How to Store Data for 100 Years: Solutions for the Information Age

2 Game Devs

In the Information Age, data is king. We are constantly collecting and generating data of all kinds, from emails to photos to documents. But one question that often doesn't get enough attention is how we can store this data for long periods of time? Is it possible for our data to outlive us?

How do you store data for 100 years? The key factor in keeping any information around for long periods has been redundancy - think multiple libraries with the same copies. However, the best way forward for the preservation of data is blockchain technology which offers immutability (unchanging) of data on a decentralized network.

In this blog post, we will explore some solutions for storing data for the long haul.

Wavelength - Jan 2022

Digital art pieces saved forever on blockchain

A brief history of data preservation

Oral tradition

The oral tradition was used to pass on information for most of human existence. Even after they were invented scrolls in ancient times were rare to come by and very expensive so the oral tradition was still the main form of passing on information.

There are still tribes around the world who pass on their stories and traditions through this method. It seems odd to us moderns, but people would have whole texts memorized, and they could memorize large chunks of information quickly.

Handwritten manuscripts

As alluded to before the other form of passing on information was to copy it from one scroll to another by hand. This sounds arduous - and it was. Many scribes and monks would simply spend their whole day copying one scroll to another - and if they found any mistakes in the copy they would throw out the whole thing!

The invention of the printing press

Gutenburg's invention of the printing press in 1440 is the first explosion of information upon the world. It allowed tracts and books to be published at speeds never dreamed of.

The printing press led to the invention of information dissemination such as newspapers and tracts, and the mass adoption of libraries around the world.

 

Bank Vault in Toronto

The Key to the Preservation of Information: Redundancy

Libraries have always been about more than just collecting and storing books. They are about preserving the information contained within those books, and making sure that it is available to future generations. This is why librarians have always placed a high value on redundancy.

The idea is that if you have multiple copies of something, then even if one copy is lost or damaged, you will still have others that can take its place. This is why libraries have always strived to maintain relationships with other libraries so that they can borrow and lend items as needed.

However, with the digital age, the libraries themselves have come to be seen as redundant.

Many libraries, which have also been seen as a large expense, have justified the discard of their collections with the claim that they could always borrow documents from a central Library. For instance, it is not uncommon for a library to be closed by its parent organization and collections to be turned over to another private organization.

A quote from a retired librarian:

Today many libraries serve mostly as an information access points with few books and are empty building that serves as a coffee shop and study hall and computer lab.

Larger libraries were once a major resource for lesser libraries across America. It can no longer play that role. Universities have become dependent on large, external organizations, often publishing conglomerates, to maintain collections of documents in paper or electronic form. We have returned to the Library of Alexandria model where the human record is in the hands of a few - the redundancy model has been lost.

1-Gig-PS2400

Digital Age

The development of the internet and electronic storage has made it easier than ever to store information, but this doesn't necessarily mean we are doing that much better of a job of keeping it or organizing it.

There are seemingly many options out there.

One option for storing data is to use physical media like CDs or hard drives. But these can be susceptible to damage from heat, humidity, or other environmental factors. They can also become corrupted over time due to degradation of the materials.

Another option is to use online storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive. These services are convenient and allow you to access your data from anywhere. However, they can be vulnerable to hacking and other security threats - and, of course, are subject to monthly subscription fees. They will last as long as someone is around to pay them on time for the next 100 years.

With all of these current options the best method in the short-to-medium term has always focused on using a combination of these methods so that there is a built-in redundancy to your system or archiving.

However, the real question that we tried to answer is: How do you store your data for 100 years?

Blockchains: New Kid on the Block

Blockchain is still a relatively new technology. Most people have heard of it in the context of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum.

When these technologies came on the scene many people speculated about them being great for data storage for long periods of time because they are immutable (unchanging) and operate off a decentralized network (1000s of people keeping records of the data all over the world - talk about redundancy).

With the immutable and redundant nature of blockchain technology, they would be perfect for storing data for long periods of time.

Although Bitcoin or Ethereum do store data it is extremely expensive because they are more about keeping a record of financial transactions, which have very low data needs, and not data such as personal photos. The entire Bitcoin blockchain is just over 500 GB - not even close to the 2TB of what a personal dropbox account would give you.

Blockchain storage

As people saw the benefits of immutability and decentralization of blockchain technology several projects popped up to tackle the problem of using blockchain as a method to store large quantities of data at low costs.

Some of the more successful projects in the blockchain storage space have been Arweave, Filecoin, and Storj.

Filecoin and Storj operate much like a google cloud or AWS where they can store your files on a blockchain but you will have to pay monthly to keep the service going, which is a problem when looking at storing data for 100 years. They give you the benefit of decentralization of your data at a fairly low cost, but will have a difficult time competing with the AWSs of the world on price.

Arweave has taken a different tact. They offer, for the first time, permanent storage. Arweave offers a one-time fee for a minimum of 200 years, but probably much longer, of storage.

This breakthrough of permanent storage was made possible because of an economic model that puts part of the one-time payment into an endowment that gets paid out to the decentralized network over periods of time to keep it profitable. (read more here).

Many applications that allow people to use the Arweave protocol have popped up including Ardrive.io, which is a dropbox-like-feature for uploading, downloading, and organizing all of your files on the Arweave network.

Do you have any tips for storing data for long periods of time? Share them in the comments!

Check out ArDrive to see how you can get your files onto Arweave for permanent storage!

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