Preservation and design

Stan is baring his soul and showing his first website. He explains his actions thusly:

As embarrassing as it might be, I’m putting that old version (as well as my second site) online because I believe in trying to preserve the things we make.

He also says:

There are organizations like Machine that are doing a good job of capturing the web, but it’s still not quite there yet. For now, I don’t think it’s a bad idea for us to keep our own archives.

That echoes something I said in my talk, The Long Web:

Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archive is a magnificent undertaking. But the scale of the endeavour is monumental. Saving our culture is a task that will probably need to be crowdsourced if it is to succeed.

You can read the whole thing if you’re interested in more of my thoughts on digital preservation but for now I’m going to follow Jason’s lead and show the first two versions of this site:

As you’ll see, I was doing superfluous bloated JavaScript effects before they were fashionable. I’m very, very glad that I switched my site over its current shape seven years ago. As Jason says:

We all have the urge to redesign our websites every other month, but it’s heartbreaking to see old designs just vanish forever.

But in my case I’m trying to have my cake and eat it too. Of course I get the urge to redesign my site but instead of replacing the existing design, I add the new design to the list of options. This approach is at once completely in agreement and utterly at odds with Jason’s claim:

The things we write are published with a specific design and context. When we change that, we break the context and alter the original qualities of that piece of work.

I’m finding that on today’s web, content and design no longer have a one-to-one relationship. One piece of data can exist in many different contexts: a one-to-many relationship. A blog post appearing at a website URL or in an RSS reader is a fairly simplistic example. But think about, say, all the photos on Flickr and the myriad places where they might be viewed. Then there are services like Fire Eagle and AMEE where the content has no visible home. It’s the data that matters.

That’s not to say that design is no longer important. Far from it. With the proliferation of all this data, it’s more important than ever to present it in a way that makes sense and, in a best-case scenario, in a way that has an emotional impact. The difference with the web as the delivery mechanism is that the design can be tailored to the person consuming the data. That is both immensely liberating and unbelievably challenging.

This is the kind of stuff that Jeff Veen has been talking about lately as Designing Our Way Through Data.

Have you published a response to this? :


Jason Santa Maria

"I’m finding that on today’s web, content and design no longer have a one-to-one relationship."

You’re absolutely right. I think I just threw out the idea to help start moving in a direction of some sort. It’s not an easy problem to crunch. The designer part of me sees the value in preserving both the design and content for the sake historical significance and context. But that’s also me trying to deal with the "problem" we have now, it in no way prepares us for the future or even the current changing shape of the medium. The independent side of me embraces the proliferation of the content, which transcends the need for one definitive vehicle.

The problem for me is I often think we lose a lot of meaning in that proliferation. Design may be the answer to some of that meaning, or it may not. It may be the designs we create now, or a different means of design. But I do think there is something significant lacking in the quest to gobble up so much data. Not that the information collecting is bad, it’s always good to have lots of info, but that we are missing the reasons, and meanings, and importance.

It’s definitely something larger than me, and a problem bigger than I can wrap my head around. I take a bit of comfort in maintaining the things I consider precious, even when embarrassing, because they shape the way I find meaning online.

Previously on this day

13 years ago I wrote More thoughts on portable social networks

The Web is about distribution, not centralisation.

14 years ago I wrote Tubeway army

Molly has landed on the shores of this scepter’d isle. Having delivered a workshop with Andy ‘Malarkey’ Clarke, what finer way to unwind than to spend a day with some Britpackers?

15 years ago I wrote Go go go

I’ve been busier than a fly on feculence for the last few days.

17 years ago I wrote MacExpo 2002

The MacExpo was fun. Crowded and noisy, but fun.

18 years ago I wrote Man who got £250,000 in error says money is his

This is great.