Something I read on Dick Jones' blog a while ago got me wondering just how much of the early internet (well, the stuff I knew when we first got a PC) is still there? I still update my very old “tripod” site now and again, although it is rather like the old broom that's had three new heads and three new handles. This is almost certainly the case with most sites. Publishing what you want on the internet is almost as easy as breathing – but then so is deleting it.
I hunted round to see what I could find of the sites I used to visit back then. Perhaps it reflected what I spent my time looking at, but it seemed to me that one of the most enduring aspects of the internet was humour. There are people out there tending archives of jokes, urban myths and funny stories the way other people tend window boxes. I quickly found the rinkworks dialectizer (if you don't know it, try sticking your deathless prose in its cockney translator) and The Fun People Archive. (The latter, run by one Peter Langston, was a manually compiled and distributed mailing list. You sent in jokes and stories. He sent them out. I sent one in, once). The Archive was the first place I came across the case of the infamous exploding whale. It sounds like an urban myth, but, as you probably know already, it isn't: the original news-footage can be seen on YouTube. I suspect the details have been exaggerated over time, but I rather like this story as it's the only non-fictional case I've heard of of a whale getting its own back, even if it was posthumously.
It's only a few decades since the hapless Oregon Highways Department blew up the dead whale – but what would it be like if the internet had been around for a thousand years? The peasantry wouldn't have got within a hundred miles of it – but it would be good, now, to be able to read about the day-to-day lives of the barons and their hangers on, the monks, etc. I'm not just thinking of graphic descriptions of the black death and suchlike, but more commonplace, day-to-day trivia. Come the Restoration, Samuel Pepys would have been one among hundreds. Then there would be Oscar Wilde's Twitter page...
And what will it be like in the future? What if people in, say, 500 years time can read internet content going back hundreds of years?
This is all a bit of a game, I know. Machines are more vulnerable than books and, as I said earlier, deleting is easy. Most of all, no-one is going to want to keep skyscrapers full of computer hardware running just to preserve the tweets of dead people. But it does make you think. It's good to know there are web-archaeologists out there lovingly zipping up files and folders of web-obsolescence, preserving the way things were. I mean, can you remember when Yahoo looked like this?
5 years ago