Investigating the Significant Properties of Electronic Content over Time (InSPECT), a JISC funded project that ended in 2009, defines the concept as, “the characteristics of an Information Object that must be maintained over time to ensure its continued access, use, and meaning, and its capacity to be accepted as evidence of what it purports to record” (King’s College London, 2009).
Determining the significant properties of a digital object has been touted as a means to ensure a digital object’s authenticity over time (Heslop, Davis, & Wilson, 2002). The appraisal process should include a consideration of a digital object’s essential attributes (Webb, 2003, p. 72), because they are indelibly linked to the asset’s value (Blue Ribbon Task Force, 2010, p. 21) and meaning over time (Heslop et al., 2002, p. 14). Notably, an understanding of the core features of a digital asset may aid media managers to choose an appropriate metadata schema (Hedstrom, Lee, Olson, & Lampe, 2006).
One central facet to the determination of significant properties is the consideration of the users that interact with the digital object. They can be classified, using the OAIS model, as producer, preserver, and user. These terms are somewhat open to interpretation (i.e., a computer can be designated as a user); yet subsume the potentially diffuse and dynamic communities that they represent. The essential characteristics of a digital asset are dependent on its users and are similarly diffuse, dynamic, and sometimes difficult to define. There are a few who believe most significant properties are fixed inside the digital file once it has been created, but, since these files exist within a much broader social-technical ecosystem, their significant properties are mutable. As Yeo (Yeo, 2010, p. 21) writes, “we must move beyond approaches that presuppose a static and universally specifiable significance”. Therefore, it is impractical to develop a single list of absolute essential characteristics for each class of digital object. Decisions should be made based on an object’s context and the needs of its various users.
Blue Ribbon Task Force. (2010). Sustainable economics for a digital planet: Ensuring long-term access to digital information. Final Report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access. Retrieved from http://brtf.sdsc.edu/biblio/BRTF_Final_Report.pdf
Hedstrom, M. L., Lee, C. A., Olson, J. S., & Lampe, C. A. (2006). “ The old version flickers more”: Digital preservation from the user’s perspective. The American Archivist, 69(1), 159–187. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40294315
Heslop, H., Davis, S., & Wilson, A. (2002). An approach to the preservation of digital records. National Archives of Australia, Canberra. Retrieved from http://www.naa.gov.au/
King’s College London. (2009). InSPECT: Final Report (No. 2007-2008) (pp. 1–27). Retrieved from http://www.significantproperties.org.uk/inspect-finalreport.pdf
Webb, C. (2003). Guidelines for the preservation of digital heritage. Information Society Division, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org
Yeo, G. (2010). “Nothing is the same as something else”: significant properties and notions of identity and originality. Archival Science, 10(2), 85–116. doi:10.1007/s10502-010-9119-9