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NARA to Declassify 400 Million Pages of Documents in Three Years 2011/12/06

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Digital Archives, Digital Preservation, Electronic Records, Information Technology (IT), Media, Records Management.
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For a very long time, I have been trying to ask anyone who knows (from my colleagues to the AOTUS himself), why are we even attempting to preserve 250 million emails created during the Bush Administration.  As I’ve mentioned before, that works out to nearly one email every second for eight years!  (And remember, part of that time included Bush’s annual month-long vacations.)  So this story really seemed to give a bit of context in ways that the National Archives (NARA) deals with processing large collections of backlog materials.  “All of these pages had been piling up here, literally,” said Sheryl J. Shenberger, a former CIA official who is the head of the National Declassification Center (NDC) at the National Archives. “We had to develop a Costco attitude: We had 400 million pages . . . and we have three years to do them in.”

If you read Saturday’s article in the Washington Post, you’ll learn that “All of the backlogged documents date back 25 years or more, and most are Cold War-era files from the departments of Defense, State and Justice, among other agencies. The CIA manages the declassification of its own files.”  and that ““The current backlog is so huge that Americans are being denied the ability to hold government officials accountable for their actions,” [AOTUS David] Ferriero said. “By streamlining the declassification process, the NDC will usher in a new day in the world of access.”

If NARA is really trying to declassify, process, catalog, describe, preserve and make these pages available, I hope they’re planning on hiring some more archivists!  The problem is that when institutions are dealing with mass quantities of materials, the (quantitative) metrics we use, may actually hurt us in the future.  In the archival world, the prevailing wisdom seems to be MPLP (More Product, Less Process), but I would argue that archivists need to have qualitative metrics as well, if only to ensure that they are reducing redundancies and older, non-needed versions.  This gets to the crux of the distinction between best practices for records managers and best practices for digital asset managers (or digital archivists).  Ideally, a knowledgeable professional will collect and appraise these materials, and describe it in a way, so that a future plan can be created to ensure that these assets (or records) can be migrated forward into new formats accessible on emerging (or not-yet invented) media players and readers.

Ultimately, this leads to the most serious problem facing archivists: the metadata schemas that are most popular (DublinCore, IPTC, DACS, EAD, etc.) are not specific enough to help archivists plan for the future.  Until our metadata schemas can be updated to ensure that content, context, function, structure, brand, storage media and file formats can be specifically and granularly identified and notated, we will continue paddling frantically against the digital deluge with no workable strategy or plan, or awareness of potential problems (e.g. vendor lock-in, non-backwards compatible formats, etc.)  Sadly, in the face of huge quantities of materials (emails and pages), NARA will probably embrace MPLP, and ultimately hinder and hurt future access to the most important specific files, pages, emails, etc., because they will refuse to hire more professionals to do this work, and will (probably) rely on computer scientists and defense contractors to whitewash the problems and sell more software.

Comparing Documentation Strategy of Civil War and First Gulf War 2011/11/21

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Best Practices, Digital Archives, Digital Preservation, Media, Records Management.
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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (paraphrasing someone
else): “We are at risk of knowing less about the events leading up to
the First Gulf War than events leading up to the Civil War, because
all of the records and documents from the Civil War were conserved and
preserved, whereas all the records from the First Gulf War were
created on Wang Wordprocessors and never migrated forward and now lost
forever.”

Case in point: Lincoln at Gettysburg; photo by Matthew Brady
http://blogs.archives.gov/prologue/?p=2564

Or 1991 Gulf War speech by Sec of Def Cheney:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cheney_Gulf_War_news_conference.jpg
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/52/Powell,_Schw…

or http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2007/08/the-tangled-state-of-archived-n…

Adobe Abandons Mobile Flash Video (Over Steve Jobs’ Dead Body) 2011/11/10

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Digital Preservation, Information Technology (IT), Intellectual Property, Media.
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Wired Magazine ran an interesting news story that many have been expecting!  “On Wednesday morning, Adobe delivered the eulogy for its multi-media Flash platform for mobile, stating the company would no longer invest resources in porting its once-indispensable cross-browser technology to smartphones and tablets.  It’s a startling admission of failure from a company that vehemently defended Flash and its mobile strategy in the face of Apple’s refusal to allow it on the iPhone and iPad. Adobe even took on Steve Jobs in a war of words over Flash’s viability as a mobile platform, all in the public domain.  But the writing was on the wall for Flash years ago, and Adobe knew it. With no Flash announcements to be heard at its Adobe Max conference earlier this year and with the company slowly beefing up its toolkit of Flash alternatives, Wednesday’s move is in step with Adobe’s broader strategy of migrating its loyal Flash developer base to a new era, one where mobile platforms reign supreme.”

