The digital world is very ephemeral; we see how much we might be losing
April 8, 2019 5:03 PM   Subscribe

The million dollar homepage is still online, a snapshot of the internet circa 2005, but many of its links are dead, or point to different websites, their owners reaping the rewards of prior investments. Archive.org captured some iterations of the website, and the linked sites from there, and Web Archive.org.uk has been capturing UK sites since 2004, but not all sites are so lucky, either predating Internet Archive's start in 1996 (the first webpage exists only as a copy, reposted a year after the first one went up in 1991), or missed by web crawlers (Wikipedia). These are some of the reasons why there's so little left of the early internet (BBC).
posted by filthy light thief (22 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
If the million dollar webpage sounds familiar, it may be because it was posted to MetaFilter (October 1, 2005 and a double on December 29, 2005), then discussed some more in the context of broader ad trends on January 18, 2006, and with some other big numbers on December 13, 2006. Then there was another advert-related post on March 22, 2007.

Then the guy behind the million dollar webpage, wanted you to do nothing for two minutes, as posted on January 23, 2011. Most recently, we saw that Eight years after the Million Dollar Homepage sold out its pixels and funded Alex Tew's college education, 22% of the page has fallen victim to link rot, at least circa March 27, 2014.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:14 PM on April 8 [6 favorites]


Huh, it's like a commercial prototype of Place.
posted by obliviax at 5:41 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Doesn't the million dollar homepage example suggest the opposite? That our castles are made of sand, but we've made sand immortal?
posted by es_de_bah at 5:56 PM on April 8


The BBC link is skirting dangerously close to one of my nerd rage inducing pet peeves; conflating the Web with the Internet as a whole. People were on the internet prior to the web! Actual people.
posted by Justinian at 6:40 PM on April 8 [5 favorites]


So little was archived of the early internet because so much of it was just people fucking around.

Unless you’re fascinated by "I connected my toaster/vending machine/coffee maker/Christmas lights to the web!" there wasn’t a lot to see. The important developments were still all being archived on Usenet.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:41 PM on April 8 [3 favorites]


Don't remind me. I long for the day when the last vestiges of my late teen postings on Usenet are scrubbed from the arc of history. You guys think my early Metafilter comments are iffy? You ain't seen nothing.
posted by Justinian at 6:44 PM on April 8 [22 favorites]


"And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is AOL/Myspace/Friendster/Tribe/(insert site here), King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside broken links. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level Web stretches far away.”
posted by gtrwolf at 7:24 PM on April 8 [24 favorites]


The web isn't the only early internet thing, of course. Usenet started in 1980, but I think archives of it started in 1995 with deja news. Google bought that archive in 2001 and have basically allowed the ability to search it slowly decay, while removing mentions of it from google groups webpages and help files.
posted by gryftir at 7:29 PM on April 8 [3 favorites]


I appreciate the Internet Archive more and more as time goes by. It's not a panacea, but it's pretty amazing.
posted by exogenous at 7:32 PM on April 8 [13 favorites]


Unified Usenet archives may have started in 1995 but there was significant archiving happening prior to 1987 at a minimum.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:33 PM on April 8


Good to see more recognition for the Internet Archive.
posted by doctornemo at 7:47 PM on April 8


Given how expensive hard drive space was at the beginning, a lot of early stuff is just gone because nothing saved permanent records by design... Thousands and thousands of posts of early bulletin board systems, IRC channels, MOOs, MUDs, MUCKs, chats, just gone.

Somewhere I have a listing of every program I wrote on the MOO that I spent a staggering amount of time on while in college, but that's not the same as the conversations with the people who were there. Many of the programs were social in nature and would make chatting easier, but without an audience they are of limited utility.

I'm still on a BBS with some friends who have been on one since college, but every year somebody else logs off and just... never logs back in again.

There's a saying on Judge John Hodgman that "nostalgia is a toxic impulse" and part of me wonders if I would ever WANT to go back and re-read hot takes from years gone by. Actually, I suspect historians would be fascinated by the reactions to various world events, but I need never revisit the arguments about Kirk and Picard or what precisely is "canon" ever again and it will be too soon.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:13 PM on April 8 [4 favorites]


I've seen things you people wouldn't believe
posted by thelonius at 5:32 AM on April 9 [3 favorites]


My hunch is that something survives on old data backups of mail and Usenet news feeds. Which, now that I think of it, could be very problematic for the parties involved.

