Archiving the Internet

Mar 20, 2013

Michael Nelson
Credit Old Dominion University

If you’ve been saving photos, notes and videos to your favorite social media sites and are counting on them to be there indefinitely, think again.....the Web may not the best place for storing the record of your life.

Dr. Michael Nelson,  Associate Professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, says whether or not something last forever on the web really comes down to one thing: popularity.

 “Content that is posted to the Web gets copied a lot so any one particular version of an image or something you upload to YTube for example, that song or image or whatever will probably go away very quickly. But if it socially interesting, people will make many, many copies of it.”  

Dr Nelson and his students are working with the Library of Congress and Los Alamos to archive the Web. Nelson also runs Memento, a project that is striving to simultaneously search all archives. But it’s a struggle

"Our ability to publish information on the Web is accelerating much faster than our ability to archive it.  So all the things that make for a desirable or interesting Web experience now:  the dynamic pages, pages that automatically reload, things like Google Maps, basically Web as a service rather than Web as document exchange. We can do a pretty good job of archiving documents, but archiving Google maps:  What does that mean?  Maybe I can archive a session.  All the things that make the Web interesting, and we enjoy and gives us great utility, our ability to archive that information is a losing battle," says Nelson.

He says the problem is most people don’t know they need to archive and that it may take what he calls a social media disaster to raise awareness.  Startups are abuzz in Silicon Valley, Google has created the
Data Liberation Front, and there was a Personal Archiving conference in Maryland this past winter.  But he adds that no one has yet figured out how to effectively monetize archiving. In the meantime, you can continue to do what most people do: email yourself with content you want to preserve and store it on a hard drive.