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The Internet Data Storage Media

We're In Danger of Losing Our Memories 398

Posted by kdawson
from the black-hole-of-history dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The chief executive of the British Library, Lynne Brindley, says that our cultural heritage is at risk as the Internet evolves and technologies become obsolete, and that historians and citizens face a 'black hole' in the knowledge base of the 21st century unless urgent action is taken to preserve websites and other digital records. For example, when Barack Obama was inaugurated as US president last week, all traces of George W. Bush disappeared from the White House website. There were more than 150 websites relating to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney that vanished instantly at the end of the games and are now stored only by the National Library of Australia. 'If websites continue to disappear in the same way as those on President Bush and the Sydney Olympics... the memory of the nation disappears too,' says Brindley. The library plans to create a comprehensive archive of material from the 8M .uk domain websites, and also is organizing a collecting and archiving project for the London 2012 Olympics. 'The task of capturing our online intellectual heritage and preserving it for the long term falls, quite rightly, to the same libraries and archives that have over centuries systematically collected books, periodicals, newspapers, and recordings...'" Over the years we've discussed various aspects of this archiving problem.
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We're In Danger of Losing Our Memories

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  • FP (Score:2, Funny)

    by Tubal-Cain (1289912) *

    First po

    Wait, what were we talking abo

    First Post!

  • by Caboosian (1096069) on Monday January 26, 2009 @11:13PM (#26617123)
    and nothing of value was lost.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shakrai (717556)

      How much you wanna bet the above post gets a +5 insightful whereas a similar post about Clinton (or god help us, Obama) would get -1 troll?

      And yeah, I'll get modded down for pointing this out, but what do I care? Karma: Excellent. I just hope whoever opts to throw a -1 offtopic my way also takes a serious look at the parent. And no, I'm not posting this as AC either.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Qbertino (265505)

        How much you wanna bet the above post gets a +5 insightful whereas a similar post about Clinton (or god help us, Obama) would get -1 troll?

        I think because it is established, especially amoung above-avarage intelligent people (and I actually *do* count the /. crowd in on that one), that GWB has, in his political career, made some notably hairbrained, dumb and fatal decisions. Despite enough intelligent and well-educated advice to the contrary. Quite often he has not only been inept, he actually has been proa

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Kamokazi (1080091)

      Um....personally I want every detail of the Bush administration recorded in history books... ....under a section titled, "Never, ever, do this again."

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by TubeSteak (669689)

        Um....personally I want every detail of the Bush administration recorded in history books... ....under a section titled, "Never, ever, do this again."

        Step 1. Never elect the child of a former President.
        Step 2. ???
        Step 3. Pay off the National Debt!!!

  • Just do it. (Score:5, Informative)

    by TFer_Atvar (857303) on Monday January 26, 2009 @11:13PM (#26617125) Homepage
    Archive.org has been doing this forever. Why is it taking other folks so long to do the same?
    • Why does anybody else need to do it? Just make sure your site is on archive.org before you update it.....

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by bluefoxlucid (723572)
      Lexus Nexus' entire existence is based on this shit too, but includes print media etc. You have no idea what they're capable of; they can take a name and an event and tell you if another person with the same name at another event (no pictures, no other linkage) is the same person, their data analysis algorithms make really good associations on analog information.
      • by Shakrai (717556)

        You have no idea what they're capable of

        Actually any of us who have had the misfortune of having to fight with the bastards over inaccuracies in our files (not quite credit reports because the arrogant SOBs claim the fair credit reporting act doesn't apply to them) know exactly what they are capable of.

        Apparently I was dead. To prove I wasn't dead the drone on the phone from India wanted a copy of my death certificate. The American drones weren't much better. What they added in competence (they never asked for a death certificate) they made u

    • Bandwidth, disk space, servers required, I suppose. The Wayback Machine alone has 85 billion pages, occupying 2 PB, growing at 20TB/month.

      Anyone knows how many LoCs is that?

    • Unconvincing (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CarpetShark (865376)

      Archive.org has been doing this forever. Why is it taking other folks so long to do the same?