Otherwise, it would have taken quite a prescient packrat to preserve posts permanently for posterity.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:38 AM on April 9


There are Usenet archives dating back to 1981, thanks in part to server backup tapes that nobody got around to erasing. But a complete archive is impossible because it's highly unlikely anybody ever had a complete news feed during Usenet's heyday: Some groups (eg, for universities) were local so their records were only ever on a single server, and many Usenet servers would drop feeds (usually alt groups) to save on data transmission and storage.
posted by at by at 7:50 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


As someone who from time to time works on 19th century ephemera this makes me sad. Not all historians want to know reactions to world breaking news. Some want to know about local squabbles and issues and others map erotics and so forth. Low entry publishing or publicizing of any sort is fascinating because it allows certain things not considered worthy of traditional archiving to be retained.

Something doesn't have to be hugely meaningful to us now to have value for a later generation.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:05 AM on April 9 [5 favorites]


I don't necessarily need my old blog archives to come back online or even be in a readable format (and I'm sure this is true for most people). But there are web institutions that have been poorly served by archives simply by existing too early. Word.com is a canonical example for me personally, though there are in fact archives of its articles and even some site design. But there are music zines and blogs I used to inhale as a teenager like air that are now all but gone, and in some cases even their names are lost to me. (What was that indie rock/emo blog I followed in 1998? Bring the Rock? That seems like an impossibly generic name to me now.) Addicted to Noise was the Pitchfork of its era. It introduced me to the likes of Elastica and Sleater-Kinney. Now it's hard to find much of anything from that site.
posted by chrominance at 9:34 AM on April 9


I long for the day when the last vestiges of my late teen postings on Usenet are scrubbed from the arc of history. You guys think my early Metafilter comments are iffy? You ain't seen nothing.

I think we should form a lobbying group.
posted by praemunire at 10:35 AM on April 9


As someone who from time to time works on 19th century ephemera this makes me sad.

I completely agree - some of the most wonderful sources I have ever worked with were ephemeral (like someone's handwritten copy of a local parody song, criticizing some authority, and which wouldn't have made much sense even 100 miles away).

That said, I've also been on the other side in the cataloging and archiving, and I'm very aware of how much work it is to correctly archive ephemeral and/or complex material in such a way that it would be usable to future historians. Notes from projects, for example, are sometimes completely opaque to others. And receipts - when you have a complete collection, you can do amazing things, but when you just have a scattering, they can be so frustrating. When I now archive things I work on for future use, I try to make sure that they are labeled (and DATED!) in such a way that they can be used - and I will discard many things that are less useful. (This is all more in reference to organizational archives, rather than artistic/personal ones, as that's the experience that I have both as a historian and as a records-keeper.)

There are days when I think: I wish everyone would keep all of their shopping receipts ever, as I know that a full accounting from a family in the 17th century would be like gold for understanding consumption and quality of life. But I also recognize that that way madness can lie, along with bags and bags of grocery receipts rapidly fading.

But save your diaries! Whether analogue or electronic. Everyone loves a diary.

I long for the day when the last vestiges of my late teen postings on Usenet are scrubbed from the arc of history. You guys think my early Metafilter comments are iffy? You ain't seen nothing.

This is what semi-anonymous handles are for. Let it all hang out, but make it not-very-googlable by a potential employer. (Unless you work for intelligence agencies/clever detectives - then you'll probably have some leak that connects you. But most employers only thing to look for your legal name).
posted by jb at 10:51 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


there are music zines and blogs I used to inhale as a teenager like air that are now all but gone, and in some cases even their names are lost to me.

Maybe there is someone who saved some of these - and they have done a wonderful good deed like George Thomason (my personal patron saint of mid-17th century English politics). I know that the Canadian Gay & Lesbian Archives are always happy to have donations of early queer ephemera, as so many important things were published in zines and pamphlets and small magazines.

These days, when choosing what to save from my work's files, I tend to let go of the professionally published (e.g. peer-reviewed journal articles, which are almost all scanned and indexed online) and keep manuscripts and working reports which may not exist anywhere else. Similarly, for my personal book collection, I've downsized heavily by letting go of most of the books which are available electronically and always will be (e.g. 19th century classics), and I've held onto my collection of out-of-print children's books from the 1980s, etc.
posted by jb at 10:59 AM on April 9


There are days when I think: I wish everyone would keep all of their shopping receipts ever, as I know that a full accounting from a family in the 17th century would be like gold for understanding consumption and quality of life. But I also recognize that that way madness can lie, along with bags and bags of grocery receipts rapidly fading.

I actually did this for a year or two, scanning them in as I went, but yeah, it's a lot of work to scan that many receipts, and they fade pretty fast if you keep the physical objects.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:37 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


>> I long for the day when the last vestiges of my late teen postings
>> on Usenet are scrubbed from the arc of history. You guys think my
>> early Metafilter comments are iffy? You ain't seen nothing.
>
> I think we should form a lobbying group.
>


Specifically we should lobby for the Right To Be Forgotten to be automatically invoked for everything more than 10 years old.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:18 AM on April 10


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