Sunday, October 4, 2009

Here today, gone tomorrow – Web content



The failed promise of digital content – Part 5: Content on the Web

Nothing’s permanent on the Web. I’ve said it many times.
Unlike physical books, CDs or DVDs, there is no assurance that content on the Web is going to be there from one year to the next.
If you bookmark a news article that interests you, often times it isn’t there weeks later. This happens with Associated Press and Reuters articles on Web portal Yahoo, for instance.
Many newspapers put older stories in archives where you have to pay to view each article or can access only as a subscriber. But sometimes the content just disappears without explanation. All you get is a dead Web link.
Other times, especially with user-generated content, writings and images vanish because the Web service hosting them shuts down.
Yahoo is preparing to erase many thousands of personal Web pages later this month when it shuts down its GeoCities service.
I have to transfer or download my GeoCities pages by Oct. 26 or they’ll be gone forever. Among my personal Web pages are those devoted to my engagement, my honeymoon, the birth of my two children, and my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.
GeoCities is by no means the first such Web service to shut down and it won’t be the last.
Since the World Wide Web burst on to the scene in a big way in 1994 with the launch of Netscape’s Navigator browser, countless articles, documents, photos, videos and other records have been lost to the ether. Deleted. No longer available. Gone.
One popular Web blog “Queen of Sky: Diary of a Dysfunctional Flight Attendant” by Ellen Simonetti was deleted in December 2008 when the host of her blog suffered a massive technical failure. She did not have a backup for her blog, according to Wikipedia.
A Web site called YouTomb tracks videos that have been pulled after getting takedown notices for alleged copyright infringement. YouTomb is a research project of MIT Free Culture.
There have been some efforts to preserve Web history, such as Internet Archive. But the task is enormous.
By contrast, consider the treasure trove of information preserved in old newspapers. In addition to the articles and photos, you have display advertisements, classified ads, obituaries, birth notices, wedding announcements and other minutiae.
You won’t find details about what was being sold on eBay, Craigslist and other services years from now.
Or how about Web logs or blogs? Letter writing and handwritten diaries have gone the way of the VHS tape. But what about those personal journals compiled as blogs? Will they be around years from now when historians try to document what people were thinking at the dawn of the Internet age?
Certainly most blogs from failed blogging services are gone. But what about blogs from ones currently operating, such as Google’s Blogger, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary.
A quick check of Blogger’s Blogs of Note from its inaugural year in 2001 shows that many of those featured blogs are no longer available.
That doesn’t bode well for Web historians.

Previous articles in the series “The Failed Promise of Digital Content.”
Part 1: Music
Part 2: Video
Part 3: Newspapers and magazines
Part 4: Books

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