File format obsolescence
- Several years ago I participated in what was then called the "photogen" mailing list, which was quite active with a good mix of real pro�s along with amateurs of all levels. After a couple years, I dropped it because of competing interests. Now I have joined this list, which purports to be a continuation of the "photogen" list, now called "genphoto". I hope it still includes some of the old gang along with lots of new blood.
In addition to efforts at preserving original family-history pictures, I have been making a collection of b/w copy negatives, and prints made therefrom - all with the best archival processing that I have learned how to do. (When we travel to visit relatives, I take the copy stand in the car trunk.) I also digitize the pictures, scanning from the original if possible; otherwise, from the copy prints I have made.
As you can surmise, I am of the school which holds that good b/w copy negatives and prints provide the best chance for preserving images for some centuries, if a suitable repository can be employed. However, I also value the convenience of inserting digitized pictures into FTM or family-history stories or slide shows. In addition, the digitized images do provide for convenient sharing, through CD-ROM�s, with interested relatives. In a way, this can be viewed as an adjunct means of archival preservation, somewhat like "not putting your eggs all in one basket". If I can share my CD-ROM�s with perhaps a dozen children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, it just may be possible that one or more of the CD-ROM's would survive and perhaps even be copied to new generations of media - thus foiling, to some extent, the possibility of some crazed person�s throwing my collection of good old b/w negatives and prints into the trash.
I have seen considerable discussion of the problem of obsolescence of data storage systems. What I have not seen is any discussion of obsolescence of the software needed to translate the various file formats of stored picture data. To be specific - most of our picture-editing software now includes the capabilities for translating various file formats - BMP, PCX, TIFF, JPEG, GIF, etc. - into the actual image. What if, with the passage of time and the gaining of experience, a certain file format loses popularity and is no longer supported by Windows or whatever other operating system takes the place of Windows - and it just happens that your whole collection of digital pictures was done in that format which has become obsolete.
Of course, we can fall back on the idea that, just as data would need to be translated from one nearly-obsolete hardware medium to another not-so-nearly obsolete, we could also need to do something like that with file formats. However, it seems to me that the need for such could be reduced or postponed if we could have the astuteness to choose a format which is "basic" enough to minimize the chance of its obsolescence. As an analogy, the principle of the wheel is a basic enough invention that, for thousands of years, nobody has had to be concerned about "what will we do when the wheel becomes obsolete?". Does anybody know of a picture file format that has anywhere near that level of "basic-ness"? From what investigating I have done, I have a hunch that BMP comes closer to it than does TIFF - but I suspect that some of you know more about it than I do.
L. Dwight Farringer, ORPP (Old retired physics professor)
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- http://www.city-gallery.com/photogen/ Is that the web site and list you
Subscribed to three or four lists about photos but there aren't enough
messages per month to keep them separate. One started by an individual
interested in photography, one to move messages about pictures off a
specific genealogy mailing list, one about pictures as collectables might
have been dropped by the host service. Don't think there was ever much
overlap of membership.
Predicted in 1995 that researchers would eventually select genealogy
software based on the way they wanted to organize and print images. Took
longer than expected but it is happening. There are more discussions of
scanners on genealogy software lists and more complaints when the picture
features don't work as desired. Fewer serious researchers tell me they don't
want a database cluttered with images of source documents that show spelling
variations due to guesses at old styles of handwriting.
It is hard to separate the discussion of photos from the way they will be
used. I scan for family projects rather than archival purposes, though the
newest film scanners can make even larger files on an XP Pro computer
without crashing. Didn't have storage media for large images when my 1996
scans were backed up to 36 floppies prior to the first Zip drive. Pictures
have been in continuous use with my family files over six years.
Main problem with image formats has been genealogy programs dropping TIF/LZW
that some researchers preferred for archival copies. I still use
uncompressed TIF for some source documents but it doesn't work with all
genealogy programs. Not using PNG because it doesn't work with the most
common genealogy program used by my relatives.
Some researchers are using codes and numbers for picture files that are
likely to result in the equivalent of unmarked real photos in a shoebox if
their separate database of photo details doesn't survive along with the
family history notes.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Dwight or Helen Farringer"
Several years ago I participated in what was then called the "photogen"
mailing list, which was quite active with a good mix of real pro�s along
with amateurs of all levels. After a couple years, I dropped it because of
competing interests. Now I have joined this list, which purports to be a
continuation of the "photogen" list, now called "genphoto". I hope it still
includes some of the old gang along with lots of new blood.