It’s interesting to watch how these advancements will change our archiving strategies as older formats are retired and/or unsupported.  Everyone knows that the H.264 codec is more energy-efficient, but is the quality also better, and is it worth those license fees?!  So  just for fun, you might want to check out Steve Jobs’ “Thoughts on Flash” from April 2010:   “I wanted to jot down some of our thoughts on Adobe’s Flash products so that customers and critics may better understand why we do not allow Flash on iPhones, iPods and iPads. Adobe has characterized our decision as being primarily business driven – they say we want to protect our App Store – but in reality it is based on technology issues. Adobe claims that we are a closed system, and that Flash is open, but in fact the opposite is true. Let me explain.”

dk
###

Carnegie and Other Library Philanthropy Misrepresented by NYTimes 2011/11/09

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Leave it to the NYTimes to misrepresent Andrew Carnegie’s library philanthropy in hopes to suggest that one former Microsoft employee is even more generous. This article seems to be implying that any collection of “Dr. Seuss of Cambodia” books or unsold books of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” would also qualify as a library! In my opinion, the brilliance of Carnegie’s Library philanthropy was that it required municipalities to make a commitment and buy in, and to provide land, continued funding and books, but we all know (don’t we?) that the best libraries actually hire professional librarians.

“ONE of the legendary triumphs of philanthropy was Andrew Carnegie’s construction of more than 2,500 libraries around the world. It’s renowned as a stimulus to learning that can never be matched — except that, numerically, it has already been surpassed several times over by an American man you’ve probably never heard of.. . . “He faced one challenge after another, not only in opening libraries but also in filling them with books that kids would want to
read. “

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/opinion/sunday/kristof-his-libraries-12000-so-far-change-lives.html

NARA’s Erratic ERA Offers No Content-Searching 2011/10/29

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Digital Archives, Electronic Records, Records Management.
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Many of us have been watching the unruly boondoggle of NARA’s ERA over
the years, but this story seems a bit overdue. . . . In a nutshell,
“Searching text impossible on NARA’s e-Records Archive”.
I hope soon they’ll take on the task of separating the wheat from the
chaff of those 250million Bush emails. (nearly one [out-of-office?]
email every second for 8 years)

“People trying to search the text of documents through the National
Archives and Records Administration’s $430 million Electronic Records
Archive are going to be disappointed, according to the agency’s
inspector general.  Under the currently deployed system, users can
search only by metadata. That typically includes tags for information
such as name of the original publication, date of publication, agency
that originated the document, and a small number of keywords. Users
who hope to locate a document by a word or phrase that isn’t part of
the metadata will be unable to. . . .

The public’s ability to use the ERA is likely to be hampered because
of the lack of a full text-based search capability, which would be
similar to what is available on Google.com or other commercial search
engines, NARA Inspector General Paul Brachfeld said in an interview on
Oct. 26.  Lack of full text search “is one of the profound problems
with the ERA at this point,” Brachfeld said. “Metadata alone does not
tell the story of what is in the documents.””

http://fcw.com/articles/2011/10/26/nara-electronic-archive-has-fundamental-flaw-in-search–it-says.aspx

Day of Digital Archives: McLuhan “The [digital] medium is [no longer] the [only] message.” 2011/10/06

Posted by nydawg in Digital Archives, Digital Archiving, Digital Preservation, Education, Information Technology (IT), Media.
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Day of Digital Archives October 6, 2011 Marshall McLuhan: “The Medium Is the Message?” or “The [digital] medium is [no longer] the [only] message.”

