Sunday, August 22, 2010

Remembering and Reviewing What We May Lose

The web is very ephemeral. What seems like a permanent place to store the creations of millions can disappear easily. Whole portions of the web can disappear overnight. Luckily we have groups like Archive Team to help collect and preserve portions of the web.

Large collections of websites such as Geocities have been saved when the original company running the servers decided to turn off the power and retire millions of pages. Archive Team also keeps track of sights on their last legs as well as maintaining a list of sites that seem healthy but contain massive amounts of important information.

Archive Team makes the point that even some of the archives of the web aren't well archived. It's sobering to read that even important archive sites like have only one copy and no backup of massive amounts of priceless data.

Still people are concerned. When it was announced that Geocities was closing down several spontaneous projects emerged to make copies of it while it was still online. Hundreds of ancient web pages written by people living and dead were preserved. And don't just think of the web. The internet has carried much more than just web traffic over the years. What happens to pieces of the net such as gopher when a protocol withers and all but dies? You can download your own snapshot of what was contained on gopher servers but that's only an incomplete snapshot of what's been lost.

What happens to the little gems on the web? The pieces that each of us consider part of our combined online heritage? What happens when those bits of the web stagnate? What can we do to make sure we don't lose them?

I started thinking about this when I was reminded of one of my favourite funny parts of the web. A place where the best of bad movie reviews were lovely collected over time for our enjoyment. I'm not talking about Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB. I'm talking about Defective Yeti's Bad Review Revue. From February 2002 to April 2009 Matthew Baldwin collected the choicest quotes about the latest crop of bad movies. Little gems where critics put into words exactly what they thought of movies.

Since April 2009 though there has been nothing. The Defective Yeti site continues but there have been some hiatuses and interruptions that made many of us who read it wonder if it would end and fade away like so many other online gems. Not only is there the potential loss of 7 years worth of bad review revues but Matthew hasn't continued collecting them and as fas as I can tell no one has taken up the cause. Jeff Milner took up the cause for a while but he's stopped collecting bad review revues as well.

I'm not picking on Defective Yeti. Matthew is a writer and dedicated to his various projects. I am not too worried that it will disappear from the web completely. I choose Defective Yeti's bad review revues because it is a perfect example of a small gem of the longer web. Lovely collected and presented by one person. A diversion that entertained (as does Defective Yeti in general) but is not being continued.

There are people and groups out there that are archiving the large sites and large projects and massive collections of data. Groups that don't want bits of our online culture and heritage to disappear. Which leaves me with a simple question.

Who's going to archive and protect all the smaller sites on the Internet?

What would you like preserved before it is erased, forgotten, or deleted?

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