Snow Fall has Actually Become a Verb


In journalism circles, ‘snow fall’ has become a verb. Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of the New York Times, explained to a crowd at the 14th International Symposium on Online Journalism, what the story Snow Fall meant to journalism. She said, “To snow fall now means to tell a story with fantastic motion graphics and video and every kind of multimedia riches, but ones that are absolutely organic to the storytelling itself and are not, as in the past, like accompaniments to print journalism.”

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek is a story by New York Times’ sports reporter John Branch that retraces the steps of 16 skiers who head into Washington state’s Cascade Mountains for an afternoon of backcountry skiing, but end up triggering a massive avalanche. His story is a detailed narrative of the skier’s actions leading up to the ski trip through the avalanche itself – a period of less than 24 hours – but it also explains the science behind avalanches and the conditions that caused this one in particular.

Snow Fall appeared in print as a special section, but what Abramson is describing is the immersive experience the New York Times created online for the story. On December 20, 2012 the newspaper published the six-part long-form narrative with integrated videos, photographs, slideshows, audio and motion graphics. The story opens with a full-page looping video of snow blowing across a barren hillside. The view immediately sets the tone and Branch’s story scrolls up from the bottom of the screen. As the reader makes his way through, vertically scrolling, various elements are interspersed with and linked to the text, including videos, still photographs, slideshows, and audio. Additional full screen graphics are set in motion when the reader scrolls them into view. Once thestory and mugs

Small images appearing alongside the text would link to slideshows with larger images
Small photos appearing next to the text (top image) link to slideshows, which open in a new larger window.

reader reaches the bottom of the page there is an option to click through to the next chapter of the story.

The release of Snow Fall made an immediate and lasting impression on a variety of communities – readers, journalists, designers, and programmers. Each of these groups valued and interpreted the significance of the story in different ways.



New York Times readers were riveted to the story. According to a Q & A with New York Times staff, in the first six days after Snow Fall was published it had 3.5 million page views and 2.9 million visitors, with almost a third being new visitors to the New York Times site. It generated 1155 comments on the site itself from the day it was released until nine days later, December 28. Not only did readers from all over the United States respond, but readers from around the globe. The comments ranged from one person in Brazil commenting on how wonderful the presentation was to a Seattle skier questioning the choice to ski that day, while a New Yorker brought up the psychological aspect of how ‘group think’ affects these situations. According to Elif Koc, writing for FutureNYT, the story received 10,000 shares on Twitter in the first week and the story is still making the rounds with tweets appearing as recently as mid-March.

Obviously, readers responded to the story and continue to do so. The story itself made an impact, but so did the multimedia presentation. Additionally, those in the reader community often overlap with the journalist, designer and program groups.



The relationship between journalism and the Internet has been evolving since the late 1990s and is still a work in progress, but Snow Fall had Rebecca Greenfield from The Atlantic Wire asking whether this might be the future of online journalism. She explains that the integration of video, photos, and graphics was done in such a way as to “ . . . feel natural and useful, not just tacked on.” Om Malik from Gigaom says that “ . . . Snow Fall-type products are a brand new media, a whole new style of storytelling and a model for 21st-century journalism . . .” The media responded by giving its highest awards to the project – a Webby Award, Peabody Award, and Branch received a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. However, the project, which was built entirely outside the Times’ Content Management System, took six months to complete, including some interruptions to work on other stories. Additionally, a total of 17 people are credited on the website itself, and this doesn’t include the editors involved in the process. Though many journalists appreciated the execution of the story, they questioned the ability of small newspapers to complete such projects and doubted the capacity of even the New York Times to repeat the effort. The newspaper itself made this point in their Innovation Report from 2014 writing, “We have a tendency to pour resources into big one-time projects . . . and overlook the less glamorous work of creating tools, templates and permanent fixes . . . We greatly undervalue replicability.”



Though Branch’s writing was award winning, the design and layout of Snow Fall clearly made it stand out. Andrew Kueneman, the Editor of Digital News Design, explained in a Q & A with New York Times staff how they attempted to manage the path of the reader by using scale, positioning, animation and other design elements to match the flow of Branch’s story. Graham Roberts, a Senior Graphics Editor at the newspaper, describes in the same Q & A how choosing the appropriate colors and pacing of the graphics was critical for readers to not view them as distractions. A fly-over view of the mountains that appears early in the narrative moved slowly to accommodate readers just getting introduced to the story, while a reenactment of the avalanche was completed in real time to make the point of how long these skiers would have endured the power of the snow.

