The ubiquitous shiny disc. Photo: “Fanch The System.”

There’s a massive misconception of digital formats, that somehow if something’s digital it’ll last forever in a pristine state. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth: because digital formats are so intolerant of any error, they’re actually more susceptible to physical harm than analog formats. (If you don’t believe me, compare a vinyl LP with some scratches on it to a CD with a single scratch.)

Now, the question is, how dedicated are you to proper care and feeding of your discs? Enough to care whether you’re handling your CDs and Blu-ray discs according to an internationally-recognized standard published by the International Organization for Standardization (better known as ISO … not IOS)? Got 108 Swiss francs burning a hole in your pocket and want some unusually dry bedside reading?

ISO 18938:2008 addresses the issues of physical integrity of the medium necessary to preserve access to the recorded data. These include:

  • use and handling environments, including pollutants, temperature and humidity and light exposure
  • contamination concerns
  • inspection
  • cleaning and maintenance, including cleaning methods and frequency
  • transportation
  • disasters, including water, fire, construction and post-disaster procedures
  • staff training

I kid, of course – I imagine there could be some utility to this document for people who depend on optical storage and want this sort of official document. I will say, though, ISO – any thought of releasing a free executive summary for everyone else?

New ISO standard gives recommendations for care of optical discs [iso.org]

Proper care and handling isn’t the only challenge facing optically-stored digital information. The materials from which discs are made don’t last forever. (They don’t bio-degrade, either, but what they will do is fatigue and age to the point that you can’t read the information on them or return them to the Earth, ashes to ashes style.)

So, I’m curious, optical experts out there? What do you recommend for care of optical discs? And for long-term archiving, what sort of options do people have?

  • Hungry Antelope

    The ISO standards aren't some superior secret information for preserving your CDs. It is mostly stuff they everyone here already knows.

    The ISO standard is more about having a universal standard, so that if one company gets bought out by another company, they still have the same procedures that they follow… or that you can outsource the task to another company, and know the data is being archived in the exact same way… or that governments can require ISO standards from their suppliers, and a company only needs to follow one standard instead of 10 different standards in 10 different countries.

    For an individual though, I would think the best option is to back up your disks to a HD, and make regular backups of the HD. That way it is all in one place, easy to back up, and presumably you will be upgrading the HD every once in a while to make sure your storage medium isn't a dead format.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, right, of course — and for that reason, having standards is a good thing. I do wonder why standards in this day and age are so often only available as treeware, however.

    I agree that hard drive archiving is the way to go, with backups (or even, increasingly, off-site / online). In fact, the painfully low sales of Blu-Ray writers — even when the drives aren't *that* expensive — is telling. Price per megabyte just keeps getting better on hard drives rather than optical.

  • http://rekkerd.org ronnie

    I kind of gave up on using optical media for long term storage after I noticed some of my precious discs were already failing after just a year of 2 on the shelve. This was 5+ years ago, but I still don't really trust the media so I mostly use HDD's for backups. HDD's are indeed getting cheap enough to forget about optical (disc) storage all together.

  • http://habakukk.ogrim.net Ogrim

    I rarely buy music or movies in physical format. Mostly because of the lack of space in my bedsit, but also because I rip everything I buy and store it digitaly. It is easier to manage a digital collection, and much easier to have a good back-up scheme. For documents I use a sync service like http://syncplicity.com. For code, documents and pictures I use Amazons Webservice with http://jungledisk.com/. For music and movies I use external hard drives and RAID for some redundancy. I feel it is important to have off-site backups, in case your house burns down.