Timeline: Digital Technology and Preservation

This timeline highlights key events, projects, publications, and technological changes affecting the use of digital technology and efforts to preserve it. You can apply filters to the timeline by clicking on the green tabs below. For a complete, unfiltered, list of entries, choose Timeline: Digital Technology and Preservation in the breadcrumbs above. The seven subject categories include:


  • Marc code "500 general note"

    US libraries begin using MAchine Readable Cataloging (MARC) records.


  • Generalized Markup Language (GML) is introduced.

  • The first "Requests for Comments" (RFC) proposed to standardize the transfer of information across the ARPA network.


  • File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is first proposed.


  • Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) specification is published.


  • First appearance of an interpreted BASIC programming language.


  • Digital faxes using uniform data standards appear.

  • The TELNET protocol is specified, allowing command line login sessions between hosts.


  • ARPANET shifts to TCP/IP.

  • The National Information Systems Task Force (NISTF) develops the first two formally recognized archival description standards in the US: NISTF Data Elements Dictionary and USMARC AMC.


  • LZW image compression algorithm is developed and is adopted for compression of modem communications and TIFF, GIF, PDF, Zip, and Postscript files. Belated assertion of the LZW patent in GIF files leads to the development of the PNG image file format in 1995.


  • Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) is developed by Aldus.

  • Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) standard is published.


  • The GIF graphics image format is introduced by CompuServe.


  • Apple introduces PICT image file format.

  • File formats in a word cloud

    Proprietary file formats proliferate. Competing word processing software and file formats lead to rapid obsolescence.

  • Z39.50 becomes the international standard defining a protocol for computer-to-computer information retrieval. Z39.50 makes it possible for a user to search and retrieve information from other computer systems without knowing the search syntax used by those other systems.


  • TEI P1 "Guidelines for the Encoding and Interchange of Machine Readable Texts" are published.


  • Wide Area Information Server (WAIS) protocol is introduced, allowing collections of indexed data to be retrieved by searches.

  • HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) initial draft.

  • Gopher

    Gopher, a distributed document search and retrieval network protocol, is released.

  • JPEG still picture compression standard introduced.


  • Quicktime logo

    Apple debuts the "QuickTime" multimedia format.

  • Adobe announces the release of PDF 1.0, which eventually becomes the standard format for electronic publishing.

  • MPEG 1 standard is published.

  • Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) protocol proposed.


  • The HTML 1.0 standard is published.

  • MPEG-2 standard for digital television pictures is published.


  • World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is established to develop common WWW protocols.


  • QuickTime 2.0 is introduced.

  • RealAudio is introduced.

  • HTML 2.0, the first formal HTML standard, is published.

  • Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) 1.0 is introduced.

  • PowerMac

    The Xerox DocuTech Publishing System is designed for "print-on-demand" network accessed document publishing.

  • Dublin Core logo

    Dublin Core Metadata Initiative originates.


  • PNG 1.0 image format approved as a W3C Recommendation.



  • MPEG-4 compression standard is released.

  • HTML 4.0 is released.

  • Extensible Markup Language (XML) standard is created.

  • MP-3 players for downloaded Internet audio appear.

  • Encoded Archival Description (EAD) Version 1.0 is introduced.


  • HTTP 1.1 is released.

  • Resource Description Framework (RDF) is introduced. RDF is intended to provide metadata interoperability across different communities.


  • Part one of JPEG 2000 is accepted as a full international standard.

  • XHTML 1.0 (transition to XML) becomes a Web standard.


  • Work begins on the MPEG 21 standard.

  • METS 1.1 schema is introduced as an XML standard for encoding descriptive, administrative, and structural metadata within a digital library.


  • EAD Version 2002 becomes available.

  • QuickTime 6.0 is released.

  • MPEG 7 standard for description and search of audio and visual content is released.

  • National Information Standards Organization (NISO) Technical Metadata for Digital Still Images standards released.

  • An initiative known as PDF/A is undertaken to develop an international standard that defines the use of the Portable Document Format (PDF) for archiving and preserving documents.


  • The US patent on the LZW compression algorithm expires, ending restrictions on the use of GIF files. Despite its technical superiority and status as an international standard, PNG has not displaced GIF as the preferred file format for lossless color images on the Web.


  • ISO logo

    The International Organization for Standardization publishes: ISO 15836:2003, Information and Documentation, the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set.


  • The National Library of Australia and the Australian Partnership for Sustainable Repositories develop AONS, a system which automatically monitors the file formats of digital resources in a repository.

  • Global Digital Format Registry

    Harvard University Library and OCLC join forces to open the GDFR, providing distributed services to store, discover, and deliver representation information about digital formats.



  • The UDFR, a format registry that will eventually merge PRONOM and the Global Digital Format Registry, is announced.