Roberts describes some of the more technical details on his website, including how the avalanche simulation was created with actual avalanche data from Swiss scientists, LIDAR data, Maya and After Effects. So the graphics, just by themselves, are impressive and became another extremely important aspect to the entire package.



The powerful design and graphics however, could not have happened without the help of the New York Times’ programmers. Jacky Myint, a multimedia producer working on Snow Fall, explains in the Q & A how they decided very early on that they would not offer the same online experience across various browsers and devices. Kueneman also points out:

“We took advantage of platforms that could handle more complex and rich behaviors, and we made sure less-powerful or less sophisticated platforms received the best experience they could handle. Not so much a trade-off, but we definitely made design and presentation decisions that we would classify as editing.”

The Montfort and Bogost discussion of the constraints and affordances of platforms certainly comes into play here. While Myint was designing for the main experience on modern web browsers, her colleagues were working on the design for other devices like iPads and iPhones, as well as older browsers. Myint explains further that they were all working from the same codebase, so when she made a change it trickled down and affected the work of the others. Indeed, the code on its own is a significant piece of work. Myint, using HTML5 and JavaScript lists a series of jQuery libraries and plugins she used in the design. Brook Ellingwood, taking an especially Kirschenbaum view of the code underlying Snow Fall, breaks it down to its individual pieces on his website. He finds 13 different libraries and plugins. Some of the tools Myint describes are included in Ellingwood’s list, but he finds others, such as ‘The New York Times Multimedia Desk,’ which contains no comments to define what it does, and multiple tools for supporting the playback of HTML5 video and audio. Ellingwood also points out how the programmers provided numerous ways for the code to interpret what browser a person was using, the supported web fonts, whether it was being viewed on a desktop or mobile device, and the current orientation of that device.



The multimedia presentation of Snow Fall clearly made an impact on all audiences, but the design for what Myint terms the “main experience” is clearly the most important to preserve. Various aspects of the multimedia elements are missing or altered when viewed on an iPhone and iPad. Slideshows were missing on both, the opening videos to each chapter did not work, and graphics were treated differently on the iPad. The Internet Archive did capture the story, but unfortunately the videos do not play. In the future, it will be critical to maintain this full experience developed for desktops and laptops.

Additionally, saving as much documentation on the code as possible would be beneficial. Since the online story was published, a couple of companies have released design tools that would mimic the experience of Snow Fall. Ryan Lawler of Techcrunch reported on one such tool called Scroll Kit. The co-founder of Scroll Kit, Cody Brown, recreated Snow Fall using his tool and explained how others could replicate the experience in under an hour through a video he posted to YouTube. Though the New York Times sent him a cease and desist letter, this type of work by programmers to create templates for easier web design would be useful to media outlets who lack the resources of a big company. It would also be useful for the Times itself, who point out their own need for templates and the desire to improve the mobile experience. In order to improve and build upon the code written by the staff, preserving the documentation of it is the first step toward this end goal.








Polandball: Preserving Profane Squiggly Balls?

“Polandball is about wiggly mouse-drawn comics where balls represent different countries. They poke fun at national stereotypes and the “international drama” of their diplomatic relations. Polandball combines history, geography, Engrish, and an inferiority complex.” -


Polandball is anything but refined and polite art.  With its crudely drawn lines and fractured English, the comic is a flurry of political incorrectness on an international level.  Reading through the insensitive dialog assigned to these bouncing balls representing classic stereotypes of various nationalities, one is reminded of South Park or Beavis and Butthead, cartoons which thrived in a similar manner.  Just as South Park has been derided throughout its run as a juvenile and thoroughly offensive cartoon, on the surface Polandball seems to appeal to an audience bent on the utilization of obscenity and low brow humor.  

