Saturday, March 5, 2016

"Our online history is disappearing at an astonishing rate"

Saturday night only-semi-coherent musings...

The Internet is full of more text than you could read and pictures that you could view in a lifetime the length of Norman Lloyd's. The Surface Web1 contained more than 14 billion pages at the last known count. Thousands of new blog posts, works of journalism and cat GIFs are being added every day. It boggles the mind.

But while the Internet's vast collection of content is always growing, much is also lost, forever, each day. Despite the valiant effort of projects such as The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, the BBC and other organizations have noted that "our online history is disappearing at an astonishing rate, creating a black hole for future historians."

Last year, Internet pioneer Vint Cerf warned:
"We are nonchalantly throwing all of our data into what could become an information black hole without realising it. We digitise things because we think we will preserve them, but what we don’t understand is that unless we take other steps, those digital versions may not be any better, and may even be worse, than the artefacts that we digitised. If there are photos you really care about, print them out."
History disappears every day, of course, Internet or otherwise. The Library of Alexandria was destroyed. Cities are bombed. Books are burned. Diaries and photographs and convenience-store receipts are dumped into landfills.

I recognize the deep irony in an ephemera collector like me trying to preserve and discuss tangible paper items on a weblog. Would it take much, really, for the nearly 1,800 Papergreat posts to vanish in the blink of an eye?

But I have both optimism and backup plans. These posts are on Blogger, and it seems to me the Google's blogging platform has as good a chance for long-term survival as anything on the Internet. And, if all else fails, there's the return to paper. There are already six thick volumes of archived Papergreat posts, thanks to blog2print. Those books, filled with all the incidental history documented here, could end up at a research university, the Library of Congress, one of those salt-cavern storage facilities ... or perhaps a trunk in the attic of some creaky old house in the Midwest.

Anyway ... I think there's going to be a point here. I surf the Internet quite a bit while writing and I frequently find myself in some odd corners, reading stuff that is technically available by Google search but that few people are likely to ever stumble upon. I'm going to share and repost some of that stuff here, as I come across it. Mostly, they're just interesting human stories and confessions. Journal entries floating in cyberspace before ultimately blinking out of existence. Re-posting them and eventually printing them in the bound volumes of Papergreat might help to increase their odds of a prolonged existence. A little something for those future historians looking for some humanity in the bits and bytes of life at the beginning of the 21st century.

1. The Surface Web, the part indexed by Google and other search engines, is what you and I and Aunt Flo use. There is also the Deep Web and a subset of the Deep Web called the Dark Web, of which we should not speak.

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