Our perception and measurement of time has changed as our civilisation has evolved. That change has been driven by networks, from trade routes to the internet.
I was pretty happy with how it turned out. It was a 40 minute talk that was pretty evenly split between the past and the future. The first 20 minutes spanned from 5,000 years ago to the present day. The second 20 minutes looked towards the future, first in years, then decades, and eventually in millennia. I was channeling my inner James Burke for the first half and my inner Jason Scott for the second half, when I went off on a digital preservation rant.
The original URL for this prediction (www.longbets.org/601) will no longer be available in eleven years.
I made the prediction on February 22nd last year (a terrible day for New Zealand). The prediction will reach fruition on 02022-02-22 …I quite like the alliteration of that date.
Here’s how I justified the prediction:
“Cool URIs don’t change” wrote Tim Berners-Lee in 01999, but link rot is the entropy of the web. The probability of a web document surviving in its original location decreases greatly over time. I suspect that even a relatively short time period (eleven years) is too long for a resource to survive.
Well, during his excellent Webstock talk Matt announced that he would accept the challenge. He writes:
Though much of the web is ephemeral in nature, now that we have surpassed the 20 year mark since the web was created and gone through several booms and busts, technology and strategies have matured to the point where keeping a site going with a stable URI system is within reach of anyone with moderate technological knowledge.
The detailed terms of the bet have been set as follows:
On February 22nd, 2022 from 00:01 UTC until 23:59 UTC,
entering the characters http://www.longbets.org/601 into the address bar of a web browser or command line tool (like curl)
using a web browser to follow a hyperlink that points to http://www.longbets.org/601
return an HTML document that still contains the following text:
“The original URL for this prediction (www.longbets.org/601) will no longer be available in eleven years.”
The secret to a good war movie is not in the depiction of battle, but in the depiction of the preparation for battle. Whether the fight will be for Agincourt, Rourke’s Drift, Helm’s Deep or Hoth, it’s the build-up that draws you in and makes you care about the outcome of the upcoming struggle.
This will be non-technical talk, and I’ve been given carte blanche to get as high-falutin’ and pretentious as I like …though I don’t think it’ll be on quite the same level as my magnum opus from dConstruct 2008, The System Of The World.
Having spent the past month researching and preparing this talk, I’m looking forward to delivering it to a captive audience. I submitted the talk for consideration to South by Southwest also, but it was rejected so the presentation in Ghent will be a one-off. The SXSW rejection may have been because I didn’t whore myself out on Twitter asking for votes, or it may have been because I didn’t title the talk All Our Yesterdays: Ten Ways to Market Your Social Media App Through Digital Preservation.
Talking about the digital memory hole and the fragility of URLs is a permanently-relevant topic, but it seems particularly pertinent given the recent moves by the BBC. But I don’t want to just focus on what’s happening right now—I want to offer a long-zoom perspective on the web’s potential as a long-term storage medium.
To that end, I’ve put my money where my mouth is—$50 worth so far—and placed the following prediction on the Long Bets website:
If you have faith in the Long Now foundation’s commitment to its URLs, you can challenge my prediction. We shall then agree the terms of the bet. Then, on February 22nd 2022, the charity nominated by the winner will receive the winnings. The minimum bet is $200.
If I win, it will be a pyrrhic victory, confirming my pessimistic assessment.
If I lose, my faith in the potential longevity of URLs will be somewhat restored.
Depending on whether you see the glass as half full or half empty, this means I’m either entering a win/win or lose/lose situation.