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Why preserve BBC Domesday?


BBC Domesday relies on a complex combination of hardware and software which was designed and manufactured in 1986. Many elements of this original setup are not compatible with todays computers. A small number of individuals and educational institutions still have working BBC Domesday systems, but these are becoming very scarce. Although the BBC Master is a remarkably hardy computer, after over 15 years of use many of the crucial LVROM players have reached the ends of their lifetimes. Put simply, the BBC Domesday system is rapidly approaching complete obsolescence.

The Problem

The problem of digital obsolescence can be broken down into 3 distinct problems:
  • The media
  • The media player
  • The software
The vidediscs on which the Domesday software and data is stored are relatively hardy but still have a finite lifetime. Philips estimated a shelf life of around a hundred years, but discs that have seen practical use for over 15 years will often be scratched and will inevitably contain read errors.

Loyd Grossman speaking about CAMiLEON's work with BBC Domesday at the House of Commons DPC launch. (source : JISC) Even if we have a pristine pair of videodiscs, we still need an LVROM player with which to read the discs. The Domesday LVROM player is not a standard videodisc player. As a consequence it is difficult to repair or replace. Videodisc players effectively became obsolete many years ago.

The third and most difficult issue to contend with is the BBC Domesday software. The Domesday application itself is a unique part of the Domesday system. The software provides a way of navigating, viewing and cross refrencing the vast array of data stored on the video discs in digital form. Without the original software or a BBC Master to run it on, the data itself is meaningless.

Why preserve BBC Domesday?

The CAMiLEON project is researching technical strategies for the preservation of digital materials. The BBC Domesday project has been chosen as a proof of concept test case for the emulation strategies developed by CAMiLEON. Domesday is ideal for this purpose for a number of reasons:
  • It is a complex interactive object that would be difficult to preserve in its entirety using tradional preservation strategies (eg. migration)
  • It relies on a number of peripheral devices. Issues surrounding the emulation of peripherals require further exploration
  • Several other resources were produced after BBC Domesday using the same technology. CAMiLEON hopes to show that preservation work of this kind can be cost effective when applied to a number of similar digital objects
  • It represents a valuable historical and intellectual resource in grave danger of loss without urgent preservation work.
  • BBC Domesday is frequently used as an example of the digital preservation problem and hence its preservation could act as an examplar for further work in this field
  • The resource represents a considerable preservation challenge due to its:
    • Scale
    • Technical complexity
    • Complex IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) situation

Rescuing the resourceRescuing the resource

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