Creating a Community Owned digital Preservation Tool Registry (COPTR)

Quattro Pro for DOS: an obsolete format at last?

    Because every DP project needs an over the top logo/acronym combinationLast year I blogged about my frustrations related to digital preservation tool registries. Rather than pooling all of our knowledge in one place and creating a valuable community resource, we've spread our knowledge about tools thinly across the web. Instead of seeing collaboration between organisations working in digital preservation, we're actually seeing competition! Virtually every organisation involved in the field promotes it's own registry or tool list. This is a ridiculous state of affairs. As I observed at IPRES last year in my least eloquent but most frequently quoted moment, it's a big fail for our community.

    Two weeks ago I presented a proposal for the creation of a community owned tool registry to the latest workshop on Aligning National Approaches to Digital Preservation, graciously hosted by the lovely people at IDCC. I'm pleased to say that the proposal was one of four key areas prioritised for further action, and I'm now leading some initial activities to take things forward with backing from ANADP (note that a full report from ANADP on the workshop outcomes will be available here shortly).

    However, I'd like to get even broader support for this community proposal from everyone who has their own registry or tool list, whether it's a quick blog post or a full on registry. If that applies to you/your organisation then I'd like you to participate in the following way:

    • Provide your requirements for a community tool registry (the call for requirements will appear shortly)
    • Merge your own tool registry data with the new community registry
    • Link to, expose (a view onto) and promote the community registry from your website
    • Delete your own registry and agree not to set up any new project owned registries/lists
    • Contribute any effort you have in adding new tools over time, to the community registry

    Exactly where the new registry will be hosted and maintained is yet to be decided (quite possibly a "neutral" URL/location. Whatever meets our requirements!). This will require some practical work to establish but is certainly not insurmountable. The key issue is to get buy in from the community. As I note in the proposal, we already have support in principle from the Library of Congress, the Digital Curation Centre and the Open Planets Foundation. This is a great start, but for this to be a success we need a lot more organisations to get involved.

    Over the next couple of weeks I'll be putting together an outline and roadmap as an initial talking point for comment and requirements and sharing it via this blog. So this is my call to arms for COPTR: a Community Owned digital Preservation Tool Registry. Who would like to voice their support and commitment, create a valuable tool registry for us all, and kick off some vital community collaboration in the process?




    1. paul
      February 4, 2013 @ 2:00 pm CET


      Hi Jay,
      Thanks for your post and questions!
      I'm not sure I'd agree that the issues you raise are surmountable, having had some experience of working with PRONOM as part of the Planets Project. In principal, it would be great to add to PRONOM, and it pains me to have to suggest creating yet another tool registry when the problem is that we have way too many tool registries already! However, I don't think PRONOM meets the requirements we have for a successful registry that many organisations can seriously buy into.
      There are a number of problems. Updates to PRONOM have to be made via a bottleneck of human validators at the TNA. In other words, every submission must be checked, validated and committed by them. Others have pointed out their frustration at failing to get updates into PRONOM. I don't want to speak for the TNA, but I believe that their current strategy is to focus primarily on file format signatures and DROID. It's great to have David Clipsham concentrating on this important DP work, and this is to be applauded. But updates of format or tool information in PRONOM do not seem to be a current priority. To be fair to TNA, they can't do all of this stuff on their own! No organisation in this field has the resource to manually build/validate a registry of this kind of information. There are also issues with the design of PRONOM itself. The PRONOM interface does not provide very useful facilities for browsing the tool data, and this is critical for a useful tools registry. Finally, PRONOM is of course very much a TNA owned and branded site. This might perhaps be a barrier to buy in from other organisations.
      I think a wiki based registry would address most of the issues I've addressed here. The critical need is to make it easy for any contributors to be able to get new information into the registry. As File Format November demonstrated for format registries, the wiki approach can be very successful in supporting this.
      As regards data, the focus will be on basic information about each tool and users experiences with applying the tools. This will support users in finding appropriate tools for their needs. That's the use case this registry will address. The registry will not hold binaries or documentation which would introduce all sorts of additional complexity and overhead. It's important to be pragmatic. Too much complexity or ambition will I think result in an empty registry that the community is unable or unwilling to contribute to, as we have previously seen to an extent with PRONOM and UDFR.
      This is the very brief outline I created for the ANADP proposal, of what the registry will do:
      • Provide descriptions of tools, links to source code and executables, and links to experiences in using the tools (so others can learn where and when the tools could be best applied)
      • Be wiki based, allowing anyone in the community to contribute to it and maintain it
      • Have tags for each tool, allowing different views onto the data to be tailored for organisations with different needs/foci
      I should have a rough COPTR demostrator ready very soon, which will make some of these points a little clearer and will hopefully act as a strawman for comment and feedback.
      So how does that sound, and do you think that's a sensible focus?

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