Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Loss of Information

Who remembers GeoCities? Yea, a lot of us do. GeoCities was one of the very first make-your-own-web-page sites on the internet. It made personal web page creation very easy and free. And everyone was doing it. Over time there were pricing options, extras, etc…all designed to help the owners make some cash. And eventually, in 1999, GeoCities was purchased by Yahoo. In an continued effort to make GeoCities profitable, Yahoo limited some of the free access by controlling data transfer limits. And problems continued from that point forward.

Yet, we continued to build web pages. More than 38 million pages had been created by 2009. And then, in October of 2009, Yahoo announced it would be shutting down the GeoCities service for the United States. And the next day, sites became unavailable.

Now Friendster is going away. The social networking service has announced that it will shut down its site and delete all user content on May 31st.  I know, most of us have moved on to Facebook or other options, but Friendster still has more than 110 million registered users.

Fortunately, Friendster has given users some warning for those who want to archive some of their photos, updates, postings, etc.

But not everyone will get a chance to do a backup. Not everyone will know how. Not everyone will even realize they should.

And what does this mean for us? Millions of pages of information between GeoCities and Friendster will be lost. Photos. Updates. A running narrative of thousands of lives. Comments and opinions on current events and popular culture. That’s a lot of our history to be lost.

I know, perhaps a bit dramatic. There are so many places where thoughts and opinions are recorded. We’ll have plenty of those left and plenty of options for revisiting them. But in the digital age, the loss of so much at once does make me wonder about how we preserve and archive our data since so much of it is currently stored on servers that can go away just due to a change in corporate policy or the financial bottom line. Perhaps we should each be more responsible for backing up our facebook page, our blog posts, our twitter updates? I don’t know. I just get the sense that in the digital age, years of digital information shouldn’t be quite so easily done away with.

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