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones by MisterWhizzo, 3/19/2016
Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones by MisterWhizzo

Created in 2009, Polandball began as a pointed jab following a disagreement between German users of the site towards Poles in the same space.  One of the popular original cartoons mocked Poland’s absence in the international space coalition, a smack in the face for Poles emphasizing the nation’s greatness and proud history.  The joke carried forward until there were balls representing most nations interacting with one another in common stereotypes as they navigate current international relations as well as history.  There are many subreddits dedicated to individual nation balls now. Much to my delight, there is even a subreddit solely focused on the relationship between the states in the US (my Reddit logo is actually a Virginia ball).,100):origin()/pre01/95d4/th/pre/f/2016/033/0/9/virginiaball_by_propagandastamps-d9qa7d3.png

Polandball in no way veils its offensive quality.  The creators and users of the comics make no apologies for its deliberate racism and insensitive jokes ranging from Poles depicted as inferior in both language and intellect to the nuclear bombing of Japan to America as a megalomaniac sociopath.   Yet many within the Polandball community express an affinity for the comic that transcends the apparent foul mouthed simplicity of the cartoon.  For the 187,692 users, Polandball represents an opportunity to discuss international relations without the censorship of political correctness.  The comic substitutes laughter and levity for fear and anger.  To be sure, there is a measure of aggression beneath the jibes.  Yet as the comic expanded to include a plethora of nation balls, users also engage in regular national self-deprecation.  Though not a contributor or real member of the Polandball community, I can’t pretend as though the American comics aren’t my favorite in the series.  Why?  Because for so many, it’s a healthy release valve to laugh at oneself and the chaotic nature of national/international politics.  Additionally, because the community allows for active participation and creation, users can engage with these sensitive topics in a manner which is palatable, understandable, meaningful, and humorous way.  In other words, Polandball remains a personal expression of international angst using humor as the vehicle for uncertainty and helplessness.

You might think to yourself- Polandball must start uncontrolled fire fights within and without the community.  That’s what I thought as well.  Naturally, there is a fair measure of controversy regarding the foul little nation balls.  Initially, there was a fair number of Polish journalists such as Wojciech Oleksiak who found the comics to be a little bruising to the ego.

“Polandball is the story of one guy creating a worldwide phenomenon by making fun of another guy, creating a new format of expressing one’s views on nationality, race, language and recent history along the way. Why did it become so successful? Maybe because the basic rules that apply to Polandball offer every creator a good basis for developing a funny story, yet offering very few restrictions. The stories can be rude, impolite, racist, abusive, or just plain dumb. Their disrespectful stance towards political correctness makes much of their attractiveness. They are the embodiment of the Internet par excellence.”- Wojciech Oleksiak  

However, other media commentators enthusiastically took the side of the user community noting the cathartic nature of the comics.  Popular opinion outside the community has gone back and forth over the value and relevance of Polandball.  The users themselves seem to enjoy the humor of the comics instead of railing against the impolitic nature of its content.  It might surprise outsiders when they venture into the Reddit world of Polandball to view the comments on each comic.  Firstly, the variety of nations represented in the user base demonstrates the aforementioned catharsis of self deprecation.  Individuals from countries being portrayed frequently comment in positive tones on their country’s representation in a given comic.  Secondly, many users will contribute advice and praise to the creator of a given Polandball comic.  Ways to improve the representation of a nation or how to tweak dialogue are common lines of discussion.  

However, more meaningful conversations emerge from the silliness as well.  For example, in the popular trending comic “Surf Around the World,” the Japan ball is depicted unenthusiastically surfing past a radioactive sign while other nation balls gleefully hit the waves.  This reference to the 2011 Fukushima radiation leak which polluted much of the water surrounding Japan and its neighbors provoked a much more thoughtful thread of comments in the midst of wisecracks.  User ‘vanderZwan’ wrote “Apologies for going “actually”, because it’s a good joke, but it sincerely bothers me people still freak out over Fukushima, yet everyone forgets the part of the tsunami disaster that actually killed people” and linked to an article in the UK newspaper The Telegraph which talked about the apparent short sightedness of the world’s sympathies.  In too many posts to list, a submission will spawn a lengthy discussion amongst users on the historical precedence for a post opening up threads on everything from the fall of Rome to the evolution of world languages through time.  One need only peruse the comment threads for a short while before realizing that Polandball holds much more significance for its user community than a few short chuckles following racist quips.  


