Ashe to ashes, dust to dust. Pixels to electrons, electrons to delete().
As a person who studied art, art history, and graphic design in the first round of my college education, I spent a lot of time reading about and studying artists and designers of the past. We know and study those artists and designers by the physical objects, paintings | journal entries | letters | etc, that were left after their deaths. We know them by their objects.
How will future generations know about our generation when we have spent so much of our time and efforts tossing the physical object to the wind and embracing digital ephemera? For the first 10 plus years of the internet revolution, the giddy joy was in the ephemera, the shifting sands of the bytes blown by the winds of chance and a forgotten domain registration. But the winds have shifted, a few of the early generation of internet pioneers have passed away and now we wonder what will happen to their writings, photos, and their primary sources when the domain expires or the hosting goes past due?
How will future scholars know who were the true pioneers, the giddy bon vi-bloggers from the corporate marketing shills that followed fast on their heels? Do we give the college freshman of 2567 CE/AD an introductory digital studies of Steve Ballmer meets Proctor & Gamble, or do we protect the writings of internet and blog pioneers such as Brad Graham and Lesile Harpold who died too early to write a will or a set up a trust that considered their seminal writings and blogs to be passed on to a university collection?
Now some would say, it is just the internet – here today, gone tomorrow. I would counter that we don’t know what others in future eras will want to know and what will be just assumed about our era, and that more the more well preserved primary sources we leave the better for future scholars and pundits to be able to analyze and learn from our time in a way we are too close to see with any clarity.
A discussion started on the “Remembering our friend Brad” Metatalk post between Matthowie, barbelith (Tom Coates), Maximolly (Molly Steenson), myself, holgate, and a few others how to preserve blogs to an archive that can be accessed past the time the domains have expired and the files deleted off the web hosting server.
Tom suggests that:
“We should consider talking to George Oates at the Internet Archive to see if they have any options for this kind of situation. They might be the perfect place to put sites after someone dies like that.”
I agree with Tom that the Internet Archive is a great place to start, as I use it to find all of my own 1996-2001 website archives given that I can’t find the files on any old disks anymore. But the problem with the Internet archive is that it does not bring any photos or other image files, only the text from the sites that it archives.
After watching in the past few years the work that George Oates did with the Library of Congress while she was still at Flickr, I wondered if we should be considering a long term strategies that would go beyond registering a blog’s copyright or even a periodical ISBN with the Library of Congress or other Copyright Libraries (such as Oxford or Trinity) but should we not also be archiving our text, images, and presentation (css) files to the copyright libraries for future study and access?
In the Metatalk thread, I asked:
“Previously if one was a writer or artist or scholar or otherwise historically/culturally significant, one would give one’s writings & ‘collection’ to a university library. What do we do with our websites & blogs past the time we can pay for them?
How can we know now what might be significant for study 100, 200, 500, 1200 years from now? How do we archive bytes?
Some folks are printing out their blogs to custom ordered books, but this is not necessarily the best solution, as what will the children or grandchildren of our friends and families do with those books? Will they end up at flea markets along with 78rpm acetate records? But maybe that is good, the randomness of the find.
By choosing to engage in the frontier online space, we have chosen to some degree to toss the long term to the wind. The suggestion of the Library of Congress, or other institutions that function as a cultural respository, may be a good bet for the long run in terms of keeping an archive of text|image|ephemera, as after 2 recessions, I don’t trust the market to keep a reliable archive.
If we can now register our copyright with the Library of Congress or the Copyright Libraries (such as Trinity, Oxford, etc), and we can get an ISBN or periodical number for our blogs, how do we start to archive the actual posts and images to a repository.
Do we lobby our congress|political critters to set aside resources for blogs that are periodicals to be archived OR as Matthowie suggest do we donate to an institution such as the Archive.org foundation and make sure that it can function as a cultural archival NGO?”
Is the Library of Congress or the various other copyright libraries up to the task of the pioneer digital generation donating their archives to the libraries in question or do we donate to the Internet Archive so that they can provide a more robust non-governmental/academic solution to archiving blogs and pioneering digital media?
Ashe to ashes, dust to dust. Pixels to electrons, electrons to save().