Margaret Hamilton’s code after scanning and transcribing.
A cautionary tale of digital preservation.
.generation is a short film that intimately documents three millennials in the year 2054 - uncovering their relationships with technology in the aftermath of the information age.
I need to wrap my head around the details of this approach, but it sounds like it might be something I could do here on my site (where I feel nervous about my current dependency on a database).
I’ll be speaking to students in Vasilis’s class for Communication and Multimedia Design in Amsterdam right before CSS Day. There are (free) tickets available if you’re around. I’ll be talking about digital preservation and long-term thinking on the web.
This meetup is, like all other Icons Meetups, free to attend for everyone. For students and lecturers of CMD Amsterdam, of course. But also for all professional (digital) designers who want to be inspired.
Ah, how I wish that this were published at a long-lived URL:
The one part of the web that I believe is truly genius, and that keeps standing the test of time, is the URI. The Web gave us a way to point to anything, forever. Everything else about the web has changed and grown to encyclopedic lengths, but URIs have been killing it for decades.
And yet the numbers show we’re hell-bent on screwing all that up with link-shorteners, moving URIs without redirection, and so forth. As always happens in technology we’ve taken a simple idea and found expedient ways to add fragility and complexity to it.
Prompted by the way Craig is handling the shutdown of hi.co, Glenn Fleishman takes a look at other digital preservation efforts and talk to Laura Welcher at the Long Now Foundation.
A time capsule is bottled optimism. It makes material the belief that human beings will survive long enough to retrieve and decode artifacts of the distant past.
Now this is how you shut down a service:
- Maintain read-only URLs for at least ten years.
- Create physical copies etched in metal held by cultural institutions for ten thousand years.
- Allow users to export their data (of course).
Web projects often lack hard edges. They begin with clarity but end without. We want to close Hi.co with clarity. To properly bookend the website.
And nary a trace of “We are excited to announce…” or “Thank you for joining us on our incredible journey…”
(Such a shame that the actual shut-down notice is only on Ev’s blog, but hopefully Craig will write something on his own site too.)
A profile of the Internet Archive, but this time focusing on its physical space.
The Archive is a third place unlike any other.
History, as the future will know it, is happening today on the web. And so it is the web that we must capture, package, and preserve for future generations to see who we are today.
Digital archivists run up against mismatched expectations:
But did you know that a large majority of web users think that when sharing their thoughts, images, and videos online they are going to be preserved in perpetuity? No matter how many licenses the general population clicks “Agree” to, or however many governing policies are developed that state the contrary, the millions of people sharing their content on websites still believe that there is an implicit accountability that should be upheld by the site owners.
Aaaaand, once again, the Acheulean hand ax makes an appearance, this time in Jon’s rant about marketing.
A decade or more ago, digital marketing was more of a blunt instrument. It was like the first stone axe - crude, but it got the job done.
That’s three links in one day that reference the same prehistoric technology. What coincidental synchronicity!
A really good explanation of how a peer-to-peer model for the web would differ from the current location-centric approach.
What really interests me is the idea of having both models co-exist.
You just have to think about the ways in which our location-centrism is contributing to the problems we are hitting, from the rise of Facebook, to the lack of findability of OER, to the Wikipedia Edit Wars.
Science fiction as a means of energising climatic and economic change:
Fiction, and science fiction in particular, can help us imagine many futures, and in particular can help us to direct our imaginations towards the futures we want. Imagining a particular kind of future isn’t just day dreaming: it’s an important and active framing that makes it possible for us to construct a future that approaches that imagined vision. In other words, imagining the future is one way of making that future happen.
But it’s important that these visions are preserved:
It’s very likely that our next Octavia Butler is today writing on WattPad or Tumblr or Facebook. When those servers cease to respond, what will we lose? More than the past is at stake—all our imagined futures are at risk, too.
360 terabytes of data stored for over 13 billion years:
Coined as the ‘Superman memory crystal’, as the glass memory has been compared to the “memory crystals” used in the Superman films, the data is recorded via self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz. The information encoding is realised in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the three dimensional position of these nanostructures.
