Internet Rot

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

I created my first website way back in 1993, when many people still didn’t know what you meant by "internet" and often still called it the "World Wide Web." It was hosted on a university server, which I had to forgo when I left. I then moved it to another college, and then to a now-defunct site called Geocities, which was later bought and eventually deactivated by Yahoo.

Ultimately, I bought my own domain name, carting websites and blogs (not to mention email addresses) around different hosts as they came and went over the past twenty-eight years. Some of the sites I created no longer exist except in someone’s archive of them (and likely some hard drive of mine). Others live on in copies, or have moved to other places.

One site I still keep going is karnatik.com, which was among the earliest (from 1995), and which people rely on for information about Indian classical music. It requires curation by a person like me, and the cooperative help of many who send corrections and edits and notice when links somehow break (as other hyperlinked websites break).

You know the frustration if you’ve ever searched for something, only to get a 404 error or find that the website linked to doesn’t really have the information you were looking for.

So when my dad sent me this article in The Atlantic by Jonathan Zittrain, it really hit home: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2021/06/the-internet-is-a-collective-hallucination/619320/

Right now we think of Yahoo, Facebook, Google, and Dropbox as permanent institutions – places where our links will not be broken, our emails will remain archived for all time, our photos won’t degrade. But these are still companies – they can go under, fail, change, or just reorganize their business model, leaving you in the lurch. When governments don’t have reliable information, scientific articles cannot be found, and even the library is going digital.

Zittrain suggests an Internet Archive, a long-running project, and his own Perma links: https://perma.cc/about which will create snapshots of pages and also allow linking. He also suggests this service Robustify: https://robustlinks.mementoweb.org/

How will we maintain the internet – let it degrade, or curate and keep it for our collective future?

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