You may have heard about a new way of storing data- 256 Gb (~54 DVDs) on a single sheet of A4 paper, using colors and geometric shapes. Known as the “Rainbow Format,” does it sound too good to be true? Well, maybe…
TechWorld has a scathing article on why they think the technology is a hoax. While some of their objections are technically complicated, others are ludicrous and miss the entire potential of the Rainbow Format. For example, their last point:
14. Paper problems Paper distorts and inks fade so the long term storage potential is strictly limited. Paper also burns and can get torn which also restricts the method’s usability. Paper can be folded which would distort the represented information in the area of the fold.
What they fail to mention is that to date, paper-esque storage is our most reliable storage medium. We’re still reading texts that are thousands of years old. In comparison “archival” CDs claim to have a lifespan of merely 75 years. Not to mention the concerns that the 1s and 0s on those CDs are meaningless unless you have the proper format and tools to read them. Archival paper, on the other hand, can easily last hundreds of years, and needs no tools to decipher the contents, although a Rosetta Stone may come in handy.
A lot of TechWorld’s article (and the view of the tech community in general) seems to evaluate this as a replacement for hard drives and DVDs. Wrong! Obviously, a paper-based storage format would be horrible for conditions where the information needs to be read millions of times, and changed. If nothing else, changing paper is a mechanical process which will always be slower than the magnetic/light techniques we use to change information on hard drives and DVDs.
Instead, this format should be viewed as a revolutionary step in the process of archiving. With huge concerns as the Library of Congress digitizes their entire collection, due to the physical space constraints, in order to house all their documents, the Rainbow Format offers a new chance to preserve information in a lasting form. As long as we’re sure to intermingle Rosetta Stone-esque pages in with those in the Rainbow Format, we’ve given future historians a fighting chance.
To put it in more real-world terms, a 256 GB piece of Rainbow formatted paper could hold the contents of 50,000 Bibles. Let’s say, in the end, the Rainbow Format can only hold 0.00002% of its’ original storage claims: that’s still an entire Bible on a single sheet of paper. Now we’re looking at some serious space savings.