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of “the new spokesman of the electronic age”, Marshall (Understanding Media) McLuhan, and digital archivists should take a moment to think about how media, digital and analog, hot and cool, and in many different formats change our jobs, lives and responsibilities. With threats of technological obsolescence, vendor lock-in, hardware failure, bit rot and link rot, non-backwards compatible software, and format and media obsolescence, digital archivists need a system to accurately describe digital objects and assets in their form and function, content, subject, object and context. If we miss key details, we run the risk of restricting access in the future because, for example, data may not be migrated or media refreshed as needed. By studying and understanding media, digital archivists can propose a realistic and trustworthy digital strategy and implement better and best practices to guarantee more efficiency from capture (and digitization or ingest) and appraisal (selection and description), to preservation (storage) and access (distribution).

Over the last ten, forty, one hundred and twenty thousand years, we have crossed many thresholds and lived through many profound media changes-- from oral culture to hieroglyphic communications to the alphabet and the written word, and from scrolls to books, and most recently transiting from the Atomic Age (age of atoms) to the Information Age (era of bits). While all changes were not paradigm shifts, many helped shift currencies of trust and convenience to establish new brand loyalties built on threats of imminent obsolescence and vendor lock-in. As digital archivists, we stand at the line separating data from digital assets, so we need to ensure that we are archiving and preserving the assets and describing the content, technical and contextual metadata as needed.

Today, Day of Digital Archives, is a good day to consider Marshall McLuhan's most famous aphorism, “The medium is the massage,” and update it for the Information Age. In a nutshell, McLuhan argues that “the medium is the message” because an electric light bulb (medium) is pure information (light). He goes on to state: “This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the “content” of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph.” (Understanding Media, 23-24) But in the Information Age, the [digital] medium is [no longer] the [only] message. Every born-digital or digitized file is a piece in an environment in which it was created or is accessed, and needs to be described on multiple planes to articulate technical specifications (hardware & software versions, operating system, storage media, file format, encryption) as well as its content. For archivists and librarians describing content, the medium and the message, many use MARC, DublinCore and VRA Core are guides, but PBCore provides a richly defined set of technical, content and Intellectual Property metadata fields to ensure all stakeholders, including IT staff will be able to efficiently access, copy or use the asset (or a copy).

With More Product, Less Process [MPLP] the prevailing processing strategy, many libraries, archives and museums encourage simplified descriptions to catalog digital objects, but these generic descriptions (e.g. moving image, video or digital video) do not provide the most critical information to ensure future users can watch the video online, on an iPad or with a DVD player (or VHS player or film projector). Until digital objects and assets are described in their granular, multi-dimensional digital splendor, we are hurting ourselves and archival access in the future. Once we understand that the medium and message are split into many different categories, we can focus descriptive metadata on critical access points (subject, format or function), and we will not need to panic and makework every time a new [moving image] format [or codec] gains temporary popularity. With better description and critical appraisal at ingest, digital archivists will understand that the medium, the message and the content, subject, structure, form, format and other aspects are all integral parts. At that point we will start to change the commonly-held mindset that “The [digital] medium is [no longer] the [only] message.” 

#OccupyWallStreet Call for Information Managers, Librarians & Archivists 2011/10/05

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Education, Media.
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I don’t know if anybody else has had an opportunity to walk around the
Liberty Plaza #OccupyWallSt #ows festival, but it is truly
incredible . . . Smart people are living there & there’s plenty of
free food donated throughout the day from around the world, and most
importantly, a lending library!  It’s true, i saw it with my own
eyes.  They also have drum circles, Helen Caldicott (last night) and
today, at 4:30 they’re co-hosting a big union rally!

“As the OccupyWallStreet protest movement has held firm and spread
since its inception September 17, the northeast corner of Zuccotti
Park (renamed Liberty Plaza by the protesters) in lower Manhattan has
become the home for the budding revolution’s People’s Library.  The
library already has a website, which proclaims that “information is
liberation,” and this morning, October 5, a “call for librarians” went
out.

