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Digitization is the process of converting physical source material into digital source material. The goal of digitization is to preserve and protect analog information and make it possible for computing devices to work with it.
Traditional analog formats store information in a continuous form. (Think of the grooves on a vinyl record or the varying magnetic fields on a cassette tape.)
In contrast, digital formats use a discrete, binary system that consists of 0s and 1s to store information. This binary representation is a fundamental component of digitization.
It’s important to note that the terms digitization and digitalization are often confused. Despite sounding similar, the two terms represent two distinct concepts:
1. The first step of any digitization initiative involves identifying what source material is going to be digitized. Historical documents and family photos have always been popular candidates for digitization. Videotape and long-playing records (LPs) are also becoming a focus for digital preservation efforts, because they can also degrade over time.
2. The next step is to select the right process to convert the source material. Popular digitization processes include:
3. Once the source material has been digitized, it is then encoded into a standard digital format. Common formats include PNG for images, PDF for documents, MP3 for audio, and MP4 for video.
4. After the initial conversion, the new digital files can be edited for quality improvement. This might include cropping, adjusting brightness and contrast, cleaning up audio noise, or other enhancements.
5. Finally, the digital files are stored. Depending on how the digital content will be shared, the digital assets may be stored on an internal hard disk drive, an external hard drive, a thumb drive, or in a storage service provider’s cloud.
Digitization has been driven by the development of new technologies and an increasing demand for more efficient and accessible ways to handle information.
Significant advancements that fundamentally transformed how ordinary people chose to store, process, and transmit information include:
Personal Computers (PCs): The introduction of personal computers in the late 1970s and 1980s brought digital technology into homes and businesses around the world. This era saw a significant increase in digitization as computers became more accessible and software that was capable of handling various types of digital data became more widely available.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR): OCR technology, which can convert typed, printed, or hand-written text into a digital format, became more commonplace in the 1970s and 1980s. This technology was crucial for digitizing large volumes of printed materials and automating data entry processes that were previously time-consuming.
Audio and Video Digitization: The 1980s and 1990s also saw significant advancements in the digitization of audio and video. The introduction of compact discs (CDs) in the 1980s digitized the way musical content was stored, and DVDs in the 1990s did the same for video.
The Internet and the World Wide Web: The growing popularity of the Internet in the 1990s was a major milestone, leading to the digitization of information on an unprecedented scale.
Digital Cameras: By the turn of the century, digital cameras began to replace film cameras. It wasn’t long before the process of capturing and storing images became almost exclusively digitalized.
21st-Century Technology: The early 21st century has seen an explosion in digitization, fueled by the advent of smartphones, tablets, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT). This era is characterized by the digitization of almost everything — from books and newspapers to television and radio.
Converting analog information into a digital format offers a wide variety of benefits that have revolutionized the way people store, access, and share information.
Key advantages include:
Analog content can degrade over time due to physical factors like wear and tear.
Digital information can easily be replicated to ensure its preservation without introducing errors.
Digital information can be easily accessed by computers and other digital devices over a local area network (LAN) or wide area network (WAN).
Digitization allows specific information to be searched for and retrieved quickly and efficiently.
Improved Storage and Organization
Digital information can be stored in a compact and organized manner that requires significantly less physical space than legacy analog counterparts.
Digitized information makes it possible for individuals who are located in different geographical boundaries to view the same digitized content virtually.
Data Manipulation and Analysis
Digital information can be manipulated, analyzed, and processed locally or in the cloud.
Accessibility and Inclusion
Once information is digitized, it can be made more accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Digitization has revolutionized the way people store, access, and share text, images, video, and audio content. However, large projects are not without their challenges for business. They include:
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Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.
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