Avoiding the Digital Dark Ages

I'm home again from my travels, after a visit to Amsterdam on Monday and attending Peter Quinn's breakfast briefing for European politicians yesterday (also briefly mentioned by IT Week). Microsoft must be really worried by Quinn - they went to the trouble of shipping in their patent chief Marshall Phelps to speak in a hurriedly-arranged (and sparsely attended) parallel briefing in the room next door in the European Parliament.

Peter continues to be inspiring, and the MEPs that came to the breakfast had some great questions. Today is apparently George Washington's birthday and one of Quinn's comments harks back to those days. Quinn's primary motive in starting the policy to use only open formats in Massachusetts was to ensure that the current political process has an trail of supporting documents that's at least as rich as the one we have today explaining American independence.

My fear, shared by Quinn, is that future historians will look back on today as the "digital dark ages", where only the final outcome of deliberations is available and all the contributing threads of discussion are lost to proprietary formats, obsolete media, impenetrable DRM and e-mail retention policies that delete everything after 12 months.

Quinn has already succeeded to a degree. Microsoft would not be at Ecma getting their Windows-only file format rubber stamped without him. There's still much further we have to go if we're to avoid the memory hole and escape the digital dark ages.

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