“We need help building our catalog and writing our history. Our
readers are enthusiastic and some of them need help finding the right
book,” the post reads. “The right book for the right reader is
fundamental to successful librarianship, so we need public services
folks to come out and conduct reference interviews with people and
help them find ‘their’ book.”

http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/home/892288-264/as_a_revolution_takes_root.html.csp
check out the library, and maybe you’ll find those American Archivists
back issues i dumped!
http://peopleslibrary.wordpress.com/

Does the Kindle Fire Threaten iPad Tablet Market? 2011/09/28

Posted by nydawg in Information Technology (IT), Intellectual Property, Media.
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For nearly a year, people have been hoping for some type of competition to Apple’s iPad.  Well, this news release may be the next in a series of possibilities, but since it comes from Amazon, it may hold some promise.  Personally, I don’t think it really is an iPad killer, but  I think time will tell if there really is a “market” for tablet computers.  In the meantime, though, this new technology will provide another example of a cloud computer which forces consumers (or end users) to rely on locked-in cloud storage to access their information. Though I don’t totally buy into the hype that Kindle Fire will compare favorably with the iPad, some (like Ars Technica) do. . . .

“Amazon’s Kindle Fire is likely to be the first successful tablet not sold by Apple, and there are several good reasons for it: the low price of $199, the convenient, portable size of 7 inches, and a rich catalog of books, movies and music offered through Amazon’s Web-based services. But Amazon’s smartest move was to avoid the fatal temptation of creating an iPad clone. “

If you check out the comments section, you’ll see that a better comparison may be between the Kindle Fire and the Barnes and Noble Color Nook. . . . .  Ultimately, I think that one of the biggest differences is (obviously) size!  Though my interactions with iPads have been limited to a handful, I think the 10″ screen is better suited to reading full-page essays and articles and etc.  On my own eReader/Tablet (by Entourage), I find it annoying to read small print and try to zoom in and then move forward and etc.  But that’s what you get with a 7″ screen (or two).  Alas, I don’t think the Kindle Fire is a dead on arrival, because unlike the iPad, it may allow end users to access Flash videos and retrieve content from the Amazon Cloud. . .   On the other hand, though, the price is cheap ($200), and a Kindle eReader now sells for only $79! So in the long-tun, as an appliance to access content stored on the Cloud, this may work out well for Amazon, as long as they don’t lose too much money on each loss-leader sold, and can make it back on licensing fees.

And one last consideration is the E Ink technology (“As its engineers explain it, “electronic ink is a straightforward fusion of chemistry, physics and electronics to create this new material.” “) which was so good for battery-life.  With this new color tablet option, it will be interesting to see how long batteries last– especially when playing Flash videos.  Oh, and one other thing, like the iPad, the Fire does NOT have a USB port either!  Meanwhile, somewhere in Redmond, WA, Bill Gates weeps!

WikiLeaks’ Cablegate Links State Dept. Bureau of Diplomatic Security to Madness 2011/09/28

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Digital Archives, Digital Preservation, Electronic Records, Information Technology (IT), Media, Privacy & Security, Records Management, WikiLeaks.
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For the last year or so, I’ve been fascinated by the whole WikiLeaks Cablegate story.  As I posted previously, there are a number of factors that contribute to this story which make it particularly interesting for people concerned with records  management and best practices for accessing and sharing information.   In my opinion, Private first class Bradley Manning is a fall guy (lipsynching to Lady Gaga), but problems revealed serious systemic malfunctions.  So I was very interested to read this article by Andy Kroll: “The Only State Dept. Employee Who May Be Fired Over WikiLeaks“.

Peter Van Buren is no insurgent. Quite the opposite: For 23 years he’s worked as a foreign service officer at the State Department, and a damn good one from the looks of it. He speaks Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and Korean; served his country from Seoul to Sydney, Tokyo to Baghdad; and has won multiple awards for his disaster relief work. So why was Van Buren treated like a terror suspect by his own employer? For linking to a single leaked cable dumped online by WikiLeaks earlier this month.”

