Can open standards and open source save us from a digital dark age?

SmartMobs posted a story yesterday about “The Looming of a Digital Dark age.”

The title of the BBC story to which they link is even more dramatic: Warning of data ticking time bomb

Both are borrowing the phase used by the chief executive of the UK National Archive, who say “the growing problem of accessing old digital files formats is a ‘ticking time bomb.'”

The BBC cuts right to the point:

The root cause of the problem is the range of proprietorial file formats which proliferated during the early digital revolution.

Technology companies, such as Microsoft, used file formats which were not only incompatible with pieces of software from rival firms, but also between different iterations of the same program.

Only in the early years? Seems to me the problem continues, and perhaps deepens.

Save your data in open, published standard formats and the worst scenario you’ll get in is the need to write a translator program to migrate old files into a new format – but at least you’ll know what format they’re in, and know that format’s specifications.