“Obviously the comics are hugely important, the characters, the jokes, the inside jokes that you have to ‘be part of the community’ to get, etc. However, a lot of people are really drawn in by the comment sections. They appreciate the international flavor and getting to joke about national stereotypes and politics without it being bigoted or hateful. Also, a lot of our “tropes” and jokes about countries arise in the comment threads and sometimes make it into actual comics later and some jokes from a specific comic become tropes in comment threads over and over.

We have a lot of very well known commenters that don’t submit comics and some very well known artists that don’t comment that much.” -Polandball Moderator ‘CupBeEmpty’ on preserving Polandball

So why preserve Polandball or the user community around it?  Since 2009, the world has seen the mass upheaval of governments in the middle east, the rise of ISIS, increased aggression from former superpowers such as Russia, a plethora of man made and natural disasters, and game changing elections across the western world.  The status quo which many took for granted has been at least questioned or wiped away entirely.  Polandball captures commentary on these moments outside of the cacophony of mass media reports and mainstream dialog.  The cartoons allow for comic relief on these subjects while the embedded discussion permits users from around the world to voice their opinions on what is happening on the world stage and what brought human history to this point.  The Polandball world is characterized by the juxtaposition of irreverent mockery and thoughtful inquiry.  It’s importance to the user community is immediately apparent as one explores the comments stretching across the 7 years of its existence.  This is one of the places where those who do not have a voice in the mainstream go to discuss the world’s most frightening and mind boggling events in a safe environment amongst their counterparts across the globe.  Furthermore, the importance of preserving this world for those beyond the community is evident as well for similar reasons.  In 100 years, historians searching for the “every person’s” take on the early years of the 21st century will not look to Politico or The Huffington Post.  Instead, they will comb the archives of social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit.  These are the forums of the world’s inhabitants.  It is where our voices are captured bit by bit.  What seems like poorly drawn lines with crude captions might be easily dismissed from afar, but for its users and for future historians, Polandball is an essential time capsule of the international human experience in the 21st century.

HomestarRunner: Still DotCom

A Statement of Significance

Homestar Runner


The story of and the story on are both delightfully innocent. The former is a charming tale of a couple of Georgia college buddies caught up in the 1996 Olympic fever, drawing kids books, and imitating local tv commercials before ever going near a computer that became about two brothers sticking to their guns. The latter, as encapsulated in the website’s intro, is the tale of an earnest, energetic, if often missing the mark hero in primary colors, and his sarcastic character foil. These would-be archetypes are surrounded by a supporting cast endearing in their eccentricities – loyalties and rivalries abound, speech impediments and character flaws.


The World of HomeStar

Strong Bad

The site featured cartoons with a regular cast: armless Homestar, his equally armless, guitar-playing sometimes girlfriend Marzipan, globular best friend PomPom, hip-hop loving Coach Z, concession stand-running Bubbs, the gluttonous King of Town, the exactly what it sounds like Poopsmith, and finally the aptly named Strong Sad, Strong Mad, and Strong Bad with his sidekick the Cheat.

The cartoons featured this main cast heavily and were generally stand alone. The site featured games and downloadable content like desktop wallpapers and sound effects to customize your AOL Instant Messenger. But, as the into pointed out, the site’s break away hit was the Strong Bad Emails. In this segment, fans could email the character and the character would pick emails to respond to – sort of. Early favorites like “Theme Party” had the sender asking for theme suggestions for a frat party and Strong Bad suggesting that the theme of the party be “Frat Party.” Part of the fun was how far off topic the email would diverge, how ludicrous it would become. From this meandering came Trogdor the Burninator (fun fact, Google Docs, corrected my misspelling of Burninator because Google knows what’s up), Strong Bad Techno, and Teen Girl Squad, which became an independent feature on the site. In addition to its own internal world of jokes, characters, and plot devices, the site heavily featured pop culture references from the 70s-90s, especially in the form of the annual Halloween costumes.

