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.
Monday, April 18th, 2022
Monday, February 28th, 2022
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.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022
The original URL for this prediction (www.longbets.org/601) will no longer be available in eleven years.
We’re playing for $1000. If I win, that money goes to the Bletchley Park Trust. If Matt wins, it goes to The Internet Archive.
I’m very happy to lose this bet.
When I made the original prediction eleven years ago that a URL on the longbets.org site would no longer be available, I did so in a spirit of mischief—it was a deliberately meta move. But it was also informed by a genuine feeling of pessimism around the longevity of links on the web. While that pessimism was misplaced in this case, it was informed by data.
The lifetime of a URL on the web remains shockingly short. What I think has changed in the intervening years is that people may have become more accustomed to the situation. People used to say “once something is online it’s there forever!”, which infuriated me because the real problem is the exact opposite: if you put something online, you have to put in real effort to keep it online. After all, we don’t really buy domain names; we just rent them. And if you publish on somebody else’s domain, you’re at their mercy: Geocities, MySpace, Facebook, Medium, Twitter.
These days my view towards the longevity of online content has landed somewhere in the middle of the two dangers. There’s a kind of Murphy’s Law around data online: anything that you hope will stick around will probably disappear and anything that you hope will disappear will probably stick around.
One huge change in the last eleven years that I didn’t anticipate is the migration of websites to HTTPS. The original URL of the prediction used HTTP. I’m glad to see that original URL now redirects to a more secure protocol. Just like most of the World Wide Web. I think we can thank Let’s Encrypt for that. But I think we can also thank Edward Snowden. We are no longer as innocent as we were eleven years ago.
I think if I could tell my past self that most of the web would using HTTPS by 2022, my past self would be very surprised …’though not as surprised at discovering that time travel had also apparently been invented.
The Internet Archive has also been a game-changer for digital preservation. While it’s less than ideal that something isn’t reachable at its original URL, knowing that there’s probably a copy of the content at archive.org lessens the sting considerably. I couldn’t be happier that this fine institution is the recipient of the stakes of this bet.
Tuesday, November 2nd, 2021
I love reading about how—and why—people tinker with their personal sites. This resonates a lot.
This website is essentially a repository of my memories, lessons I’ve learnt, insights I’ve discovered, a changelog of my previous selves. Most people build a map of things they have learnt, I am building a map of how I have come to be, in case I may get lost again. Maybe someone else interested in a similar lonely path will feel less alone with my documented footprints. Maybe that someone else would be me in the future.
Oh, and Winnie, I can testify that having an “on this day” page is well worth it!
Saturday, October 2nd, 2021
This speculative version of the internet archive invites you to see how websites will look in 2046.
Sunday, September 26th, 2021
A non-profit foundation dedicated to long-term digital preservation.
Imagine if we could place ourselves 100 years into the future and still have access to the billions of photos shared by millions of people on Flickr, one of the best documented, broadest photographic archives on the planet.
The Flickr Foundation represents our commitment to stewarding this digital, cultural treasure to ensure its existence for future generations.
Its first act is the renewal of the Flickr Commons.
Wednesday, September 8th, 2021
Well, this is rather lovely! A collection of websites from the early days of the web that are still online.
All the HTML pages still work today …and they work in your web browser which didn’t even exist when these websites were built.
Tuesday, September 7th, 2021
A profile of Brewster Kahle and the Internet Archive in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021
A Few Notes on A Few Notes on The Culture
When I post a link, I do it for two reasons.
First of all, it’s me pointing at something and saying “Check this out!”
Secondly, it’s a way for me to stash something away that I might want to return to. I tag all my links so when I need to find one again, I just need to think “Now what would past me have tagged it with?” Then I type the appropriate URL:
There are some links that I return to again and again.
Back in 2008, I linked to a document called A Few Notes on The Culture. It’s a copy of a post by Iain M Banks to a newsgroup back in 1994.
Alas, that link is dead. Linkrot, innit?
But in 2013 I linked to the same document on a different domain. That link still works even though I believe it was first published around twenty(!) years ago (view source for some pre-CSS markup nostalgia).