A note of optimism for digital preservation:
Where a lack of action may have been more of the case in the 01990s, it is certainly less so today. In the early days, there were just a handful of pioneers talking about and working on digital preservation, but today there are hundreds of tremendously intelligent and skilled people focused on preserving access to the yottabytes of digital cultural heritage and science data we have and will create.
This is intriguing—a Pinboard-like service that will create local copies of pages you link to from your site. There are plug-ins for WordPress and Drupal, and modules for Apache and Nginx.
Amber is an open source tool for websites to provide their visitors persistent routes to information. It automatically preserves a snapshot of every page linked to on a website, giving visitors a fallback option if links become inaccessible.
Such a vividly nostalgic project. Choose an obsolete browser. Enter a URL. Select which slice of the past you want to see.
Digital archives in action. Access drives preservation.
Had anyone from the archive been in touch with ESPN? Was there any hope that the treasured collection of Grantland stories might remain accessible?
“We don’t ‘get in touch,’” Jason Scott, a digital historian at the Internet Archive, told me in an email. “We act.”
The significant challenges in archiving audio.
The promise of the web is that Alexandria’s library might be resurrected for the modern world. But today’s great library is being destroyed even as it is being built.
A fascinating account of one story’s linkrot that mirrors the woeful state of our attitude to cultural preservation on the web.
Historians and digital preservationists agree on this fact: The early web, today’s web, will be mostly lost to time.
An alternate version of AMP HTML that works in more parsers and user agents.
The AMP project have “A new approach to web performance” making your website dependent on Google. The Be Nice AMP Project follow the old approach: Make your site fast following best practice guidelines and be independent of Google.
I absolutely love the way that my archive is presented here. Matt and Hannah have set the bar in how to shut down a service in an honest, dignified way.
This is a wonderful, wonderful description of what it feels like to publish on your own site.
When my writing is on my own server, it will always be there. I may forget about it for a while, but eventually I’ll run into it again. I can torch those posts or save them, rewrite them or repost them. But they’re mine to rediscover.
The title is hyperbolic, and while I certainly think that the criticisms of HTTP here are justified, I don’t think it will be swept aside by IPFS—I imagine more of a peaceful coexistence. Still, there’s some really good thinking in here and this is well worth paying attention to.
Will the Big Think piece you just posted to Medium be there in 2035? That may sound like it’s very far off in the future, and who could possibly care, but if there’s any value to your writing, you should care. Having good records is how knowledge builds.
It’s a real shame that Hannah and Matt are shutting down This Is My Jam—it’s such a lovely little service—but their reliance on ever-changing third-party APIs sounds like no fun, and the way they’re handling the shutdown is exemplary: the site is going into read-only mode, and of course all of your data is exportable.
Yahoo, Google, and other destroyers could learn a thing or two from this—things like “dignity” and “respect”.
Exemplars proposing various solutions for the resilience of digital data and computation over long timeframes include the Internet Archive; redundantly distributed storage platforms such GlusterFS, LOCKSS, and BitTorrent Sync; and the Lunar supercomputer proposal of Ouliang Chang.
Each of these differs in its approach and its focus; yet each shares with Vessel and with one another a key understanding: The prospects of Earth-originating life in the future, whether vast or diminishing, depend upon our actions and our foresight in this current cultural moment of opportunity, agency, awareness, ability, capability, and willpower.
This piece by Cennydd on ethics in digital design reminded me of something Jonathan Harris wrote a while back.
I like that he cautions against hiding the seams:
Designers should also strive to give digital products a healthy balance of seamlessness and interrogability. While it’s appealing to create technology that needs little human intervention, this sort of black box can be a breeding ground for dishonest behaviour.
I really like this impassioned love letter to the web. This resonates:
The web is a worthy monument for society. It cannot be taken away by apps in the app store or link bait on Facebook, but it can be lost if we don’t continue to steward this creation of ours. The web is a garden that needs constant tending to thrive. And in the true fashion of the world wide web, this is no task for one person or entity. It will require vigilance and work from us all.
‘That pig was a good influence’ with Jeremy Keith and Jeffrey Zeldman on Unfinished Business on Huffduffer
I had a lot of fun recording this episode with Andrew and Jeffrey. It is occasionally surreal.
