Designing a Data Lifeboat

What’s digital buoyancy?

About the project

Fun fact: The first aquatic lifeboat design was patented in 1785.

Another fun fact: Mariners before 1785 often couldn’t swim. Better to die quickly, they said.

Today, the Flickr holds “tens of billions of images” documenting our planet from the first days of photography to just a moment ago. What if—should the ship go down—we had an archival copy of your Flickr presence ready? Simply admitting this might happen and preparing for it is a form of preservation. We call it a data lifeboat.

You have probably been affected by web services that go dark or disappear, often with little or no warning. We think that’s not good enough, especially for an archive as precious as Flickr (and your photos), so we want to design a better way.

It’s all at risk—though not in imminent danger—and that’s why the foundation has been set up. SmugMug has acknowledged the risk and set us the task of imagining and determining how to make sure this huge piece of human history doesn’t sink.

We will work initially with the smaller and openly-licensed subset of imagery held within the Flickr Commons. Using this collection as our baseline, we will explore the edges of what’s required to create a data lifeboat that’s transportable, buoyant, and robust.

Lifeboat hopes:

  • Easy to store and access it outside the Flickr platform
  • Be more than a “bucket of files”, representing “original order” in the complex Flickr network
  • Has a sense of “buoyancy,” whatever that means!

We hope this research results in benefit to the wider Flickr community. And if you’ve read this far, did you know we’re hiring?