17 April 2007

Microfilm or digital for genealogy?

Dick Eastman had a posting in his plus edition lamenting a decision to microfilm rather than digitize a dataset. It's "so 1980s" was his comment. There's still a lot of microfilm around. How 1980s is it? Here's what the Rootsweb archives mailing list search engine I've been using in recent posts has to show.

The bar graph shows percent of postings for the year that mention microfilm*, digit*, and for good measure, CD.

Microfilm* was mentioned in 1.4% of postings in 1996, peaked at over 1.5% in 1999 and has declined slowly to about 1.1%.

Digit*, including "digitized", "digital", "digitization" and other forms with this root, has doubled from 0.4% in 1996 to 0.8% in 2006.

Microfilm* is still mentioned in more postings than digit*. For a dying technology it's making a healthy contribution.

The trend that surprised me most was for CD. 1996 was an especially successful year for CD at over 2%, dropped back to just over 1.5% and spiked in 2002 at 2.2%. A more substantial decline has followed. It looks like this is a technology on the way out. DVD technology, not shown on the graph, has seen a consistent increase. It still gets only a tenth the mentions of CD.

It's evident that with microfilm, CD and other physical media we are seeing legacy technologies. Does anyone really want a microfilm or CD sitting in storage in their home of office? What they want is the data on it, and a small part of the data at that? Physical media will still have a role as robust storage, secure against damage by a major electromagnetic pulse.

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