Building a Time Machine: Digital Archiving with Deirdre Ni Luasaigh of Culture Ark

by Geekgirl, September 9, 2016

Deirdre Ni Luasaigh is paving the way in the fascinating arena of digital archiving. Her company, Culture Ark, is a digital archiving platform for brand archives, creative agencies and cultural heritage organisations. Why does that matter? Deirdre explained, “We are building a time machine! Digital content is fragile, vulnerable and under constant threat of loss. Much of it will not be accessible, readable or useable in a few years time.”

Like many of us, Deirdre herself has experienced the loss of history, “All of my college work, it’s all digital, is completely lost to me now because my files are on 3.5 inch floppy disks and cannot be accessed by computers today. Not only that, but software today cannot open the files.” The Culture Ark Co-Founder remarked.

Deirdre’s work revolves around the issue of the “digital black hole” or the “forgotten century”. With over 20 years of experience in digital archiving, preservation, digitising, data management, and more, Deirdre is certainly the one to face these stark possibilities.

An experience with a local artist uninterested in technology, spurred Deirdre to begin her work with Culture Ark. She described, “A local artist on Sherkin Island in West Cork, Majella O’Neill Collins, whose seascape paintings are internationally collected, including in George Clooney’s private collection, phoned and said ‘Would you do me a massive favour? Would you photograph 5 of my paintings and email them to this collector in New York? He wants to buy one.’ We photographed her art, emailed the photographs and Majella sold a painting to the collector in New York for €20,000 – from a remote island off West Cork. This grew into the seed of a specialist high resolution photography service for artists, then preserving and archiving these digital photographs.”

Relishing the Challenges of Running a Business

By Geekgirl - Culture Ark - Majella O’Neill Collins
Preserved Majella O’Neill Collins Seascape Painting

“My professional journey has mostly been about excellent timing, dogged determination and good fortune,” Deirdre remarked, “I have always loved the creative world, and grew up surrounded by Celtic heritage, art & language in Irish speaking Dingle, Co. Kerry, on the West coast of Ireland – coincidently, where they have just finished filming for the new Star Wars film. To get my first intern opportunity I walked the streets, portfolio in hand, willing to make the tea and work for free, just to be in a studio. Two weeks and 200 calls later, I was designing magazines on my first job.”

Her journey finally led her to entrepreneurship just years ago. Deirdre said, “I had reached the point in my career where I was itching to go out on my own, I had learned as much as I was going to learn at work and I relished the challenge of running my own business. The catalyst for launching the business, was partnering with my co-founder Adrian Legg, where the diversity of our strengths has been crucial to our success so far. What they say about the importance of Team is true!”

Jumping into entrepreneurship has been full of learning experiences for Deirdre. One of which is that disasters are inevitable. The Co-Founder counseled, “They only come every now and then, some are mild and some are ferocious, they are often beyond our control and the best we can do is prepare for them, deal with them as they happen and move on. Triumphs are equally inevitable, but somehow triumphs are so much easier!”

Culture Ark faced their own challenges as they targeted a market with a severe lack of funding. Deirdre explained, “No one could afford to pay for our services immediately. This was a massive blow to our business plans. We did a ‘petit-pivot’ at this point and found an alternative market for our services, which now includes a service for digital archiving for social media accounts.” Social media archiving captures and stores modern-era conversations for compliance and brand preservation.

Knowing What’s Best For Your Business

By Geekgirl - Deirdre Ni Luasaigh of Culture Ark

Deirdre’s second biggest lesson? “We know what’s best for our business,” She commented, “We believe absolutely in our business, our strategies, our markets and how our business works. And when we know that we don’t know what is best for our business, we know to ask for advice and we know who we trust. When we ask for this advice, we assess it through our own business filters, how this advice applies to our situation – or indeed if it applies at all.”

This strategy has been critical for Culture Ark. She explained, “Being challenged by people with far more experience than us has been vital to our progress. Equally important, was for us to challenge our mentors and question their perspective.”

For women in tech thinking about starting a business, Deirdre shared, “Go for it. If you want to do it, go and do it. Being a woman, leading a tech business is not a problem. Whatever your strengths are, find other people who have opposite strengths to partner with, collaborate with or hire.”

Of her experience, Deirdre said, “Combining the entrepreneurial thrill of the startup world and being a founder of a company that embraces the arts, science, technology and innovation is invigorating, challenging and satisfying. Much like growing up on the Wild Atlantic Way of Co. Kerry.”

The Culture Ark Co-Founder said of her work, “Digital Archiving is the most important thing you can to do protect your assets, your work and your reputation. Archiving is a science, a science about provenance, trust and order. It looks to the future; it preserves the past, and is the key of trust for data.” Follow Deirdre’s journey with Culture Ark on Twitter or Facebook.

Your Voice

How do you think digital archiving could be useful today? Would you start a digital archive for your startup? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.