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
Friday, March 4th, 2022
Monday, November 15th, 2021
The internet, it turns out, is not forever. It’s on more of like a 10-year cycle. It’s constantly upgrading and migrating in ways that are incompatible with past content, leaving broken links and error pages in its wake. In other instances, the sites simply shutter, or become so layered over that finding your own footprint is impossible—I have searched “Kate Lindsay Myspace” every which way and have concluded that my content from that platform must simply be lost to time, ingested by the Shai-Hulud of the internet.
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 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.
Sunday, February 28th, 2021
My work shouldn’t be presented in the Smithsonian behind glass or anything, I’m just pointing at this enormous flaw in the architecture of the web itself: you’re renting servers and renting URLs. Nothing is permanent because on the web we don’t really own any space, we’re just borrowing land temporarily.
Friday, November 23rd, 2018
Flickr is removing anything over 1,000 photos on accounts that are not “pro” (paid for) in 2019. We highlight large and amazing accounts that could use a gift to go pro. We take nominations and track when these accounts are saved.
Thursday, November 8th, 2018
This is very, very good news. Following on from the recent announcement that a huge swathe of Flickr photos would soon be deleted, there’s now an update: any photos that are Creative Commons licensed won’t be deleted after all. Phew!
I wonder if I can get a refund for that pro account I just bought last week to keep my Creative Commons licensed Flickr pictures online.
Sunday, November 4th, 2018
I’ve got a lot of photos on Flickr (even though I don’t use it directly much these days) and I’ve paid up for a pro account to protect those photos, but I’m very worried about this:
Beginning January 8, 2019, Free accounts will be limited to 1,000 photos and videos.
That in itself is fine, but any existing non-pro accounts with more than 1000 photos will have older photos deleted until the total comes down to 1000. This means that anyone linking to those photos (or embedding them in blog posts or articles) will have broken links and images.
Tears in the rain.
Monday, October 8th, 2018
A profile of Mark Graham and the team at the Internet Archive.
Monday, November 7th, 2016
It was fun spelunking with Tantek, digging into some digital archeology in an attempt to track down a post by Ben Ward that I remembered reading years ago.
Thursday, January 28th, 2016
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.
Wednesday, October 14th, 2015
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.
Tuesday, January 6th, 2015
Tim Berners-Lee is quite rightly worried about linkrot:
The disappearance of web material and the rotting of links is itself a major problem.
He brings up an interesting point that I hadn’t fully considered: as more and more sites migrate from HTTP to HTTPS (A Good Thing), and the W3C encourages this move, isn’t there a danger of creating even more linkrot?
…perhaps doing more damage to the web than any other change in its history.
I think that may be a bit overstated. As many others point out, almost all sites making the switch are conscientious about maintaining redirects with a 301 status code.
Anyway, the discussion does bring up some interesting points. Transport Layer Security is something that’s handled between the browser and the server—does it really need to be visible in the protocol portion of the URL? Or is that visibility a positive attribute that makes it clear that the URL is “good”?
And as more sites move to HTTPS, should browsers change their default behaviour? Right now, typing “example.com” into a browser’s address bar will cause it to automatically expand to http://example.com …shouldn’t browsers look for https://example.com first?
All good food for thought.
There’s a Google Doc out there with some advice for migrating to HTTPS. Unfortunately, the trickiest part—getting and installing certificates—is currently an owl-drawing tutorial, but hopefully it will get expanded.
If you’re looking for even more reasons why enabling TLS for your site is a good idea, look no further than the latest shenanigans from ISPs in the UK (we lost the battle for net neutrality in this country some time ago).
BT just inserted a popup into someone’s site, encouraging me to switch on content filtering. That is Very Not Cool. pic.twitter.com/QMnLRawsNW— David Thompson (@fatbusinessman) December 30, 2014
They can’t do that to pages served over HTTPS.
Friday, October 17th, 2014
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.
Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014
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.
Wednesday, September 25th, 2013
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.
Monday, July 1st, 2013
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.
Friday, March 23rd, 2012
The Long Now blog is featuring the bet between myself and Matt on URL longevity. Just being mentioned on that site gives me a warm glow.