Stick around for the sizzling hot discussion of advertising at the end in which we compare and contrast Mad Men and Triumph Of The Will.
Much of the web’s early cultural and design history is at risk, despite efforts by the Internet Archive and renegade archivists. One of our realizations after 20 years on the web is that our responsibility isn’t just to the new; we also need to preserve what’s been built in the past.
Here’s a talk give at a community event in London last summer.
Github’s pattern library.
As always, it’s great to see how other organisations are tackling modular reusable front-end code (though I can’t imagine why anyone other than Github would ever want to use it in production).
Because in 10 years nothing you built today that depends on JS for the content will be available, visible, or archived anywhere on the web.
The most ambitious project from Archive Team yet: backing up the Internet Archive.
We can do this, people! Moore’s Law and all that.
(Initially it required jQuery but I tweaked it to avoid those dependencies and Yuri very kindly merged my pull request—such a lovely warm feeling when that happens.)
Brewster Kahle’s short presentation at NetGain.
There’s a whole bunch of great events happening in Brighton this March: Codebar, Curiosity Hub, She Codes Brighton, 300 Seconds, She Says Brighton, and Ladies that UX. Lots of these will be downstairs from Clearleft in Middle Street—very handy!
Remember Aaron’s dConstruct talk? Well, the Atlantic has more details of his work at the Cooper Hewitt museum in this wide-ranging piece that investigates the role of museums, the value of APIs, and the importance of permanent URLs.
As I was leaving, Cope recounted how, early on, a curator had asked him why the collections website and API existed. Why are you doing this?
His retrospective answer wasn’t about scholarship or data-mining or huge interactive exhibits. It was about the web.
I find this incredibly inspiring.
A profile of the wonderful Internet Archive.
No one believes any longer, if anyone ever did, that “if it’s on the Web it must be true,” but a lot of people do believe that if it’s on the Web it will stay on the Web. Chances are, though, that it actually won’t.
Brewster Kahle is my hero.
Kahle is a digital utopian attempting to stave off a digital dystopia. He views the Web as a giant library, and doesn’t think it ought to belong to a corporation, or that anyone should have to go through a portal owned by a corporation in order to read it. “We are building a library that is us,” he says, “and it is ours.”
Dropping our films down the memory hole. Welcome to the digital dark age.
A look at long-term cultural and linguistic preservation through the lens of Egyptology.
With all my talk about extending existing elements instead of making new ones, I was reminded of one of my favourite examples of custom elements in action: Github’s extensions of the
Language death and digital preservation.
Aaron raises a point that I’ve discussed before in regards to the indie web (and indeed, the web in general): we don’t buy domain names; we rent them.
It strikes me that all the good things about the web are decentralised (one-way linking, no central authority required to add a node), but all the sticking points are centralised: ICANN, DNS.
Aaron also points out that we are beholden to our hosting companies, although—having moved hosts a number of times myself—that’s an issue that DNS (and URLs in general) helps alleviate. And there’s now some interesting work going on in literally owning your own website: a web server in the home.
The transcript of Owen’s talk at The Web Is. It’s a wonderful, thoughtful meditation on writing, web design, and long-term thinking.
One of the promises of the web is to act as a record, a repository for everything we put there. Yet the web forgets constantly, despite that somewhat empty promise of digital preservation: articles and data are sacrificed to expediency, profit and apathy; online attention, acknowledgement and interest wax and wane in days, hours even.
This fracturing of context is, I suspect, peculiar to these early decades of online writing. It’s possible that, in the future, webmentions and the like may heal that up to some extent. But everything from the 90s to today is going to remain mostly broken in that respect. Most of what we said and did had ephemerality long before apps started selling us ephemeral nature as a positive advertising point. Possibly no other generation threw so many words at such velocity into a deep dark well of ghosts.
The short answer: not much.
The UK Web Archive at The British Library outlines its process for determining just how bad the linkrot is after just one decade.
I’d go along with pretty much everything Anil says here. Wise words from someone who’s been writing on their own website for fifteen years (congratulations!).
Link to everything you create elsewhere on the web. And if possible, save a copy of it on your own blog. Things disappear so quickly, and even important work can slip your mind months or years later when you want to recall it. If it’s in one, definitive place, you’ll be glad for it.
