Hope

My last long-distance trip before we were all grounded by The Situation was to San Francisco at the end of 2019. I attended Indie Web Camp while I was there, which gave me the opportunity to add a little something to my website: an “on this day” page.

I’m glad I did. While it’s probably of little interest to anyone else, I enjoy scrolling back to see how the same date unfolded over the years.

’Sfunny, when I look back at older journal entries they’re often written out of frustration, usually when something in the dev world is bugging me. But when I look back at all the links I’ve bookmarked the vibe is much more enthusiastic, like I’m excitedly pointing at something and saying “Check this out!” I feel like sentiment analyses of those two sections of my site would yield two different results.

But when I scroll down through my “on this day” page, it also feels like descending deeper into the dark waters of linkrot. For each year back in time, the probability of a link still working decreases until there’s nothing but decay.

Sadly this is nothing new. I’ve been lamenting the state of digital preservation for years now. More recently Jonathan Zittrain penned an article in The Atlantic on the topic:

Too much has been lost already. The glue that holds humanity’s knowledge together is coming undone.

In one sense, linkrot is the price we pay for the web’s particular system of hypertext. We don’t have two-way linking, which means there’s no centralised repository of links which would be prohibitively complex to maintain. So when you want to link to something on the web, you just do it. An a element with an href attribute. That’s it. You don’t need to check with the owner of the resource you’re linking to. You don’t need to check with anyone. You have complete freedom to link to any URL you want to.

But it’s that same simple system that makes the act of linking a gamble. If the URL you’ve linked to goes away, you’ll have no way of knowing.

As I scroll down my “on this day” page, I come across more and more dead links that have been snapped off from the fabric of the web.

If I stop and think about it, it can get quite dispiriting. Why bother making hyperlinks at all? It’s only a matter of time until those links break.

And yet I still keep linking. I still keep pointing to things and saying “Check this out!” even though I know that over a long enough timescale, there’s little chance that the link will hold.

In a sense, every hyperlink on the World Wide Web is little act of hope. Even though I know that when I link to something, it probably won’t last, I still harbour that hope.

If hyperlinks are built on hope, and the web is made of hyperlinks, then in a way, the World Wide Web is quite literally made out of hope.

I like that.

Have you published a response to this? :

Responses

Baldur Bjarnason

“Adactio: Journal—Hope” “For each year back in time, the probability of a link still working decreases until there’s nothing but decay.” The web is a wasting medium—our words begin to fade at the slightest hint of sunlight. adactio.com/journal/18292

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# Liked by Marty McGuire on Tuesday, July 20th, 2021 at 6:08pm

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Previously on this day

4 years ago I wrote Container queries

Houdini to the rescue?

9 years ago I wrote Device labs

Brighton, London, Malmö…

11 years ago I wrote Ship talk

A distributed online conversation.

16 years ago I wrote Ajax shopping cart

I’ve been working together with Message on a couple of different projects recently. Some of the more exciting work has involved building a new back end for the award-winning Rapha website.

17 years ago I wrote Registering my displeasure

The hot topic of the day would appear to be newspaper sites that require visitors to register before allowing them to read any articles. Wired is running a story which ties in nicely with last week’s article about The New York Times and its lousy pa

17 years ago I wrote The grand alliance

Given the martial tone of some of my recent posts, I’m starting to feel more and more like a warblogger.

18 years ago I wrote This is just a test

This is not the journal entry you were looking for. Move along, move along.

19 years ago I wrote One for the Webmonkeys

Geek that I am, I thought it was the funniest thing ever when I saw this sticker on a black drainpipe.