Anyway, A Few Notes On The Culture is a fascinating look at the world-building of Iain M Banks’s Culture novels. He talks about the in-world engineering, education, biology, and belief system of his imagined utopia. The part that sticks in my mind is when he talks about economics:
Let me state here a personal conviction that appears, right now, to be profoundly unfashionable; which is that a planned economy can be more productive - and more morally desirable - than one left to market forces.
The market is a good example of evolution in action; the try-everything-and-see-what-works approach. This might provide a perfectly morally satisfactory resource-management system so long as there was absolutely no question of any sentient creature ever being treated purely as one of those resources. The market, for all its (profoundly inelegant) complexities, remains a crude and essentially blind system, and is — without the sort of drastic amendments liable to cripple the economic efficacy which is its greatest claimed asset — intrinsically incapable of distinguishing between simple non-use of matter resulting from processal superfluity and the acute, prolonged and wide-spread suffering of conscious beings.
It is, arguably, in the elevation of this profoundly mechanistic (and in that sense perversely innocent) system to a position above all other moral, philosophical and political values and considerations that humankind displays most convincingly both its present intellectual immaturity and — through grossly pursued selfishness rather than the applied hatred of others — a kind of synthetic evil.
Like I said, it’s a fascinating document. In fact I realised that I should probably store a copy of it for myself.
I have a section of my site called “extras” where I dump miscellaneous stuff. Most of it is unlinked. It’s mostly for my own benefit. That’s where I’ve put my copy of A Few Notes On The Culture.
Here’s a funny thing …for all the times that I’ve revisited the link, I never knew anything about the site is was hosted on—
vavatch.co.uk—so this most recent time, I did a bit of clicking around. Clearly it’s the personal website of a sci-fi-loving college student from the early 2000s. But what came as a revelation to me was that the site belonged to …Adrian Hon!
I’m impressed that he kept his old website up even after moving over to the domain
mssv.net, founding Six To Start, and writing A History Of The Future In 100 Objects. That’s a great snackable book, by the way. Well worth a read.
Tuesday, July 27th, 2021
This sounds like an interesting long-term storage project, but colour me extremely sceptical of their hand-wavey vagueness around their supposedly flawless technical solution:
This technology will be revealed to the world in the near future.
Also, they keep hyping up the Svalbard location as though it were purpose-built for this project, rather than the global seed bank (which they don’t even mention).
This might be a good way to do marketing, but it’s a shitty way to go about digital preservation.
Saturday, July 24th, 2021
The World Wide Web at its best is a mechanism for people to share what they know, almost always for free, and to find one’s community no matter where you are in the world.
Tuesday, July 20th, 2021
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.
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.
Saturday, July 3rd, 2021
A terrific piece by Jonathan Zittrain on bitrot and online digital preservation:
Too much has been lost already. The glue that holds humanity’s knowledge together is coming undone.
Tuesday, April 27th, 2021
Lysenko vs. Vavilov feels like the 20th century version of Edison vs. Tesla.
Monday, April 26th, 2021
Thursday, April 22nd, 2021
This video is a charming trip down to memory lane to the early days of the public internet:
It wasn’t quite the World Wide Web yet, but everybody started hearing about this thing called “the Internet” in 1993. It was being called the Information Superhighway then.
Saturday, March 20th, 2021
A profile of Brewster Kahle and the Internet Archive:
Tech’s walled gardens might make it harder to get a perfect picture, but the small team of librarians, digital archivists and software engineers at the Internet Archive plan to keep bringing the world the Wayback Machine, the Open Library, the Software Archive, etc., until the end of time. Literally.
Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021
Thursday, November 19th, 2020
A deeply fascinating look into the world of archives and archivists:
The reason an archivist should know something, Lannon said, is to help others to know it. But it’s not really the archivist’s place to impose his knowledge on anyone else. Indeed, if the field could be said to have a creed, it’s that archivists aren’t there to tell you what’s important. Historically momentous documents are to be left in folders next to the trivial and the mundane — because who’s to say what’s actually mundane or not?