For net.art I tend to be less worried about preservation issues than with my other software art. Participating in the current state of the web requires using a range of software and network technologies that may not be supported in a few years time. And the potentially ephemeral nature of the web is, for me, part of the charm of net.art.
But that said I do three things to try to help with preserving my net.art software.
I place the work under a Free Software license, so it can be copied, stored and modified as needed by anyone who wishes to preserve it.
I make the source for the work available from a popular public repository, so it can be easily found and downloaded, and the download location is likely to remain supported.
I use mainstream software and technology, so it is more likely that people and systems capable of working with it will be available for longer.
My net art project "paintr" is currently offline due to the original getting lost during a server move, but the code is available here: http://github.com/robmyers/paintr/
and I will restore the project from that when I get the new server set up more.
there are so many possible points of view on this!
on one side:
technology fades. It fades faster now (i had a really a hard time finding a RS232 port last week.. only USB) with technologies becoming obsolete and incompatibly different every what.. 6 months? :)
but it's part of the whole experience!
technologies make us do things. It's not that they are "just" enablers for activities and processes. They also "force" us to do things, such as hunting for software drivers, dealing with system behaviours, buying new components because you're the only one left with a specific one (it happened with floppy disks, with ports, with processors, video cards.. everything).
it's right in some ways, wrong in other ones, but it's part of teh experience we have of networks, computers etcetera..
so it's probabily part of the "artwork" as well..
on another side:
as someone said before platforms become fundamental for experiencing some works. cpu power, network connection speeds, media types, codecs, technologies... all of these combine to form the experience we have of a work. Even the fact that different people can have different experiences from it (or, to the extreme, someone can even have the experience of not being able to see the work completely, possibly because he has the wrong technology, not enough CPU power...) according to what they have available to access a work.
In many cases "preserving" just cannot be translated just in a matter of "keeping somewhere a computer on which this work sunctions correctly".
on yet another side:
it's surely romantic to have the idea of a "digital artwork" restorer, such as we have them for paintings, frescoes and antique furnitures.
but it would be a totally arbitrary work, i guess.
what would he/she do? adapt software? produce a virtualized platform? keep a PC or a C-64 working like a mechanic?
in any case it would look more like a re-enactment of the work.
and so it would be nice to make this thing explicit and significative, and leave it to open source practices, such as Rob sad a couple of messages before.
and yet on one more perspective:
and then, in the end... who would choose what to preserve? little old me? a community? "people"?
we are describing a complex thing here, that could be possible only if performed by an institution of some kind. Someone that could guarantee for a long time the availability and maintenance of a virtualized platform, a connectivity, a software/hardware expertise.... lots of stuff.
while it would be surely a lovely job to do (both at managerial and executive/technical levels) it looks a bit "strange" to say the least.
Especially when most of those works are highly "immaterial" in themselves.
And, even more, especially when many speak about the change from the kinds of processes in which "institutions do things", describing a more rhizomatic approach to life, made from emerging dynamics and processes, and from dialogue.
There seems a bit of an ecosystemic unbalance in these kind of efforts.
And, in my opinion, also a tragic disconnection from the meaning of many things.
and, possibly, in a last point of view:
we live on information and on communication. on documents, videos, images, comments, hyperlinks, relationships, emotions. it could prove more significative, ecological, sustainable and evolved to go beyond this model in which a "thing" is kept in "a dusty closet" (or in something thatis conceptually the same) to be able to experience it for ages, and to turn to models in which "things" are kept alive as people use them and modify them, and share, update, describe, film them.
as a model it's a bit far from the average egocentric artist :) but it's what it would be nice to do, no?