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:


  • A committee at the US National Archives determines that federal agencies (rather than archivists) can determine whether records stored in punch cards have historical value and should be preserved. Following this decision, few agencies retain any punch card records for historical purposes.


  • Moore's Law established - Gordon Moore correctly predicts that the number of transistors on a microprocessor will double approximately every 18 months.


  • CP/M Operating system developed by Digital Research Corporation becomes the dominant standard for the personal computer in business, but incompatible floppy disk formats and the success of MS-DOS and the IBM PC in 1981 eventually led to its demise.


  • worm

    A "worm" program that searches out other computers copies itself then self-destructs is invented by two Xerox PARC researchers.


  • Laserdiscs begin to develop "Laser rot" due to oxidation of the aluminum layer.


  • virus

    University of Southern California professor Fred Cohen creates alarm when he warns the public about computer viruses.


  • Vinyl record

    CDs outsell vinyl records.

  • virus

    The Internet Worm virus temporarily shuts down 10% of the world's Internet servers.

  • File formats in a word cloud

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


  • Australian Center for Remote Sensing (ACRES) rescues aging space data from disintegration by migrating from high-density magnetic tapes to optical tape.


  • National Science Foundation dismantles NSFnet and replaces it with a commercial Internet backbone.


  • EU Database direction provides copyright protection to databases, even if the content is in the public domain.

  • World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) copyright treaty protects databases as literary works and makes fair use optional.


  • BITNET is retired.

  • A human error at Network Solutions causes the Domain Name System (DNS) table for .com and .net domains to become corrupted, making millions of systems unreachable.


  • 239 3.5" floppy disks are given to the Archaeology Data Service for restoration. Many files are corrupted, lack documentation, and were created using obsolete software. The data is recovered, and many insights about digital preservation come from the project.

  • Apple introduces the iMac, which revolutionized the PC industry with its design, along with some key features such as the inclusion of USB ports and the purposeful exclusion of a floppy drive.

  • Copyright symbol

    Digital Millennium Copyright Act is passed in the US, setting off a chain of confusion and controversy over its implications toward electronic media.

  • US Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act retroactively extends the duration of copyright to the life of the author plus seventy years. It is unclear whether extended copyright term will aid preservation (a position taken by the MPAA) or hurt it (as argued by library and archival associations).

  • An RLG study finds that 2/3 of archives, libraries, museums, and other repositories had assumed responsibility for digital information, but 42% lacked the capacity to mount, read, and access some of this material.


  • Due to adequate preparation, the Year 2000 bug causes few glitches, no catastrophes.


  • After 21 years of selling hard drives, Quantum switches to higher-level storage products and services.


  • US Department of Education indexing service PubSCIENCE is discontinued without warning, Web pages are removed.

  • A report by CLIR estimates that the average Web page has a life span of 44 days.

  • The Sarbanes-Oxley Act is signed into law. "The goal of the act was to protect investors by improving the accuracy and reliability of corporate disclosures." The law requires publicly traded companies to closely monitor electronic and paper document retention and imposes criminal sanctions for the destruction or loss of certain electronic records.

  • Microsoft addresses a security vulnerability in Internet Explorer's code for the gopher protocol by turning support for gopher off by default, thereby rendering most remaining gopher sites inaccessible to the majority of Internet users.


  • The University of North Texas Libraries and the U.S. Government Printing Office, as part of the Federal Depository Library Program, creates the CyberCemetery to "provide permanent public access to the Web sites and publications of defunct U.S. government agencies and commissions."