It’s Document Freedom Day 2014: What Does that Mean for You?

If the question posed in the title to this entry puzzles you, consider the following: yes, it’s reasonable to assume that you will be able to open a document tomorrow that you create today. But how about opening that same document ten years from now?  Here’s a hint: have you tried to open one you created ten years ago?  Maybe that didn’t work so well.  Twenty years ago?  Not a chance. 

Get the idea?

You may not be aware that there is such a thing as Document Freedom Day, and especially not if you live in the U.S. But there is, and it traces its origins back to a time (the middle of the last decade) when there was much more focus on questions such as whether archived documents would remain accessible in the future, whether you could use software and hardware of your choice to create and open documents, and how much the ability to create and exchange documents should cost (you can read more about that saga in my War of the Words book in progress, which you can find here). But all of those issues remain as important today as they did a decade ago. And sadly, there hasn’t been a great deal of progress since then.

The organization that has kept Document Freedom Day alive, not surprisingly, can be found at If you visit that site, you’ll find that Document Freedom Day is intended to be “a day for celebrating and raising awareness of Open Standards and formats…. On this day people who believe in fair access to communications technology teach, perform, and demonstrate.” You’ll also find out that “document freedom” is explained by the site and its sponsors, as:

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Documents that are free can be used in any way that the author intends. They can be read, transmitted, edited, and transformed using a variety of tools. Documents that aren’t free are locked to some particular software or company. The author cannot choose how to use them because they are controlled by technical restrictions, like a powerful car that is artificially restricted to 30 km/ph.

You’ll also see that the definition of “documents” is intended to be expansive:

Freedom to control your creative work is about more than just essays and spreadsheets – Document Freedom is about all forms of data, including artwork, sheet and recorded music, emails, and statistics. These can be stored in ways which empower users, but they can also be stored in formats which constrain and manipulate us at enormous cost.

Further information on the scope of the site’s concerns can be found at the About page.

You’ll recall that I noted above Document Freedom Day awareness is limited in the U.S. So is participation in DFD activities, as you can see from the image at left, which shows where they are being held this year. That’s a shame, because document freedom is a universal, and not a regional or national concern.

Regardless of where you may live, if this entry piques your interest, check out not only the DFD site, but also the Get Involved page which includes not only obvious sorts of things, but also some not so obvious ideas about how you can support document freedom (document freedom street art or cupcakes, anyone?) And if you’d like to support the cause financially, I’m sure that you’re sorely in need of another T shirt (or at least one that’s as cool as the one you see above). 

If getting involved in ensuring document freedom sounds like a pretty low priority, just remember this: it’s not a question of whether the documents you save may be your own. Rest assured, it WILL be your documents – or not, depending on whether things ever change.

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Comments (2)

  1. Most important documents I made 10 years ago are in ASCII and still perfectly accessible, so full props to good well-implemented standards!

    I did run into a problem with some documents from 40 years ago because, while also in ASCII, they were stored on 5.25" floppies… so you need good well maintained standards all the way up the chain.

    • Indeed. Not surprisingly, one of the most stable formats is an old fashioned analog record (as in record player).  Hundreds of years from now, even if someone didn’t have a record player, or perhaps had never even heard of one, they could probably guess how to go about constructing something to express the data. In fact, I read awhile back that the Smithsonian was even exploring using Edison-style wax cylinders for that purpose.


       –  Andy

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