Halloween 2015 Back Row: PomPom, the Poopsmith, the King of Town, Strong Mad Middle Row: Bubbs, Strong Sad Front Row: Homsar, the Cheat, Strong Bad, Homestar, Marzipan, and Coach Z

The Intended

From 2000 to 2009, was a regulrary maintained website. The site never advertised, nor took in advertising; supporting itself through merchandise sales and expanding solely by word of mouth largely before the explosion of social media. The key audience was high school and college students ten years ago, the members of generation nostalgia;  group for whom the integration of the 70s-90s pop culture references would resonate most clearly with their own life experiences.  As with the preservation of other popular cultural icons, would be a valuable candidate for preservation because it spread so far without being dictated to the people who liked it by a network or publisher like other mass media. It was not created through a marketing machine, but by a couple of guys making what they thought was funny.

This is one of the great equalizers of the internet and the entire basis of YouTube – that anyone can put their content on the web for the whole world to enjoy, the best material will rise to the surface, the creators will be acknowledge and achieve fame and fortune. It is, in a sense, an easy version of the American dream (and it does ignore that there are now multiple television shows dedicated to making fun of the internet like @midnight on Comedy Central).

Nevertheless, the fans who supported the site, who bought enough merchandise to keep the project running for years, are the same fans who are making stained glass windows and keeping a subreddit active, editing a dedicated HR wiki, and following the Twitter feeds. Granted, many of the fans, like the creators, have gone on to focus on other things as their interests had developed, but like any beloved childhood accessory, what it meant at the time is fundamental to the shaping of who we are now.

Above all it is this first group for whom preservation is undertaken because it is for this group that the site was saved from the death of Flash, see more below, and for this group primarily that the site continues to be updated. No less arbitrators of cool than Rolling Stone magazine are on board, promoting the return of the ever innocent Homestar.

The second main group of people interested in the conservation of homestar runner would be internet historians who would be interested in tracking the growth and spread of a social phenomenon before social media. In addition to the site, however, conservation efforts would need to include materials relating to the site’s popularity and spread through the zeitgeist – mentions on mainstream television shows, appearances in other works, and as an early success in internet memes. The meme, the spreadable idea, is more what the site is becoming remembered for already, the snippets that haven’t quite died away – Trogdor especially.

Homestar began its ascent before social media and continued more or less independently of the craze. Those scholars would perhaps be interested in tracking the decline of homestar runner against the social media explosion looking for a corollary between the two; to determine if such word-of-mouth sites were no longer truly sustainable in a post-Facebook world when they should have been infinitely more accessible.

The Cheat. The Cheat is the Best.

The third group of people who would be interested in the preservation of the site would be computer and internet technical preservationists who would be interested in the mechanics of how the site was built and maintained in the Flash animation environment and the subsequent transition away from Flash. The site dealt with the Flash transition in it’s own way, not ignoring that it was dealing with a significant problem and humorously dropping lines of broken code from the sky onto the main characters as the ever-frustrated Strong Bad attempted to explain the horror of the situation of the death of Flash in an entirely Flash-based world to the optimistically-oblivious Homestar. Both tech news outlets the and ran entire stories on HomestarRunner and the death of Flash.

The final group of people who would be especially interested in the preservation of homestarrunner would be cartoon and television historians who, because of the later work of the creators, the Brother Chaps, on other popular children’s shows such as the highly regarded Gravity Falls and Yo Gabba Gabba. Historians of popular media would be especially interested in capturing this early work to contextualize the later work of two prominent auteurs, however out of the mainstream the early career-making work might have been. 

All the cast that there might have ever been…

Blog.exe: To the Source Code, and Beyond!

The Tale of %PDF-1.4

Appropriately, as I first attempted to open Preserving.exe, the webpage loaded as follows:

%PDF-1.4 %âãÏÓ 3 0 obj <>stream hÞœVÛŽÛ6_}×Wð‘ VŒx_©Çv³_R_iš5Ò_A__YÞUëËV’7Íß÷ )ÉÞÆiš®5-r†gæÌœÑó—·ŠÝ

And so on, for a number of pages.

A script on my computer had malfunctioned, the PDF containing the report for the Preserving.exe summit had not loaded correctly in Safari. As a frequent user of the internet, Microsoft Word, and Safari, I knew there were a number of ways to remedy this situation: I right-clicked on the link in the word document, used my mouse to hover over “Hyperlink > Edit Hyperlink…” copied (pressing Command-C) the text from there, opened a Safari window, and in the URL textbox, pasted (pressing command-P) the text into the URL text box at the top of the window.

