What if Internet Lost its Memory?

This spontaneous contribution comes from Bruno Benchetrit (from popmarketing), who’s Idea “What if we re-invented mass media?” came in second place in the ranking of 2009’s “Killer Ideas”.  He’s counting on your votes for the Killer Idea of 2010: “What if Internet Lost its Memory?”  I have illustrated this post with the famous Dali painting, The Persistance of Memory, from 1931.

“The web is a river of amnesia, erasing itself as it produces”, wrote Emmanuel Hoog, CEO of France’s Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA) in Le Monde in 2002.  An eternity ago from an Internet perspective!  Still today, the problem is even more pertinent.  Caught in the storm of the instantaneous, we are not often conscious of this problem.  On the web, there is no routine.  It is omniscient, but the medium of the present and the future has a hard time remembering what it said yesterday.  Internet is less a mine of information than a continuous flow of information—a flow whose traces are too limited.

The problem is in maintaining a record of data flow for unstable content: 70% of web pages last less than 4 months.  Internet’s technological instability might add to the vitality of the web, but it weakens data conservation.  Who knows if today’s content will be unreadable in a decade!  There is currently no standard way to convert and adapt older data to future text reading technologies.  The Internet is an infinite amount of works in progress, not always dated that are constantly changing.  If we are to believe that since Gutenberg, all text is datable, then how does one keep records of something that has no temporal anchorage?

Let’s face the facts: web archival is virtually non-existent.  I know of Internet Pure Players who have no trace of their websites from 5 years before.  It’s stupid, isn’t it?  We can still consult a 50 year-old Sear’s catalogue.

If we are unable to stop data erasing, where will we be in a century, what will historians know about our era? They’ll be in a digital abyss.  In 1996, UNESCO sounded the alarm with a report stating: “If our past was untraceable….we would be not be able to maintain the continuous cycle of experimentation that advances knowledge.”  If we lose our documents of reference, how will we be able to tell the difference between the original and the modified version?  Our past could be manipulated.  The Internet must not lose its memory.

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