Ten years ago, one of the first digital projects I had the privilege of working on in a very junior capacity was for the exhibition 1000 Years of the Olympic Games: Treasures of Ancient Greece. Timed to coincide with the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, the heavily sponsored digital component included a virtual reconstruction of Ancient Olympia which was available in 3D (with polarising glasses) in the gallery as well as in 2D online alongside a huge amount of supporting material. A little later there was even a CDROM version (remember them?) that was sent out to schools across the country.
One of the early works by Sarah Kenderdine, now at Museum Victoria, the project was amazing for its time and went on to win awards and a BAFTA nomination.
Up until about 2005 the Powerhouse managed to keep the server that the online component was running on alive. It was built on rudimentary ASP, lots of Flash, some Quicktime VRs, and critically required Zoom Image Server to serve the detailed panoramic images in the FlashPix format. Unfortunately as time passed the ability to keep the site running with all of its content intact diminished and in 2007 we had to turn the whole site off. By 2007 we’d migrated other FlashPix (FPX) content over to Zoomify and the Greek site was the only remnant using the technology and it with server upgrades the older version eventually just stopped working.
After it was switched off the historians, digital archaeologists and museum studies people who used the site as a reference or teaching aid started making contact wondering when the site would come back. Even 7 years after launch it still had a dedicated audience.
So last year we dug up one of the last remaining archival copies of the CDROM and ripped it. We were about to release it as a free downloadable ISO image file – except that when we tested it we found even it had started causing problems on Windows Vista. And of course, back in 2000, no one had seriously considered making a Mac-compatible version.
So we gave up and finally just ripped the videos and the educational PDFs from the CDROM version and popped them up on Vimeo with a basic backgrounder page.
It isn’t the most elegant solution and it is more than a little troubling to think that here’s something that cost a lot of money to make – a mere ten years ago – and only a tiny fragment of it remains usable.
Could we have made better technology choices that would have enabled more effective digital preservation?
Looking back I’m not so sure.
The key components of the site that made it so engaging and bleeding edge at the time didn’t have many (if any) alternatives. Although we’re travelling a much more platform agnostic path at the backend nowadays there’s still many early adopter technologies that we’re experimenting that almost certainly won’t work 5 years from now.
Should we be more vanilla and hold back? Or take calculated risks that some content won’t be able to be preserved?
If you’re interested in seeing what the future was like 10 years ago take a look at some of the videos that took a university render farm days to render . . .