      Because when someone implements a thing poorly, others usually just say "that's been done" or "see? I knew it was a stupid idea." Few will actually spend the time to do it better, certain that they can convince the public their system is superior to the flawed one. Free Software is an exception here, which has been able to keep going, trying to convince people of an alternative, because it's largely independent o

  • We know... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mysidia (191772)

    The Internet archive [archive.org] is (or was) meant to help ease this problem.

    We also have sites like Furl [furl.net] that allow users to save a page for later.

    The Google cache retains the contents of a site for a short time (that is, if it doesn't include noarchive tags)

    Visitors to a site always have the option of saving a copy.

    The issue isn't necessarily that copies don't exist, it's that there's no structured way that will ensure some copy of everything gets saved.

    And when individuals "save" a copy of a website, there's

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by superdave80 (1226592)

      Yeah, but who's archiving archive.org???

    • by xPsi (851544) *
      Archive.org is a good idea, but may be causing complacency. The problem is simple: a) they don't keep everything, and b) a lot of people seem to believe they do. That's an archival train wreck waiting to happen. They dynamically change the archive time window even for single sites, and even completely eliminate sites without notice. Besides, long after a site has been archived, a new system admin can block all archive requests (essentially forcing the removal of all archived versions of a site as if it d
    • Most the web can just be forgotten. its junk.

      Bush and the Olympics have official archives that may even be in print-- although Bush's is lacking bunches of "lost" information that wouldn't have gotten on the website anyhow.

      WORTHY information should be archived just as before; possible to even print it to paper should we knock ourselves backwards technologically (hey, I'm being positive and hoping somebody survives besides the insects.)

      Do we need to remember Obama girl? There is more than enough mainstream c

  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Monday January 26, 2009 @11:18PM (#26617167) Homepage Journal

    Well, for starters, I keep my memories in my head.. but if you're talking about records and history then I think copyright is a bigger culprit than digitization any day. Most of the culture of the 20th century is unavailable because the copyright holders have carte blanche to suppress it so it doesn't compete with their latest offerings.

    • Mod this up to +11. It's insane how much material has to be archived illegally to keep it intact. Case in point: When Legacy Engineering developed the Atari Flashback 2 for the modern Atari, they had to pull all the ROMs, documents, schematics, and everything else from their own archives. Atari had absolutely none of it.

      Similarly, all kinds of software is being lost due to the draconian copyright laws. In fact, two of the titles I remember from my childhood (a Q-Bert ripoff with ice cubes and a lunar lander clone that gained you fuel from answering math problems) are, as far as I can tell, simply lost to history. No one has even documented their existence, much less made a backup for posterity!

      Unfortunately, the problem is only getting worse. Movies, television, software, digital texts, and other forms of useful information and cultural entertainment are being lost to time permanently. All because these items fall out of circulation and copyright law prevents enough copies from being kept around to prevent their untimely demise.

      That being said, I do realize that not everything can be kept. Hell, I know more than enough historians wish we had even simple documents like tax assessments and census results from the ancient world. Even seemingly stupid stuff like that can be incredibly useful. Never the less, some of this information is simply going to be lost in time. But let's at least make an effort to preserve the works that define our history and culture. You never know. 2000 years from now our descendants may want to piece together what happened to us. ;-)

      • by trawg (308495) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @12:29AM (#26617777) Homepage

        Unfortunately, the problem is only getting worse. Movies, television, software, digital texts, and other forms of useful information and cultural entertainment are being lost to time permanently. All because these items fall out of circulation and copyright law prevents enough copies from being kept around to prevent their untimely demise.

        I've often thought that'd be a good extension to copyright law. As soon as something stops being available for sale (or maybe after some reasonable time, like a couple months), then it should enter the public domain.

        If companies want to keep owning the rights to something, they should have to demonstrate they're prepared to make it available commercially so people can actually buy it. Otherwise people that want it will be forced to become criminals to get their hands on it (or, obviously, do without).

    • Most of the culture of the 20th century is unavailable because the copyright holders have carte blanche to suppress it so it doesn't compete with their latest offerings.

      Hardly. The right of first sale is a quick end to your carte blanche.

    • Most of the culture of the 20th century is unavailable....

      Like what?

      Most of the culture of the 20th century isn't FREE. But a hell of a lot of it is AVAILABLE.

      As for the random stuff that nobody pays for -- well, I hate to break it to you, but that's not our culture. That's just random pulp.

      • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @12:59AM (#26617981) Homepage Journal

        The vast majority of it is *not* available. Most books do not see a second print run. There's literally millions of films that never made it to VCR and millions more that never made it to DVD. This is not because people are uninterested in buying them. It's because the copyright holder has the exclusive right to make new copies and they choose not to. It's more profitable for them to print copies of new works for which they can ask a higher price.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by grumbel (592662)

        Like what?

        If you want a tricky example: Try to find a full day of what was shown on TV 20 years ago. You might be able to find a few of the popular shows from back then on DVD, a few of the commercials on Youtube and a few other bits and pieces, but finding the raw footage of everything connected is quite tricky. Such footage does exist, both on private VHS tapes and in archives, but the whole copyright situation on them should get very tricky, so you likely won't find such stuff publically available any time soon an

  • Google - - archives

  • So, libraries have been charged with archiving web-sites... and? Libraries have been around for the introduction of newspapers, magazines, audio and video recording.

    Someone, quick, post something insightful that will make me care about the centuries old story that libraries will archive whatever new medium comes along. This is even worse than the stories about how people break up over facebook. I mean, did Victorian newspapers run stories about how people would send "Dear John" letters by their new, fancy

    • Someone, quick, post something insightful that will make me care about the centuries old story that libraries will archive whatever new medium comes along.

      It certainly helps one's case when debating whether we were misinformed about circumstances in pre-war Iraq if we have an archive of materials to cite.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by grcumb (781340)

      I mean, did Victorian newspapers run stories about how people would send "Dear John" letters by their new, fancy, twice-a-day postal service?

      Pretty much. A Novel in Nine Letters [wikipedia.org], one of Dostoyevski's famous shorter works, used the newly established postal service as a framing device.

      Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy that hinges on the lack of reliable postal services. A courier is late arriving with a note for Romeo, so he never finds out that Juliet has merely faked her own death.

      Some of the stock humour in th

  • Who can tell me where I come from? I have blood from all continents except Australia. But I would love to really know where I really come from.

    Unlike other so called un-developed countries that have an unwritten code on how offspring are named, we have nothing of the sort. In these societies a similar surname automatically has meaning beyond just a simple relationship. It helps.

    You find one Smith from Australia with no relationship to the Smith in Wales, who in turn has no relationship to the Smith in Zim

  • by Derling Whirvish (636322) on Monday January 26, 2009 @11:38PM (#26617343) Journal
    The National Archives has preserved the whole final state of the Bush White House site here: http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/ [archives.gov]
  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Monday January 26, 2009 @11:40PM (#26617375)

    You have to cut down the noise somehow.

    We don't need to save every teenager's text message.

    I'm not willing to spend a lot of money to preserve my *own* memories. If they think it is so important, then they can kick in some money and free time to do it.

    • by grcumb (781340) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @12:05AM (#26617589) Homepage Journal

      We don't need to save every teenager's text message.

      Don't be so sure. One of an archaeologist's favourite places to dig is in the village rubbish tip. It's important because it tells us more about day-to-day life in a society than what people wrote down on papyrus, carved into stone, or otherwise saved for posterity.

      In virtually every case, the stuff that rulers deem important doesn't bear much relation to the way everyday people live. Often enough, it's an outright lie. So if we want to understand a society with any depth of detail, we need to know the trivial and mundane as well as the monumental.

      • It's true. Look at all the photos of Obama's childhood and young adulthood that have been surfacing lately. Back then, he was just some kid. Now he's the most powerful man in the world. You never know what's going to be important in the future.

      • And so eventually our entire society will be dedicated to gazing at our navel and thinking about the past instead of doing new things.

        There is already more to know and learn than anyone can know and learn in just about every body of knowledge.

        We need to free our selves from a lot of the debris of the past so we can move forward.

      • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @03:21AM (#26618769)

        Ahh but that is dealing with societies that are very different. The ones that you are talking about for that sort of thing are long gone and left little in the way of data. Thus it does become important to try and piece together things from trash and such.

        However society (in the first world at least) is very, very different now. There is a tremendous amount of data kept. There has been a lot kept since the printing press started really taking off, but even that is nothing compared to the data that is kept in the digital age.

