The internet never forgets! I can tell you that much for sure.
Well, you know, parts of the internet.
In the early days of the WWW, all the print articles panted and drooled over the possibilities that such a permanent, freely available archive would offer. No longer would we be bound to those nasty old books and periodicals. Every grain of human knowledge would be a few clicks away (if not via WWW, then grab all the world’s files with gopher!).
Man, it was a great time with such a promising future spread out in front of us. We didn’t know it was no more than a cruel joke, and that a mere 10 years later we would have nothing but a wikipedia full of half-assed pseudo-information and an archive containing billions of broken pages.
Speaking of those early days, I found a floppy disk that came with a 1996 issue of The Net magazine. I liked The Net because they wrote articles like, How To Get Online For The Price Of 30 Taco Bell Burritos, and also because they ran reviews which featured a few of my early sites, and that made me feel like an internet superstar celebrity.
What? Web site reviews?
Yeah, imagine that. Imagine a web that was coherently reviewable because it didn’t expand out to infinity. There were actually a few print magazines that reviewed web sites, and it didn’t take a hell of a lot to impress them.
The Net shipped every month with an ultra high tech floppy disk (and later, CD) that supposedly contained links to all the sites mentioned in that issue, along with utterly useless and usually corrupt or nonfunctional little shareware and freeware apps.
Recently I was overcome with a wave of nostalgia so I jammed one of those 1996-era floppy disks into the oldest computer I own – the only one that still has a floppy drive – fired up Netscape Navigator 0.91, and went for a spin.
Well, I tried to, anyway. The relic of a “home page” opened (it was even named home.htm), but every link on the disk is now invalid. Not most of them, or almost all of them – every one.
So how are we supposed to recreate those glory days of 1996? Ah, there’s the beauty; we can’t. With the exception of a handful of sites that have remained relatively unchanged (you’ll know ’em when you see ’em), 1996 may as well be 1896 as far as the web is concerned.
But wait a minute, I thought everything was being archived by some benevolent government agency or institute of higher learning? I mean, Google archived (archives?) all of usenet, right? No way, buddy.
I searched our friend Google for a few of my old poems that appeared on an early Lollapalooza site and came up with nada. Same story at archive.org. In 1996 I wasted boatloads of time making hundreds of posts on usenet as well, but searching my then email address in the Google archive turns up zero posts and only one reference to a post.
What does all this mean? Well, maybe nothing. Maybe it’s best that no one can read my old usenet posts and bad grunge-era poetry. In fact, I know it’s for the best. But what about the few tidbits of useful information that were out there?
If they still exist they are buried under a mountain of electro-rubble that we will never, ever dig out from under. And get this: we’ve only started on this landfill, babies. We are perched on the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
So remember, back up your data! Then stick it in the closet on a spindle of DVDs or old hard drives so you can throw it all away when you’re cleaning house in 2028.