Kate Lindsay writes about The internet that disappears. at Embedded. She says all that talk about the internet being forever is wrong.
“…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…“.
This squares with my experience.
I have written close to a thousand stories for the New Zealand Herald over the years. Many of them are lost to posterity. That’s not the whole truth, I have copies on my hard drive. But readers won’t see them. They’ve gone.
It’s worse at other sites I’ve written for. Although, it can be uneven. I sometimes stumble across stories I wrote 40 years ago before the internet was even a thing.
Online archives are patchy at best
And there are examples like this published at the Sydney Morning Herald 14 years ago: Keeping in synch. That link may not last much longer. As an aside, I wrote this when I had been back living and working in New Zealand for four years. The SMH kept my column going for ages after I move to Auckland.
Some of the disappearing internet is deliberate. I’ve done this myself.
Over the last year I culled some out of date stories on this site. Not because there was anything wrong with them, they were about topics that are no longer relevant, about technologies or products that have gone to the great recycle bin in the sky. Who cares today about Evernote‘s plan to reduce its free service and push users to paid plans?
Again the original copy sites in my laptop’s storage and in my cloud back-ups, but it’s not available for the world to marvel at.
The copy cull
In hindsight I wish I had never culled the material. It’s not on a par with destroying or rewriting history, but it is a crime against something.
The other way this affects me is with link rot. That’s when I link to a story elsewhere from this site only for the link to vanish. About once a month I check for broken links. There are always some. A few more linked stories have disappeared.
I’m guilty of this myself. There are links elsewhere online to the stories I’ve culled.
There’s a lot of advice from search engine optimisation types for publishers, in a modest way I’m the publisher of this site, to cull old material. Apparently it detracts from the more up to date material. I’ve no idea if this is true, but it could explain why so much vanishes without a trace.