“By HTML, I mean the WWW hypertext capabilities.”
– James Morse, comp.infosystems.gopher, September 1992
It’s fun to look at the past for reasons someone living in that past could not have understood. It’s fun to see a change in perspective, a change that can also help us shed new light on our present.
Take above quote taken from Google Groups’ Usenet archive of 1992. New words are appearing, and their meaning is not obvious; new concepts are being born, and people are shaping them. Something as common and normal as the World Wide Web and its underlying HTML were not around a little more than a decade ago. In fact, the Internet – though technically in existence – was not on the minds of most people.
We learn from the past. That is, if we get the chance to see it.
Google does a great job of showing what’s online today. Via its Cache, you might even glimpse at what was online yesterday, or the week before. But what about last year? What if you want to see a site’s front-page – including layout, not just plain content – from 2000? Or 1998?
A website might feature its own archive, but nobody can guarantee that. And most site, when changing their design, change their archived page’s design as well. This means the original page dies a sudden death.
Papers can be archived by having storage space. Websites can be archived by having both storage space, as well as a browser able to render them. Yesterday’s pages might break on today’s browser. Ignoring that, we still have the problem of huge spidering and storage capacities needed for a working digital archive.
There are only a few sites trying to stop time, and save the Web for future historians. One of those is the Wayback Machine of Archive.org, and though it does a great job, you will also often find its indexing is far from complete. Pages are not found, or if they are found, they might be broken (missing pictures, missing scripts, and so on). It might be that while it tries to recreate the HTML on modern browsers, a screenshot would have been more successful. (Ironic, considering documents written in our beloved hypertext language are supposed to be so long-lived.)
And just what is worth preserving in the first place? Steve Baldwin in his immensely interesting blog, when talking about “Ghost Sites”, points to the Rorschach Enigma. (“Basically, the Enigma is something that makes the Web, the Net, and just about everything else that goes on in this very strange world of bits look so very much like something that’s already familiar to them that it blinds them to any other possibilities.”) We don’t know what stands out because we’re right in it.
When we google the past, we are interested in decisive moments. Days in history that shaped the future and ultimately have impact on our lives now. I would like to see the first incarnation of CNN.com, Microsoft.com, W3.org, Amazon.com, and all the rest. I want to see the first Wiki, and the pages linking to it. I would like to see the world’s first blog. (I would like to know when people started talking about “weblogs”, referring to online journals as opposed to log-files.) I would like to know about the ’Net’s reaction to political issues and world events. We like to find out how people reacted on great achievements, as well as great failures. Both can teach us valuable lessons.
Google Groups does a good job of covering many issues of the past. This is because in the past, Usenet was the digital way to talk. These days, it may well have been replaced by the blogosphere. Luckily we have permanent links, and are devoted to maintain our archive (having realized some troubles of our past, and having reacted on it). And still, much of our chatter will be lost. Many blogs will turn into Ghost Sites, dust will settle on them, and they will die one day.
We may wonder just who tomorrow will need the today’s chatter anyway. But it is often just that chatter, the naive mutterings, by-the-way remarks, little additions, the mindless talking and quick commentary... putting our brain on the Web, for good or bad... which most strongly depicts the every-day life. Today you may mention John doing something interesting. Way ahead in the future the same John might have started the Next Big Thing. Someone may blog about it today and write “By the way, John, a friend of a friend, is doing some nice things here. Let’s see how it develops.” And forget about it.
This means the blogosphere today is worth preserving. The blogosphere in its entirety, including teen angst ridden Blogspot with rumor and babble, not just elite pundits. It is of great interest ten, or fifty, or hundred years from now how John out of everyday-life shaped the world and made history. Because there wasn’t big money or a big company or big idea in the beginning. Maybe there was big devotion to a small idea. And being there at the right time, in the right place, helps – though the Web sort of makes “place” a virtual thing you change at will. Today it is this power we have in all of us. Sometimes we like to remind ourselves of this and start something new. Something worth looking back on – something worth preserving.
I was searching for “cliff” on Google Images and got a Google News result on top. Repeating an image search with “bush” gets images of the US president. Many other words, such as “google”, return News results as well.
As The Unofficial Google Weblog reports, Google is now indexing Flash Files. I did a test search for +the filetype:swf and over half a million Flash files were returned.
Though at first this news seems to make certain accessibility issues with this format a thing of the past (“Don’t use Flash, Google can’t see it”) – in fact now accessibility may be a much stronger point in Flash to avoid Google result titles like “Loading Loading Loading ...”.
“They were the Kozmo runners, and they are all gone.”
– Michelle Delio, Kozmo Kills the Messenger (Wired), Apr. 13, 2001
Yesterday I saw e-dreams (that cost me 5 bucks for a 48-hour digital rental period via CinemaNow.com). It’s a documentary covering the rise and fall of Joseph Park’s dot-com boomer Kozmo.com. The idea of this company was simple: to deliver goods (like video rentals or books) within under one hour. Executing it was equally simple, and hundreds of millions of dollars were raised, and wild parties were held; at least at first and until early 2000 during the Internet craze.
These days, the only way you can see the Kozmo.com website is by going to the Museum of E-Failure.
Another highly interesting documentary is Startup.com on the roller-coaster ride of GovWorks.com.
“What hungry investors (and unemployed tech workers) really want out of Google can best be summed up by a bumper sticker out on the highways of Silicon Valley: just give us one more bubble.
IPOs are like dreams: sometimes happy, often irrational, usually quixotic - and fraught with unexpected twists. Sometimes they turn into nightmares.”
– Michael S. Malone, Surviving IPO Fever (Wired 12.03), March 2004
“Any IPO creates major distractions and business culture transformations, and Google’s competitive edge could be dulled if iconoclastic co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are forced to march to Wall Street’s prosaic beat.”
– Quirky Google Culture Endangered? (Wired/ Associated Press), Apr. 27 2004
John Battelle (blogger of the constantly interesting battellemedia.com) and Steven Levy (author of great Hackers - Heroes of the Computer Revolution) are on radio (Talk of the Nation, NPR, Google’s IPO).
There are around 500 Google Answers Researchers worldwide, and for Google Answers’ 2nd birthday, they now get a Gmail account as birthday present.
By the way, if you never asked a question at Google Answers, you should give it at least a single try and see if you like it.
Though I’m a Google Answers Researcher myself, I regularly ask questions there when it comes to topics I’m not familiar with.
The nice thing, as opposed to newsgroups, you don’t have to deal with impoliteness and amateurish answers (not that anyone has the right to expect more of newsgroups, after all, Usenet is a free resource). Instead, you get one expert Researcher devoted to solve your specific problem.
Additionally, the Google Answers site is a nice “restricted information space” to search through.
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