A deeply thoughtful piece (as always) by Wilson, on the mindset needed for a sustainable way of working.
When we start with the assumption that optimizing for rapid, unbounded growth is a goal, we immediately narrow the possibility space. There are only so many choices we can make that will get us there. The same choices that made annual monoculture and the shopping mall the most efficient engines for short-term growth and profit are the same qualities that made them unsustainable in the long term.
There are more ways to scale than growth. There are more ways to deepen our impact than just reaching more people. What if we put just as much effort into scaling the impact of our work over time? Can we build digital products around sustainable systems that survive long enough to outlive us, that are purpose-built to thrive without our constant cultivation?
A documentary on our digital dark age. Remember this the next time someone trots out the tired old lie that “the internet never forgets.”
If we lose the past, we will live in an Orwellian world of the perpetual present, where anybody that controls what’s currently being put out there will be able to say what is true and what is not. This is a dreadful world. We don’t want to live in this world. —Brewster Kahle
It’s a terrible indictment of where our priorities were for the last 20 years that we depend essentially on children and maniacs to save our history of this sort. —Jason Scott
Glenn eloquently gives his reasons for building Transmat:
When I was a child, my brothers and I all had a shoebox each. In these we kept our mementoes. A seashell from a summer holiday where I played for hours in the rock pools, the marble from the schoolyard victory against a bully and a lot of other objects that told a story.
Over 700 screenshots of ZX Spectrum games, captured by Jason Scott. Some of these bring back memories.
Mark Otto talks through the state of Github’s CSS and the processes behind updating it. There’s a nice mix of pragmatism and best practices, together with a recognition that there’s always room for improvement.
The first Lunar Orbiter, Andy Warhol’s Amiga, and George R.R. Martin’s WordStar …the opening address to the Digital Preservation 2014 conference July 22 in Washington, DC.
Just as early filmmakers couldn’t have predicted the level of ongoing interest in their work over a hundred years later, who can say what future generations will find important to know and preserve about the early history of software?
(Mind you, I can’t help but feel that the chances of this particular text have a long life at a Medium URL are pretty slim.)
The Internet forgets every single day.
I’m with Jason.
I encourage you all to take a moment and consider the importance of preserving your online creations for yourself, your family, and for future generations.
On the fifth anniversary of Pinboard, Maciej reflects on working on long-term projects:
Avoiding burnout is difficult to write about, because the basic premise is obnoxious. Burnout is a rich man’s game. Rice farmers don’t get burned out and spend long afternoons thinking about whether to switch to sorghum.
The good news is, as you get older, you gain perspective. Perspective helps alleviate burnout.
The bad news is, you gain perspective by having incredibly shitty things happen to you and the people you love. Nature has made it so that perspective is only delivered in bulk quantities. A railcar of perspective arrives and dumps itself on your lawn when all you needed was a microgram.
Some good ideas from Matt on the importance of striving to maintain digital works. I find it very encouraging to see other people writing about this, especially when it’s this thoughtful.
Scott’s trying to find out the best ways to load critical CSS first and non-critical CSS later. Good discussion ensues.
A truly wonderful piece by Mandy detailing why and how she writes, edits, and publishes on her own website:
No one owns this domain but me, and no one but me can take it down. I will not wake up one morning to discover that my service has been “sunsetted” and I have some days or weeks to export my data (if I have that at all). These URLs will never break.
A thoughtful in-depth piece that pulls together my hobby horses of independent publishing, responsive design, and digital preservation, all seen through the lens of music:
Music, Publishing, Art and Memory in the Age of the Internet
This is a wonderful piece of writing and thinking from Frank. A wonderful piece of design, then.
A personal view on generalists and trans-media design
We need a web design museum.
I am, unsurprisingly, in complete agreement. And let’s make lots of copies while we’re at it.
A short video featuring Jason Scott and Brewster Kahle. The accompanying text has a shout-out to the line-mode browser hack event at CERN.
Nice! A Yeoman generator for scaffolding your own pattern primer.
(Those are just words, aren’t they? Y’know, as opposed to a sentence that would actually make sense to most right-thinking people.)
