When websites disappear, how do we make sure that our history is preserved?
Yahoo! shuts it down
This month, there was news about two sites with a long history. #1: Yahoo Answers is closing. This sucks. It’s not the first time Yahoo! has closed a site and deleted its content forever, which I’ve covered before. A lot of takes revolved around dunking on Yahoo Answers for the notorious absurdity of its content. Which, okay, fair. But we created a massively decentralized global network that can store the world’s information, only to make it so frail and brittle that it’s not even capable of maintainng a record of its own history. A history we are too quick to erase. Aria Salvatrice said it best:. “The story is that American Tech would burn the library of Alexandria if their lawyers and accountants told them it’s no longer earning money. One month notice is an insult. Underfunded archivists will not even be given a data dump.”
#2: The Space Jam website–one of the last bastions of pre-commercial web weirdness—also closed (thankfully, this was just moved. That strikes me as a better move, but how much longer can it possibly have?
Writing in Vice, Ernie Smith (who wrote a guest post on this very site a couple of weeks ago), asks the question: How Can We Convince Big Companies to Leave Iconic Websites Online?.
But Kaitlyn Tiffany has put the finest point on it I’ve seen yet. Writing in The Atlantic, Tiffany has compiled thinking on the subject of web history erasure of across a specrtrum of ideologies. It is good to see that conversation broadening, and becoming more mainstream. We need our web history, and we’re losing it.
Another history lost
Speaking of Yahoo Answers, I’ve been re-researching Geocities recently (which Tiffany also talked about in her Yahoo piece). I’m particularly interested in the way it acted as a community, in the proto-social media, grouped by proximity and interest not by offline friend groups, kind of way. There’s a ‘99% Invisible episode that serves as a good primer. And an article by Tanner Howard from a few years ago couches its existence in the colonial driven suburban sprawl of the America. But if you want to understand the way in which Geocities really did act like its own living and breathing city state, I found an article by Joe Cloc in Daily Dot to have a really interesting take on the site redefined relationships online. And web historian and academic Ian Milligan has some of the most illumninating literature on the subject, quite literally excavating old Geocities sites to discover the ways in which people used them to connect to one another.
Chapter 8, out soon
I’m just about done with Chapter 8 of my CSS Tricks series. Be sure to catch up if you haven’t already.