from Ron Murray in New Scientist with the title Digital legacy: Respecting the digital dead. The article covers the efforts of the British Library in working with personal digital archives, offering an overview of the techniques that border on the field of digital forensics to preserve the digital legacies of donated personal archives. And those two item follow a book I recently read called Your Digital Afterlife by Evan Carroll and John Romano (which itself I found by way of an NPR news story).

It has me wondering and considering (if not yet acting on) my digital legacy. Some of it is highly personal, like letting my spouse know how to access all of the digital bill paying sites that I use for the family’s finances. Other parts are fairly public, like what to do with this blog and my social media accounts. And it all brings me back around to Ed’s thought: is there a role for libraries in this space? Is some of what is represented in personal digital legacies the kind of highly-local content that libraries should be preserving? Or, put another way, how would our profession respond to the preservation desires of a patron who has used the Google tools shown in this 90 second video from Google (via the Google Operating System blog, Unofficial news and tips about Google).

Accounting of Information Processed

Comparisons of Digital Capacity Measurements

Three years ago, the world’s 27 million business servers processed 9.57 zettabytes, or 9,570,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes of information.

Researchers at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies and the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego, estimate that the total is equivalent to a 5.6-billion-mile-high stack of books stretching from Earth to Neptune and back to Earth, repeated about 20 times.

- World’s servers process 9.57ZB of data a year, by Lucas Mearian, NetworkWorld

Those numbers come from a news release of a report from the University of California at San Diego that measures the amount of information swirling around the world’s computers. And it includes this handy table of comparisons of digital capacity measurements that attempts to put it into perspective. (Although trying to imaging the number of home computer hard drives in the state of Minnesota still boggles the mind.) I also find it to be a nice reality check. After all, my field’s contribution to that number can’t be too big, can it? So our problems really aren’t that big at all…

The Digital Book

Presentation by Mike Matas at TED (4 minutes)

The idea behind Push Pop Press [is] a digital creation tool designed to blow up the concept of the book. Frictionless self-publishing is a fertile new space, but this particular startup got a little help from former vice president Al Gore, whose exacting demands on an app version of his book Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis gave this would-be company its first real boost.

Developed by former Apple employees Mike Matas and Kimon Tsinteris, Push Pop Press will be a publishing platform for authors, publishers and artists to turn their books into interactive iPad or iPhone apps — no programming skills required.

- Gore, Ex-Apple Engineers Team Up to Blow Up the Book, by Brian X. Chen, Wired.com Gadget Lab

I won’t call what these gentlemen show an “ebook” — something that brings to my mind static words on a digital page. No, this is a digital book — something wholly new to the process of communicating ideas from author to reader. To see why this is different, watch the four minute TED Talk video.

New Ways of Internetworking

Imagine a web where our browsers connected directly to each other to do voice, video, media sharing and run applications, using P2P and real-time APIs, rather than going through centralized servers that controlled traffic and permissions. That’s a potent idea and if implemented properly could future-proof a part of the web from authoritarian crack-downs, disruptions by disasters and more. It could also establish a permanent lawless zone of connected devices with no central place to stop anyone from doing anything in particular.

It just so happens that something like that may now be under development in the most official of venues. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) announced today the formation of a new Web Real-Time Communications Working Group to define client-side APIs to enable Real-Time Communications in Web browsers, without the need for server-side implementation. The Group is chaired by engineers from Google and Ericsson.

A team of researchers at Rutgers University have launched the latest of a group of wireless network initiatives aiming to create a more open alternative to the Internet. MondoNet aims to enable a mesh network that lets a hybrid collection of new and existing Wi-Fi, WiMax and other wireless devices connect to each other without going through a central carrier.

A draft proposal for MondoNet describes its premise as well as how it will gather the best of existing technologies for mobile ad-hoc wireless mesh networks (MANETs). The project’s goal to create a system that provides both greater freedom and privacy for individual users than today’s Web.

- Rutgers team proposes Net alternative, Rick Merritt, EE Times

I’m including these as forward-looking points of interest. I don’t know if either will amount to anything substantial, but I do think it is interesting that researchers are looking at the next evolutionary steps in networking. Either of these proposals would be dramatic changes in flows of information between network users. I like how both seem to be building in a fundamental pillar of privacy into the design.

(This post was updated on 10-Sep-2011.)