Tuesday, September 03, 2013

"all the dreck you could ever want"

Having started with the ancient world, describing the ways the words of olden days have managed to come down to us - and the many ways they've failed to make it - Nicholas Basbanes moves on to a discussion of the contemporary world, not just how much more writing (information?) is being created but how easily and quickly this new stuff is being lost. There aren't many books, no matter how old, that we can't read. (There are some.) But information storage systems invented and used for important purposes just in the last few decades grow less and less accessible every day as technology changes. Much of what hasn't ended up in the junkyard already is running out of experts competent to keep it running. Or budgets to pay for its retention.

Blogs started out as lists of links, I understand. There's a lot of neat stuff scattered about the web, but how do you find it? Those who loved to search would post their finds in weblogs (name shortened to "blog"). In that spirit and with the sense that frequent hyperlinks would enrich my own writing, when I started DIR I often included links to more information. Over time (and not much time) I saw these links dying. In my December 2005 post about the poetry of Dorianne Laux, for instance, I talked about one of her poems and linked to a complete version posted elsewhere. The link no longer leads to the poem. Instead of enriching my writing, linking elsewhere seemed to be hobbling it. To keep my own posts readable over time (if only to me) I decided to make them self-contained. I put up fewer and fewer links. I will still link in order to provide credit for something, as in the word of the day posts of the last month where I hyperlink to the definition source. But I no longer expect that a reader will be able to rely on the links.

Basbanes' A Splendor of Letters was published in 2003, ten years ago. In this paragraph he describes one attempt at preservation:

[A] nonprofit company based in San Francisco known as the Internet Archive is using a network of sophisticated "crawling" devices to download copies of every web page that has been publicly posted on the Internet since 1996. … [T]he Internet Archive has been gathering Web pages and storing them in tape drives the size of two soda machines, each capable of preserving 10 terabytes of data … about one half of the contents of the Library of Congress. … [The] long-term goal is to "preserve our digital heritage." To do that … it is necessary "to capture all the dreck you could ever want." … [T]he average life span of a page on the World Wide Web is seventy-five days, a circumstance that explains the frustration so many "surfers" feel when their attempts to log on to a targeted site is met with an "Error 404" message, a gentle way of saying that the page no longer exists …

I've used the Internet Archive. It's still around - ten years later! I wonder if they have more soda machines.

That Dorianne Laux poem, "Aphasia," can be found if you grab the link from my 2005 post and enter it in the Internet Archive Wayback Machine then follow the Archive calendar back to its 2005 visit. Click on the hyperlink in the preceding sentence and you will be transported.

The Internet Archive Wayback Machine now provides the only access to my old Homestead.com website, the first LoveSettlement.

source of quote: A Splendor of Letters: the permanence of books in an impermanent world by Nicholas A. Basbanes

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