A childhood photograph of a man with a mother he hasn’t spoken with in 20 years, an Argentinean’s proclamation of his love for “The Simpsons” and a tune from the Boston punk band Darkbuster are among the early submissions to Yahoo Inc.’s digital time capsule.
The company is accepting words, pictures, videos, sounds and drawings from anyone around the world. It plans to seal about 5 terabytes of data – equivalent to the text of roughly 5 million books – until the company’s 25th anniversary in 2020.
“What we’re basically trying to do is create a shared digital mosaic of our time by allowing users to define what’s important to them,” said Bill Gannon, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company’s editorial director. “We’ve seen prayers, haiku, poems, a lot of digital photographs and video is starting to come in.”
Once sealed, the data will be given to the Smithsonian Institution’s Folkways Recordings project, with backup copies kept by Yahoo and others. It won’t be publicly available until 2020.
The project, however, won’t try to preserve today’s computers and software to read that data. Gannon said he’s counting on tomorrow’s software being able to convert today’s document formats should any change over the next 14 years.
That may be an optimistic proposition given how quickly software makers come up with new versions, making small changes along the way such that characters and line breaks no longer display correctly. Among larger projects, NASA’s early space records and the British Broadcasting Corp.’s digital collection of life in 1986 are rapidly losing the equipment to read the data.
Yahoo’s project received more than 5,000 submissions by Wednesday, the bulk of them photographs and about a third of all contribution coming from the United States and Mexico. Time capsule submissions, accepted through Nov. 8, are screened for pornography and copyright concerns.
It’s by no means the only Internet time capsule project. Forbes.com, for instance, collected more than 140,000 e-mails from readers and plans to deliver them back in as many as 20 years.