Well, this led me to read a TomDispatch.com posting by Van Buren himself which offers a clear-headed look at the madness!  For one thing, Van Buren got into a heap of trouble and was “under investigation for allegedly disclosing classified information” for LINKING to a WikiLeaks document which was already on the Web!  As he put it: “two DS agents stated that the inclusion of that link amounted to disclosing classified material. In other words, a link to a document posted by who-knows-who on a public website available at this moment to anyone in the world was the legal equivalent of me stealing a Top Secret report, hiding it under my coat, and passing it to a Chinese spy in a dark alley.”

Van Buren goes on to analyze the situation by stating: “Let’s think through this disclosure of classified info thing, even if State won’t. Every website on the Internet includes links to other websites. It’s how the web works. If you include a link to say, a CNN article about Libya, you are not “disclosing” that information — it’s already there. You’re just saying: “Have a look at this.”  It’s like pointing out a newspaper article of interest to a guy next to you on the bus.  (Careful, though, if it’s an article from the New York Times or the Washington Post.  It might quote stuff from Wikileaks and then you could be endangering national security.)”

And, for me, the cherry on the top, and something I’ve been trying to state for most of the last year (including at the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York meeting in January 2011), is the fact that “No one will ever be fired at State because of WikiLeaks — except, at some point, possibly me. Instead, State joined in the Federal mugging of Army Private Bradley Manning, the person alleged to have copied the cables onto a Lady Gaga CD while sitting in the Iraqi desert. That all those cables were available electronically to everyone from the Secretary of State to a lowly Army private was the result of a clumsy post-9/11 decision at the highest levels of the State Department to quickly make up for information-sharing shortcomings. Trying to please an angry Bush White House, State went from sharing almost nothing to sharing almost everything overnight. They flung their whole library onto the government’s classified intranet, SIPRnet, making it available to hundreds of thousands of Federal employees worldwide. . . . . State did not restrict access. If you were in, you could see it all. There was no safeguard to ask why someone in the Army in Iraq in 2010 needed to see reporting from 1980s Iceland. . . . . Most for-pay porn sites limit the amount of data that can be downloaded. Not State. Once those cables were available on SIPRnet, no alarms or restrictions were implemented so that low-level users couldn’t just download terabytes of classified data. If any activity logs were kept, it does not look like anyone checked them.

In other words, by pointing the finger of blame at a few (two) bad apples (Pfc Manning and Foreign Services Officer/ Author Van Buren), “… gets rid of a “troublemaker,” and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security people can claim that they are “doing something” about the WikiLeaks drip that continues even while they fiddle.”  Yet, the State Department and the Department of Defense still refuse to acknowledge the systemic problems of trying to provide UNRESTRICTED and UNTRACEABLE ACCESS to ALL CABLES to all LEVELS of employees from the highest administrative levels at State and Defense  to the lowliest of the low  (Private first class on probation or a contractor, like Aaron Barr, working in White Hat or Black Hat Ops.)  Okay, according to Homeland Security Today, there’s 3 million people (not just Americans, btw) with “secret” clearance and “only” half a million with access to SIPRNet!

This still strikes me as an example of the US acting like ostriches and burying its head so we will not have to acknowledge the serious problems that are all around us.  Mark my words: the system is still broken, and even though certain changes have been instituted (thumb drive bans), we have a much more serious and systemic problem which few dare to acknowledge.  What’s the solution?  Better appraisal and better records management!

No one will ever be fired at State because of WikiLeaks — except, at some point, possibly me. Instead, State joined in the Federal mugging of Army Private Bradley Manning, the person alleged to have copied the cables onto a Lady Gaga CD while sitting in the Iraqi desert. That all those cables were available electronically to everyone from the Secretary of State to a lowly Army private was the result of a clumsy post-9/11 decision at the highest levels of the State Department to quickly make up for information-sharing shortcomings. Trying to please an angry Bush White House, State went from sharing almost nothing to sharing almost everything overnight. They flung their whole library onto the government’s classified intranet, SIPRnet, making it available to hundreds of thousands of Federal employees worldwide.