Having experienced the death of a friend, I wonder how many have considered the ghosts in the machine.
The video of my closing talk at this year’s Full Frontal conference, right here in Brighton.
I had a lot of fun with this, although I was surprisingly nervous before I started: I think it was because I didn’t want to let Remy down.
Here’s a heartwarming tale. It starts out as a description of processing.js project for Code Club (which is already a great story) and then morphs into a description of how anyone can contribute to make a codebase better …resulting in a lovely pull request on Github.
Brightonians, get yourselves along to the Corn Exchange on Monday evening for some fun with Seb’s digital fireworks.
Perma: Scoping and addressing the problem of “link rot” :: Future of the Internet – And how to stop it.
Lawrence Lessig and Jonathan Zittrain are uncovering disturbing data on link rot in Supreme Court documents: 50% of the the links cited no longer work.
An epic tale of data recovery.
Of course Jason Scott was involved.
Some good advice on how to mothball (rather than destroy) a project when it reaches the end of its useful life. In short, build a switch so that, when the worst comes to the worst, you can output static files and walk away.
In all your excitement starting a new project, spend a little time thinking about the end.
I took a little time out of the hacking here at CERN to answer a few questions about the line-mode browser project.
A heartfelt response from Vitaly to .net magazine’s digital destruction.
This is what I’m working on today (where by “working on”, I mean “watching other far more talented people work on”).
A timeline of technology.
Planetary: collecting and preserving code as a living object | Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York
Aaron Straup-Cope and Seb Chan on the challenges of adding (and keeping) code to the Cooper-Hewitt collection:
The distinction between preservation and access is increasingly blurred. This is especially true for digital objects.
The internet never forgets? Bollocks!
We were told — warned, even — that what we put on the internet would be forever; that we should think very carefully about what we commit to the digital page. And a lot of us did. We put thought into it, we put heart into, we wrote our truths. We let our real lives bleed onto the page, onto the internet, onto the blog. We were told, “Once you put this here, it will remain forever.” And we acted accordingly.
This is a beautiful love-letter to the archival web, and a horrifying description of its betrayal:
When they’re erased by a company abruptly and without warning, it’s something of a new-age arson.
Oh, dear. An otherwise perfectly well-reasoned article makes this claim:
But the internet is peculiarly adapted to deftly pricking pomposity. This is partly because nothing dies online, meaning your past indiscretions are never yesterday’s news, wrapped round the proverbial fish and chips.
Bollocks. Show me the data to back up this claim.
The insidious truism that “the internet never forgets” is extremely harmful. The true problem is the opposite: the internet forgets all the time.
Geocities, Pownce, Posterous, Vox, and thousands more sites are very much yesterday’s news, wrapped round the proverbial fish and chips.
A beauty of a post by Jason giving you even more reasons to donate to Archive.org.
Seriously. Do it now. It would mean a lot to me.
Related: I’m going to be in San Francisco next week and by hook or by crook, I plan to visit the Internet Archive’s HQ.
The Internet, day one. A sad tale of data loss.
This is why the Internet Archive matters. It is now the public record of Obama’s broken promise to protect whistleblowers.
I feel very bad for the smart, passionate, talented people who worked their asses off on change.gov, only to see their ideals betrayed.
A good article on Medium on Medium.
What I fear is that the entire web is basically becoming a slow-motion Snapchat, where content lives for some unknowable amount of time before it dies, lost forever.
A great history lesson from Dave.
Ah, I remember when the CSS Zen Garden was all fields. Now get off my CSS lawn.
I gave the opening keynote at the Beyond Tellerand conference a few weeks back. I’m talked about the web from my own perspective, so expect excitement and anger in equal measure.
This was a new talk but it went down well, and I’m quite happy with it.
Ben proposes an alternative to archive.org: changing the fundamental nature of DNS.
Regarding the boo-hooing of how hard companies have it maintaining unprofitable URLs, I think Ben hasn’t considered the possibility of a handover to a cooperative of users—something that might yet happen with MySpace (at least there’s a campaign to that effect; it will probably come to naught). As Ben rightly points on, domain names are leased, not bought, so the idea of handing them over to better caretakers isn’t that crazy.