Preserving Open Source Software for the Long Term

We take much of our digital infrastructure for granted; stuff “just works,” day after day. But things can change fast. What would happen if contextual conditions — social, natural, or whatever — radically devolved into chaos? It’d be good to be able to reboot things in the case of a digital dark age. Looking to address this contingency, the Long Now Foundation has partnered with GitHub on its new GitHub Archive program:

Taking its lessons from past examples when crucial cultural knowledge was lost, such as the Great Library of Alexandria (which was burned multiple times between 48 BCE 00640 CE) and the Roman recipe for concrete, the GitHub Archive is employing a LOCKSS (“Lots Of Copies Keep Stuff Safe”) approach to preserving open source code for the future.

The Archive will take periodic snapshots of all public GitHub repositories, and store them in various formats and locations, including the Arctic World Archive in Norway — a code-archiving strategy inspired by Long Now co-founder Stewart Brand’s pace layers framework.

Is it likely that we’ll lapse into a new dark age? I don’t know. Would the GitHub Archive help in such a circumstance? I don’t know… And hope to never have to find out. But I do know it’s important to think about possible futures and plan accordingly. The GitHub Archive is a tangible example of such thinking.

In our sped-up age, it’s more important than ever that we make decisions with longer time perspectives in mind. By partnering with the GitHub Archive project, the Long Now Foundation (of which I’m a proud member) is carrying out its mission to foster long-term thinking. If you’re not a member yet, check out their seminar series about long-term thinking and consider joining.

Long Now Partners with GitHub on its Long-term Archive Program for Open Source Code