Three Screens and a Cloud: Netflix’s Qwikster, Facebook & Amazon 2011/09/23

Posted by nydawg in Copyright, Curating, Digital Archives, Digital Archiving, Information Literacy, Information Technology (IT), Intellectual Property, Media.
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One of the most pressing and intimidating challenges digital archivists face today, is the fact that there is so much content offered in so many quick-changing distribution formats and accessible on short-lived storage media.  I found that the easiest way to describe this is “Three screens and a cloud” or as former Microsoft head Ray Ozzie put it: “how we consume IT is really shifting from a machine-centric viewpoint to what we refer to as three screens and a cloud:  the phone, the PC, and the TV ultimately, and how we deliver value to them.” [i would change that to IP, but hey, I'm not CEO of Microsoft.]

So as archivists who are concerned with the distribution and accessibility of our digital assets, it is important to ask early, “What format or what media will be required and who is the targeted end user on what appliance?”  In other words, you probably don’t want to send a hi-def Blu-Ray digital video stream meant for a big screen tv to a tiny smartphone!  Or you probably don’t want to stream a FlashVideo version to an iPad user.

But, on the other hand, archivists may not need to archive or preserve (for long-term functions) every possible variation of each format version (for smartphone or netbook (iPad) or television).   By articulating what is really needed, archivists can streamline processes and avoid making mountains where molehills are sufficient.  Archivists who can see the forest for the trees will be able to describe fewer assets more completely so that specific needles can be found within the haystacks.

This leads me to the real groundshifting news stories that happened this week.  The first one is that NetFlix is splitting its DVDs-by-mail service from its streaming.  According to Huffington Post: “In a post on The Netflix Blog that went up Sunday night, the company’s CEO, Reed Hastings, announced that Netflix would split its DVD-by-mail service and its streaming-video service into two companies. The new DVD-only company, called “Qwikster,” will be completely separate from the streaming business. Hastings also expressed contrition for the way the company rolled out its recent price hike, which alienated many customers. . . . “It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology.”

Well, obviously, many people are up in arms and think this is the biggest boneheaded marketing move since Coke introduced New Coke! The NY Times’s David Pogue does a pretty good job of getting his gander up as he parses the Netflix apology without fully acknowledging the economics of the “streaming” game.  I won’t get too much into the legal issues (which I don’t fully understand), but I do remember when I was working in “streaming media” as Senior Encoder at SonicNet (and Streamland), licensing costs and marketing dollars generally shift from one medium (vhs, CD or radio) to another (DVD, streaming media or satellite radio).   It seems inevitable that NetFlix realizes, as Blockbuster did years ago, that physical media will soon be obsolete, . . .  so they’re trying to split themselves in order to have different licensing deals with different stakeholders and end users. . . . . and Blockbuster, long-ago doomed, seeks to get in on the action too!

But ultimately, “An issue that both Netflix and Dish face, even when they don’t want to admit it, is the inconsistency of broadband connectivity across the United States.”

Another huge news story from this week was at f8 where Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced major Facebook renovations. ““Millions of people curate stories of their lives on Facebook every day and have no way to share them once they fall off your profile page…we have been working on ‘timeline’ all year…it’s the story of your life and completely new way to express yourself.  “It has three pieces: all your stories, your apps and a new way to express who you are.”  Zuckerberg said he wanted people to be able to share “their entire lives” on Facebook and have “total control” over how their content appeared online.”

Zuckerberg “also announced a series of partnerships with music, media and games companies –including Spotify, Netflix, Zynga [the maker of Farmville] and The Washington Post.”  So this brings us back to the idea of Netflix which  “announced it is integrating its video streaming service with Facebook — allowing users to watch videos on either site and see what people on their friends lists are viewing.  It will be available in 44 countries except in Netflix’s biggest market — the United States, because of the 1998 Video Privacy Protection Act that prohibits the disclosure of video sales or rental records, the company explained.”

So what does this all mean for “Three Screens and a Cloud?”  Well, it’s important to remember that “Netflix is the biggest driver of U.S. Internet traffic, according to one study. As Internet service providers begin capping or tiering their data plans, that could cause consumers to watch fewer streaming videos on Netflix, analysts say.”  So as phone companies begin capping data plans for distribution (streaming), then another part of the archival equation is the storage medium. . . . and, as many people know, the battle is in the Clouds!

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