The PDF appeared, and I had just used several dozen bits of knowledge, techniques, and tools that are implicit in the software for Safari, Microsoft Word, and OS X El Capitan. These, as Henry Lowood describes in his discussion of the “Lure of the Executable,” are things that should be considered and documented when we archive software materials, because even if the software systems are executable, it does not mean that they are understandable.


Let’s Think About the User

A common thread through the works of Lowood and Chan/Cope is the focus on the ways in which the user interacts with the collection/software. Sebastian Chan and Aaron Cope’s acquisition of the iPad app Planetary was for the Cooper-Hewitt, and the Hewitt sisters who began the collection envisioned it as an educational resource for designers. Eleanor Hewitt went so far as to write that she was not particularly concerned with the destruction of the materials due to overuse, as long as design traditions were passed down. Chan and Cope seem to focus on the present: they even have a fairly temporary system in place where the creator of Planetary checking on the derivative works made from the source code they made available through the collection. They are mapping out the original vision for the collection, ensuring that design traditions are passed along today.

This seems to be a rather unique perspective amongst collectors; many worry much more about the longevity of the collection, including Lowood. However, he still is concerned with the users, but his focus more centered on use cases far in the future: what are we gaining and losing in our preservation of software, and how will they particularly affect future users? We return to screen essentialism; sometimes, the data you do not see could be far more important than that you do.

Lowood also has some pretty strong critiques of attempting to create an authentic experience using hardware.

“While I do not have a crystal ball at hand, my guess is that for most researchers documentation of historical use of software is a more valid source than a personal experience somehow deemed authentic.”

This rings true to me as someone who has done ethnographic fieldwork on past events. While an “authentic” simulation of a protest might put me in the moment in ways that I could not get from recordings, I would value a video of the protest much more than that. Similarly, even if an archive took the time and money to maintain an NES system with an old television, shag carpet, and mustard-yellow vinyl couch, the experience would not be the same as a home movie of children playing the NES, and interviews with them. after all, we see the NES today through the lens of the XBoxOne and PS4; even an authentic experience with it now does not erase those memories.


What Did I Just Acquire?

The underlying story beyond all of these articles is that the supporting documents matter, and it is rare for them not to be useful. The question considered by Alice Allen and Peter Teuben, posed by Doug Reside: “What are the things we can safely say no to archiving?” rings out, and the answer is that there are a lot of things that are necessary to support the longevity of the collection and the variety of users who may be interested in it.

Both the Planetary and Prom Week case studies demonstrate how having additional materials beyond a video game itself can aid in the understanding of the video game. The bug reports, the decisions made during the development process, revision history of the code, and other supporting materials all can contribute to popular and scholarly knowledge, to future software designers, and to our knowledge of the history of video games. As Matt Kirschenbaum notes:

“Software is thus best understood as an artifact: not some abstract ephemeral essence, not even just as lines of written instructions or code, but as something that builds up layers of tangible history through the years.”

Whether or not later programmers have access to the code of earlier games, by understanding how each piece of software was built, we can better connect one to another.


Documentation Beyond the Code: My Hatred of Clippy

Source: Joke Battles Wiki

This image of a paper clip with eyes, seemingly benign, highlights one of the other things noted by Kirschenbaum and our other authors: software is not simply a tool, but it has become ingrained in our popular culture at a number of levels. An image of Clippy stirs in me a wrath of a thousand papers interrupted by a little animated paper clip. Software is just as culturally significant as film is today, arguably more so.

Should a ethnographer hear a reference made to a video game, they do not necessarily need to play the game, they need some material to help them understand what that experience was like in its time. This means documenting nostalgia as this Buzzfeed article does, to a certain extent, for those classic 1990s educational video games. At the end of the day, an executable file is simply not enough.



Saving Software Ecosystem

Our cultural gut tells we should start saving software…

You will notice how software preservation is a relatively new endeavor when you encounter a somewhat intuitive rationale that pushes the agenda. Concerning the preservation of Planetary, a visual music player developed for iPad, Sebastian Chan and Aaron Cope in their 2013 “Collecting the Present: Digital Code and Collections” describe their motive as follows:

The benefits accrued by the ability for software and hardware industries to frequently “shed their skin” and start anew still outweigh the costs, and that is the landscape in which museums will continue to try and preserve objects in for the foreseeable future. To that end we see the ability and freedom for third parties to play and experiment with—to become comfortable and familiar with—Planetary’s source code as integral to any efforts to recruit developers in our preservation aims. Will some of what we see be still-born or not in line with the museum’s thinking? Probably. Will they be worth it in the long run? We choose to believe so.

