Understanding Personal Digital Archives: Cliff Lynch’s Keynote Address

Clifford Lynch

Clifford Lynch, Director of the Coalition for Networked Information, keynoted the second day of the PDA conference.  He said that we are moving into a second generation of understanding personal digital archives, where the complex of ownership and control is not clearly understood.  We find that the shared version of a collection has more value than a personal version because of the context and commentary associated with it.  Shared spaces are vulnerable platforms–we will see more sudden shutdowns of platforms that aren’t financially viable.

Personal material is at most risk when someone moves from one job to another. Things get lost in the transition.  Platform migrations of all kinds are periods of considerable peril for the continuity of this kind of material, which is something we need to think very carefully about.  The average length of a user’s relationship with a social platform may be determined by the emergence of new platforms.  We do not understand the relationship with shared spaces for personal archiving very well.  We need “Archive Me” buttons on many more things!

We have a notion of a “public life”: a minimum record of someone’s life that is public, such as birth/death dates, public offices, or children’s names.  We have built up many systems to record those things, which are becoming much more open and extensive.  Look at the number of biographic entries in Wikipedia, for example.  In the higher education world where tracking publications is important, unique author IDs are being developed.  There is a move to make some activities more transparent and public.  We need to think about how these spaces interconnect to the general infrastructure of society that is bound up in identity, genealogy, publication, and information dissemination.  There is a strong linkage that will need considerable study.  What’s the public part of a life?  Do we have social or legal consensus on that?  How does that connect with shared social spaces?

If we simply extrapolate from the challenge of personal papers and try and shoehorn the development of shared social spaces into a framework, we will miss a tremendous number of the key issues.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor

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