ad info

CNN.com
 MAIN PAGE
 WORLD
 ASIANOW
 U.S.
 LOCAL
 POLITICS
 WEATHER
 BUSINESS
 SPORTS
 TECHNOLOGY
   computing
   personal technology
   space
 NATURE
 ENTERTAINMENT
 BOOKS
 TRAVEL
 FOOD
 HEALTH
 STYLE
 IN-DEPTH

 custom news
 Headline News brief
 daily almanac
 CNN networks
 CNN programs
 on-air transcripts
 news quiz

  CNN WEB SITES:
CNN Websites
 TIME INC. SITES:
 MORE SERVICES:
 video on demand
 video archive
 audio on demand
 news email services
 free email accounts
 desktop headlines
 pointcast
 pagenet

 DISCUSSION:
 message boards
 chat
 feedback

 SITE GUIDES:
 help
 contents
 search

 FASTER ACCESS:
 europe
 japan

 WEB SERVICES:
Computing

Preserving the Internet for future generations

November 4, 1998
Web posted at: 2:20 PM EDT

by Scott Bradner, Network World Fusion columnist

From...

(IDG) -- The Wall Street Journal reported last month that the Internet, or at least a "chunk" of it, to use the Journal's terminology, was given to the Library of Congress.

It turns out that Alexa Internet, a Web crawler company in Seattle, gave the library an archive of a half million Web pages that adds up to about 2 terabytes of data.

MORE COMPUTING INTELLIGENCE
  IDG.net home page
  Network World Fusion home page
 Free registration required to access Network World
  Free Network World Fusion newsletters
  Get Media Grok and The Industry Standard Intelligencer delivered for free
 Reviews & in-depth info at IDG.net
    IDG.net's bridges & routers page
  IDG.net's hubs & switches page
    IDG.net's network operating systems page
  IDG.net's network management software page
  IDG.net's personal news page
  Questions about computers? Let IDG.net's editors help you
  Search IDG.net in 12 languages
  Subscribe to IDG.net's free daily newsletter for network experts
 News Radio
  Fusion audio primers
  Computerworld Minute
     

The archive is a snapshot of the World Wide Web taken early last year. The data is housed in a computer rack-like structure with four bright red computer monitors stacked one on top of the other. The monitors display random pages from the archive every few seconds.

Why would the library want such a toy, other than because it's fun to watch?

One of the tasks libraries undertake is that of archiving the times in which they exist. For example, they archive newspapers and sometimes tapes of TV and radio programs. This is so future scholars can get a better idea of the context in which events happened. For a historian, it can be helpful to know what the popular press focused on during the time leading up to a major event, such as the start of a war, and what topics dominated conversation after the event.

This type of archiving proved easy when all the news was in print; microfilms of old newspapers did the trick. But things became more complex with the advent of film, radio and TV. It would be hard to assemble a good history of the Vietnam War without having access to archival copies of the evening news broadcasts.

Archiving the current world is even more difficult. More and more of what affects our lives is now found on the Internet in newsgroups, e-mail messages to mailing lists and Web pages. For example, huge numbers of people have had access to the Starr report via the Web. Some of them might have even read it, rather than just skimmed it looking for the naughty bits. While the report itself was published on paper, the backup material was not. The only way this material existed for most of the world was as bits on the Net.

I will say that archiving digital information can sometimes be difficult to justify. It can be quite hard to see that useful information for analyzing current society could come from some Internet mailing lists. For example, a discussion about the evils of spam (the e-mail kind, not the canned meat product kind), approaching a kind of perpetual motion, has taken over the com- priv mailing list.

Then again, in Boston a few years ago it was decided, for the sake of preserving '50s culture, that it was vital to preserve the big neon Citgo sign towering over Kenmore Square.

So, although culture is definitely in the eye of the beholder, the ephemeral Web will have to be part of the archive if future generations are to know what affects our thinking today.

Disclaimer: Compared to Harvard, much of the world has proven to be ephemeral, but the above are my ephemeral observations.

Bradner is a consultant with Harvard University's University Information Systems. He can be reached at sob@harvard.edu.

Related stories:
Latest Headlines

Today on CNN

Related IDG.net stories:

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window Related sites:

External sites are not
endorsed by CNN Interactive.

SEARCH CNN.com
Enter keyword(s)   go    help

   
 

Back to the top
© 2000 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.