Matthew Kirschenbaum in his 2013 “An Executable Past: The Case for a National Software Registry” published in “Preserving.exe” acknowledges the similar condition that currently surrounds software preservation:

For decades the Library of Congress has also been receiving computer games, and in 2006 the games became part of the collections at the Culpeper campus. But while the Library registers the copyrights, what it means to preserve and restore vintage computer games—or any kind of computer software—is less clear. As yet there is only the beginning of a national agenda for software preservation, and precious little in the way of public awareness of the issue.

So we think we should save softwares, but what exactly should we save?

Granted we take heed of the pace of software obsoletion—and our cultural practices highly shaped by the daily interactions with software—it is not difficult to imagine varying understanding of software preservation. Questions that concern archivists include: To what end do we preserve software? What is the scope of software preservation? Chan and Cope consider the functionality of the software as its utmost importance. Therefore, for Planetary, it was the features of software—“the interaction design and experience of manipulating and affecting a dynamic three dimensional system using a touchable interface”—that need to be saved and reconstructed.

For Kirschenbaum, it is the historical context in which certain software was conceived that demands documentation. With the example of Microsoft Word 2.0 released in 1991, Kirschenbaum entertains how a hidden mischievous features of “WordPerfect monster” alludes to the then ongoing rivalry between the competing word processing applications.

Henry Lowood in his “The Lures of Software Preservation” (also published in “Preserving.exe”) considers an alternative preservation method by suggesting the verification of data files. Lowood’s approach questions the “screen essentialism” (the preservation of the look of software) and encourages the preservation of software integrity by using such signatures as hashes and checksums.

Is the through-er, the better?

Despite the different emphasis on the significant property of software, one thing is for certain when considering software preservation. That is, software needs to be preserved as a whole package. The package may include, just as the case of Planetary, the software’s early versions, change logs, and bug reports. The suggestions made in Erick Kaltman et al.’s 2014 “A Unified Approach to Preserving Cultural Software Objects and Their Development Histories” go as far to include paper prototype, type of IDE, email correspondences, and interpersonal relationship, concerning the documentation related to the development of academic gaming software Prom Week. Mind you, however, while through documentation and preservation of relevant files are essential to saving software, such action calls for professional judgment and managerial strategies. In the words of Chan and Cope:

Because digital works are exist in any equally digital life-support system, or ecosystem, absent preserving the entire dependency chain for a single digital object museums need to be able to conceptualize and articulate a strategy for demonstrating some kind of tangible proof for those objects in their collection which lack the physicality typically associated with our collections.

Keep it open!

Another consensus seen among Chan and Cope and Kaltman et al. is the benefit of preserving software. Chan and Cope followed the original open source policy of Planetary and concludes its advantage for preservation as follows:

The choice to both enable and encourage derivative works of Planetary was, and continues to be, seen as fundamental to our efforts to preserve “Planetary the software system” as opposed to “Planetary the iPad application.” Because of all the complexities inherent in preserving hardware and software systems, we are hoping that third party developers will translate the design and intent of Planetary to other systems, for example Google’s Android mobile operating system or to the JavaScript and WebGL programming environments found in modern web browsers.

Kaltman et al. in a similar vein writes:

Most scientific progress is based on reproduction and extension of others’ work, making that work easier to access and more transparent would open up more research avenues and increase scientific output. […] The more open a platform is, the better a chance it has for migration to other systems, and the more open a development process, the easier it will be for future researchers and students to understand and further the work. (7)

The benefit of open source seems to resonate with the idealistic rationale of library. I wonder what are the potential drawbacks of this approach? If we use this rationale, do you think we can persuade the stakeholders with a growing number of software preservation? Especially, as mentioned earlier by Chan and Cope, when developing a new software is much cheaper than tinkering the existing one? Do we envision something equivalent to “a law library” or “a business library” with the collections of software?