Sunday, June 03, 2007

An Illustrated History of the Web

I know this is a music related Blog but many of my readers are geeks too (like me) and will appreciate this brief and slightly scary history of the Web. Will we teach it become so smart that it will take over?

And I quote "Those who know what's best for us must rise and save us from ourselves."


Dr. John said...

"welcome my son, welcome to the machine..."

VoxMoose said...

Very enjoyable video with a neat message.

My three biggest concerns in the information age are 1) archiving, 2) information accountability (e.g. for purposes of referencing and research) and 3) information control. I’ll just touch on the first point. Digital information is VERY vulnerable compared to printed text. Under optimal conditions, something written on a rock might last thousands of years. Optimally, something written on parchment might last a hundred years in a dry library -- perhaps a few hundred years if the paper is relatively acid free. Under the best conditions, something written to CD ROM (assuming you still had software that could read it!) might last 50 years at room temperature if well cared for. Floppy discs and magnetic media are even worse. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we go back to primitive methods where only a few superstitious hacks chipping at a rock can leave a legacy lasting 5000 years. But I do see us currently living in a potential historical dead spot. In 5000 years, although it seems counterintuitive based on our local experience of “the information age”, it isn’t clear to me that people of the future will have any meaningful record of our digital activities. What we have at the moment is an explosion of information and ideas that are being archived on fairly vulnerable media that is relatively specialized. Information, historically, has always been somewhat specialized (e.g. not everyone can read Sanskrit, cuniform, or hieroglyphics), but the time scales over which specialization changes has been usually epochs rather than years. I already see the problem with computer data I saved in just the 1980s and 90s. I have all the data in some format, but can access only about 50% of it either because it has been corrupted or the software or hardware is unavailable (and not for lack of trying -- try getting a Mac 512e hooked into a network!). And that’s just form 10-20 years ago! Luckily I made hard copies of much of the stuff I cared about. And, although it is rotting away in my garage, I can still SEE it and transcribe it. Activities of groups like the wayback machine are noble, but are still just getting started (and are very inconsistent). For example, using the wayback machine, I used to be able to access the earliest version of my personal pages going back to 1996 when I put up my first website. Now, it only goes back to 2001. Sure, I happen to have those early files somewhere. But we are frequently lulled into a sense of false information stability, thinking “someone’s doing it” -- but it is all very ad hoc. Also, from a journalistic and research point of view, the web is very flakey. I wrote an article about 8 years ago which references long dead web pages (I thought I was being responsible at the time -- even in 1999 we thought the web was a reliable source of journalistic references). Obviously, I’m just giving a cartoon treatment of this very complex issue. There are definitely professionals working on the problem, but I think we often have this sense that our digital information is “forever” when in actuality it is more vulnerable than ever in history; ironically, in part because of the former perception. I think the shift in the way we think about text, as illustrated in the little video, is amazing and powerful. But I think we need to address this archiving problem before getting too slap happy about this paradigm shift.

Isorski said...

I hear what you are saying, Voxmoose and I agree. This is a potentially devastating problem. It makes me freak out and want to save things. I may become a licensed hoarder yet.