Looking through UDFR is like walking through a ghost town that still shows many signs of its former promise. The UDFR Final Report (PDF) helps to explain this; it’s a very sad story of a brilliant idea that encountered tons of problems with deadlines and staffing. What’s there is hard to use and, as far as I can tell, isn’t getting used much. I don’t see any signs of recent updates.
The website is challenging for the inexperienced user, but this wouldn’t matter so much if it exposed its raw information so developers could write front ends for specific needs. Chris Prom wrote that “it is a great day for practical approaches to electronic records because all kinds of useful tools and services can and will be developed from the UDFR knowledge base.” But I just can’t see how. I wrote to Stephen Abrams a while back about problems I was encountering (including my inability to log in in Firefox — I’ve since found I can log in in Safari), and his reply gave the sense that the project team had exhausted its resources and funding just in putting the repository up on the Web.
The source code is supposed to be on GitHub, but all that I see there is four projects, three of which are forks of third-party code and the fourth just some OWL ontology files.
If it were possible to access the raw data by RESTful URLs, even that would be something. So far I haven’t found a way to do that.
In fairness, I have to admit I was part of the failure of UDFR’s predecessor GDFR. The scope of the project was too ambitious, and communication between the Harvard and OCLC developers was a problem.
The most successful format registry out there is PRONOM. Programmatic access to its data is provided with DROID. GDFR and UDFR, with “global” and “unified” in their names, both grew from a desire to have a registry that everyone could participate in. PRONOM accepts contributions, but it’s owned by the UK National Archives, and this bothers some people, but it’s the most useful registry there is. The PRONOM site itself expresses the hope that UDFR “will support the requirements of a larger digital preservation community,” and it still would be great if that could happen.
Occasionally some people have discussed the idea of an open wiki for file format information. This would allow more free-form updates than the registries, and if combined with the concept of the semantic wiki, could also be a source of formalized data. I’m inclined to believe that’s the best way to implement an open repository.