        So barring some amazingly catastrophic event (in which case there might not be future historians) it won't be a problem. There's plenty of data preserved on all aspects of life. Be it scholarly research, news, whatever, there's lots out there that isn't subject to the approval of the government. Also governments are keeping data on a much larger scale than before. You have stuff like the Library of Congress, which is more or less just a big collection of shit published in the US.

        Thus I really doubt there'll be much uncertainty about how people from our time lived. There are too many records of too many types. In particular, video is a powerful one. A written piece is always influenced by the author. It is subject to how they remembered the event and how they choose to retell it. An unaltered video simply captures what happened. It tells whatever story falls in its lens and microphone.

        You cannot compare how research on a culture from 3000 years ago is done to how research on the current culture will be done.

        The grandparent is also right that there is a real problem with signal to noise. There is so much data, and so much of it really random crap, that one of the major challenges future historians are likely to face is to sort through it to find the useful shit.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Scrameustache (459504)

          the data that is kept in the digital age.

          So barring some amazingly catastrophic event (in which case there might not be future historians) it won't be a problem. There's plenty of data preserved

          Isaac Asimov, in the Foundation trilogy which takes places thousands of years in the future, talked about the natural entropy of the physical media on which digital records are kept.

          Hard drives fail, magnetic tape decays, south american fungi eat the insides of CDs... you don't need a catastrophic event, the second law of thermodynamics will do just fine.

  • Archive.Org (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ken Broadfoot (3675) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @12:04AM (#26617571) Homepage Journal

    It's not perfect by any means but the WayBack machine on Archive.Org can find some pretty old stuff. Scary stuff too. Like that time I was into...... er forget it...

    Plus if the Whitehouse doesn't get your fancy... there is tons of Grateful Dead Music there as well.

  • Many of those Sydney 2000 Olympics websites would have been just ticket sales and general advertising. Much as I lament the transient nature of websites, a lot of it is just promotional material ... to pick a name at random: black-shoes.com is a typical no-content "spam" website. It is valueless today, let alone in the future.
  • We're not in danger of "losing our memories" - we're just more acutely aware of that which does get forgotten, due to the increasing volume of documentation. We've never remembered more.

    There were more than 150 websites relating to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney that vanished instantly at the end of the games

    That's hardly surprising, considering the fascist content restriction that was in action during / after the games. Good luck trying to get a replay of anything if it wasn't provided to you by your local television station the day it occurred. Any sites that were up during the games were nothing more than commentary and t

  • This is NOT news. This is exactly why I've been rather obsessed with saving the actual content of anything online that has value to me. The Web is VOLATILE, period... there is no built-in version control system on the Internet. The Wayback Machine and such is great, but it's an isolated exception. Saving merely links to interesting things for future reference is a solution doomed to eventual failure.

    What this article discusses, BTW, is something that the Free Market cannot solve. What we're discussing

    • What we're discussing here requires prescriptive socialistic behavior to avoid (or solve belatedly); there is no economic benefit for doing this (that I can perceive)

      If there's no economic benefit to doing a thing, that means that, truly, THERE IS NO BENEFIT TO DOING THAT THING.

      You're doing exactly the right thing -- keep a local copy of anything you give two shits about. IF you want to go one better, poney up some money for preservation of things -- donate to archive.org or something.

      You want it done? Put your money up. Aren't willing to pay for it? Then you don't really want it done.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by macraig (621737)

        There's a social benefit, stupid. You just demonstrated the behavior I described. The social benefit incurs an economic cost. There might be some very, very long-term economic benefit, but it's harder to prove. The social benefit is obvious, at least to some of us.

  • Porn sites? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by flyingfsck (986395) on Tuesday January 27, 2009 @12:38AM (#26617835)
    These archives always neglect the porn sites. Our knowledge of Rome would have been much diminished without the preserved brothels of Herculaneum and Pompei.
  • "My name is Roger Smith. I perform a much-needed job here in this city of amnesia.

    "This place, Paradigm City, is a town of forgetfulness. One day, forty years ago, every person here lost all memory of anything which had occurred before that day. But humans are adaptable creatures. They make do and go on with life. If they're smart enough to figure out how to operate machinery and get electricity, they can still have something like a civilization even without a history. People can survive without knowing wha

%DCL-MEM-BAD, bad memory VMS-F-PDGERS, pudding between the ears

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