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How can we be sure we'll remember our digital past?

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And if diskettes or vinyl aren't kept in the right environment, it won't matter if people have the right drives. The disks will decay. The records will warp.

"It's the great challenge of the Informa­tion Age," she says, and a problem that her Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation will explore over the next two years.

The international panel brings together computer scientists, lawyers, archivists, and economists from universities, corporations, and federal agencies. The effort is backed by the National Science Foundation, the Library of Congress, and several other organizations.

"I'm excited," says Ann Ferguson, who is not on the panel, but has wrestled with the issue as project manager for the Digital Futures Alliance in Seattle. "The task force has all the right people and represents a cross section of the major interests. You need to have a large panel, because if there were an easy answer, we would have done it by now."

Since 2000, the Library of Congress has collected a trove of recent history that was "born digital," particularly websites and YouTube videos from presidential elections.

But the project's funding has faced significant cutbacks from Congress. This stoked the debate on how to make such collections financially sustainable.

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