Its designers were oriented toward academic issues and lacked the funding to build the web with a top-down, centralized structure.
They weren’t looking to monetize the internet.
They had no interest in fashioning a big, for-profit company.
They insisted that users would create the internet’s content, and foresaw that those users would become the writers, editors, publishers, and producers, The internet wouldn’t have executives. It would never go public.
The internet started as an improvement on traditional libraries. Web pages could link to content anywhere else on the internet, which meant that content outside a certain web page would still be at users' fingertips. And people, including bad actors, can alter or delete the content they visit by following links. When someone changes the content behind a link, that’s “content drift.” When someone deletes it, that’s “link rot.”
Before today’s internet, the primary way to preserve something was to consign it to writing and that’s one of the reasons texts from thousands of years ago survived.
Even old, out-of-date, rarely used books are somewhere on the shelves in a traditional library but that’s not necessarily the case on the internet. Publishers or other businesses may close, rendering their digital content inaccessible.
When the United States government temporarily shut down in 2013, federal websites were disabled, making countless government documents and crucial information inaccessible.
A link rot study found that half the links in Supreme Court opinions didn’t work, and three-quarters of the links in Harvard Law Review articles failed.
Many books or texts that originate as digital are also ephemeral. These texts may have not a physical counterpart. Readers aren’t buying the text itself, they’re purchasing a subscription. If the subscription expires, the reader will no longer have access to the book or article.
The malleability of content after an e-book’s publication is even more concerning. The sheer flexibility of new book publishing technologies makes them vulnerable to censorship. That means if someone finds a passage in a book offensive, a simple procedure can change it. This isn’t just theoretical.
The internet’s organization enabled it to grow almost without limit, making the internet’s content that many people depend on ephemeral and often unreliable.
Brewster Kahle, a technologist who founded the Internet Archive called the “Wayback Machine,” seeks to preserve and provide access to defunct web pages. It “scraped” these pages by preserving their content and tracking down the links they provide. In the spirit of the early internet designers, he isn’t in it for the money. The Wayback Machine seeks to preserve as much content as possible before it vanishes.
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