In the fullness of time, the files you create are more important than the tools you use to create them. Apps are ephemeral, but your files have a chance to last.
A false sense of security persists surrounding digitized documents: because an infinite number of identical copies can be made of any original, most of us believe that our electronic files have an indefinite shelf life and unlimited retrieval opportunities. In fact, preserving the world’s online content is an increasing concern, particularly as file formats (and the hardware and software used to run them) become scarce, inaccessible, or antiquated, technologies evolve, and data decays. Without constant maintenance and management, most digital information will be lost in just a few decades. Our modern records are far from permanent.
Some really interesting long-term thinking from Matt—it’ll be interesting to see the terms and conditions.
Clicking through these cold war slides gives an uncomfortable mixture of nostalgic appreciation for the retro aesthetic combined with serious heebie-jeebies for the content.
The slides appear to be 1970s/1980s informational or training images from the United States Air Force, NORAD, Navy, and beyond.
Considering the average website is less than ten years old, that old warning from your parents that says to “be careful what you post online because it’ll be there forever” is like the story your dad told you about chocolate milk coming from brown cows, a well-meant farce. On the contrary, librarians and archivists have implored us for years to be wary of the impermanence of digital media; when a website, especially one that invites mass participation, goes offline or executes a huge dump of its data and resources, it’s as if a smallish Library of Alexandria has been burned to the ground. Except unlike the burning of such a library, when a website folds, the ensuing commentary from tech blogs asks only why the company folded, or why a startup wasn’t profitable. Ignored is the scope and species of the lost material, or what it might have meant to the scant few who are left to salvage the digital wreck.
A look at back at what wasn’t in the headlines this year.
The speed with which Twitter recedes in your mind will shock you. Like a demon from a folktale, the kind that only gains power when you invite it into your home, the platform melts like mist when that invitation is rescinded.
Kevin takes my eleven-year old remark literally and points out at least you can emulate LaserDiscs:
So LaserDiscs aren’t the worst things to archive, networks of servers running code that isn’t available or archivable are, and we are building a lot more of those these days, whether on the web or in apps.
I love this: Terence takes eleven years to reflect on a comment I made on stage at an event here in Brighton. It’s all about the longevity of the web compared to native apps:
If you wrote an app for an early version of iOS or Android, it simply won’t run on modern hardware or software. APIs have changed, SDKs weren’t designed with forward compatibility, and app store requirements have evolved.
The web has none of that. The earliest websites are viewable on modern browsers.
As wrote at the time, I may have been juicing things up for entertainment:
Now here’s the thing when it comes to any discussion about mobile or the web or anything else of any complexity: an honest discussion would result in every single question being answered with “it depends”. A more entertaining discussion, on the other hand, would consist of deliberately polarised opinions. We went for the more entertaining discussion.
But I think this still holds true for me today:
The truth is that the whole “web vs. native” thing doesn’t interest me that much. I’m as interested in native iOS development as I am in native Windows development or native CD-ROM development. On a timescale measured in years, they are all fleeting, transient things. The web abides.
Not much stays in one place for one long, especially when it comes to digital artifacts. When the Yahoo Groups archive was summarily deleted by parent company Verizon just a few years ago, fandom suffered massive losses, just as it had during the Livejournal purges of the late 02000s, and during the Tumblr porn ban in 02018. Fandom preservation, then, ties into the larger issue of digital preservation as a whole, and specifically the question of how individual and group emotions and experiences — which make up so much of what it means to be a fan — can be effectively documented, annotated, and saved.
Robin adds a long-zoom perspective on my recent post:
Deleting your old thoughts may be giving your older self a kick they really don’t deserve. And the beauty of having an archive is that you don’t need to decide whether you were right or not. Your views, with a date attached, can stand as a reflection of a specific moment in time.
Reconciling every past view you’ve ever had with how you feel now isn’t required. It sounds exhausting, frankly.
Obviously, no one does this, I recognize this is a very niche endeavor, but the art and craft of maintaining a homepage, with some of your writing and a page that’s about you and whatever else over time, of course always includes addition and deletion, just like a garden — you’re snipping the dead blooms. I do this a lot. I’ll see something really old on my site, and I go, “you know what, I don’t like this anymore,” and I will delete it.
But that’s care. Both adding things and deleting things. Basically the sense of looking at something and saying, “is this good? Is this right? Can I make it better? What does this need right now?” Those are all expressions of care. And I think both the relentless abandonment of stuff that doesn’t have a billion users by tech companies, and the relentless accretion of garbage on the blockchain, I think they’re both kind of the antithesis, honestly, of care.
Goodreads lost my entire account last week. Nine years as a user, some 600 books and 250 carefully written reviews all deleted and unrecoverable. Their support has not been helpful. In 35 years of being online I’ve never encountered a company with such callous disregard for their users’ data.
Ouch! Lesson learned:
My plan now is to host my own blog-like collection of all my reading notes like Tom does.
If you rely on Word, Evernote or Notion, for example, then you can’t work unless you have Word, Evernote, or Notion. You are helpless without them. You are dependent.
But if you only use plain text, you can use any program on any device, forever. It gives great flexibility and peace of mind.
A Long Bet on Link Rot is Resolved, but Questions About the Durability of the Web Still Remain - Long Now
The Long Now foundation has a write-up on my recently-lost long bet:
On February 22, 02011, Jeremy Keith made a prediction that he hoped would be proven wrong.