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Disc expiration dates debated

Standards body is trying to develop a realistic way of labeling CDs and DVDs for longevity.

Would you like your digital-storage media to last 20 years, 25 years, 30 years, 35 years or 40 years?

If you're an organization or government agency, the U.S. government and an optical-disc industry group would like you to answer that question in a quick survey.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology's Government Information Preservation Working Group, or GIPWoG, is trying to develop a standard way of labeling CDs and DVDs for longevity. The optical disc has become the storage "medium of choice" for many government agencies and private-sector groups, GIPWoG notes, and users ought to have a clue as to how long information stored on such media might last.

"Both recordable CDs and DVDs can be very stable and robust," the working group says on its Web site. "But, as occurs with many successful technologies, a multitude of suppliers have entered the worldwide marketplace with varying degrees of product quality."

The practice of "lowest-bid procurement" could wind up exacerbating the quality problem, GIPWoG said.

GIPWoG is working with the DVD Association, an industry group, to nail down "a long-term, or archival, standard measurement for recordable CD and DVD media." The idea isn't to test how long discs will last, but to be able to establish whether or not a disc will last at least a certain number of years.

The survey urges respondents to be reasonable in naming their ideal optical-disc lifespan.

"One should consider the issues of digital obsolescence and migration," the survey says. "Is 100 years (or 'forever') really practical for typical long-term digital storage strategies? While you may need to preserve data for a particular length of time, is it really necessary to preserve that data on any particular technology or can it be migrated to newer technologies?"

Responses to the survey will be accepted through May 31.