Digital, ephemeral

This page is long, and has no pictures. I hope it doesn’t get rejected immediately as ‘TLDR’ (Too Long Didn’t Read) … as it is important (well, kind of, in the context of web things).

. . . . .

I’ve been trying to add a page about this subject for months, and I’ve been thinking about it for years. The title came to mind as appropriate after a blog I was reading last summer made reference to the ‘ephemeral’ nature of blogs. Since then, I’m seeing the word ‘ephemeral’ used so often in relation to online content, and blogs in particular.

So, I’m weird then, because I never saw this website/blog as ephemeral. I compiled pages online with thought, proper application of mind, and attention to detail. I checked facts, usually double-checked them, read through, read through again, sometimes changed things if they seemed too critical, too sentimental, or, even, inelegantly worded. I’ve been back over the entire site several times over the years and rearranged things, reconnected broken links.

I did want, I do want, all this carefully gathered together content to live on after me. Even more so now, with nine years’ worth of pages assembled.

I’ve read about the internet’s origins and its history. The infrastructure isn’t ephemeral, it’s robust, and the worldwide web is clearly here to stay.

What is seen as ephemeral is the website or blog made by an individual, paid for by them. Like this one. And for obvious reasons. When I stop paying the hosting and domain name charges, this site won’t exist any longer at www.yorkstories.co.uk.

As long as I can pay for it, I will. This isn’t a massive financial burden, as there are many low-cost hosting options. But what if people in 50 years time want to see this record of life in York in the early part of the 21st century? If they can’t, if someone else has bought the domain name, if this website no longer lives at this address? Does that matter? And if it does, what can I do?

Not just about me

This website/blog now includes other people’s thoughts and comments and memories. So much has been added recording aspects of life in York not recorded elsewhere on the web. Important social history. The page on the old ‘Fever Hospital’ is perhaps the best example of that, and I urge everyone to have a look at the comments, if you haven’t already. (And though I don’t feel comfortable praising myself and my own efforts, I think future York citizens should be able to read We sat on sarcophagi and snogged, a personal record of/appreciation of one small corner of York.)

So with this comes a feeling of responsibility. I care about preserving for posterity those memories of the Fever Hospital, and Stephen’s and Audrey’s contributions, and Guy’s memories, and Tony’s poem, and all the comments added by visitors, as well as my own words and photos.

What do we do with all this? How do I preserve these pages you’re looking at? How do we preserve similar websites and blogs for the future?

Internet Archive / British Library Web Archive

This website is already archived online in two places.

The Internet Archive’s ‘Wayback Machine’ took snapshots of this website when it was young. You can view an example here (the earliest) and there are several others. The formatting hasn’t been kept in some cases, but this archiving is very welcome, and nice to discover, as it just happened, without my asking. The Internet Archive appears to be US-based, and I’m not sure how it’s funded, but I hope those early versions of my site will be kept in some form on the archive.org site/servers.

Having meant to nominate this site for inclusion in the British Library Web Archive for many years I eventually got around to it in 2011. Their record of this website can be viewed here. An archive run by the British Library seems to be as secure and permanent a home as a website or blog could hope for. But they visit only twice a year, if that. An expected November 2012 snapshot hasn’t appeared yet on their pages. Now my pages are updated more frequently, often with postings added every few days, there’s the potential to lose a lot of content. Everything added since May 2012 isn’t yet archived, as far as I can tell.

Preserving the small and local

If we’re wanting to keep a proper record for posterity it seems it might be necessary to archive blogs more often, particularly those with original content created by individuals. The quirky, local, personal. Yes, like this one, but there are many more. I imagine that by now there’s at least one site like mine in every town and city, and in many smaller communities too. The smaller sites and blogs funded by individuals are the ones we’re going to lose forever, when their owners can no longer fund them, unless digital archiving happens more regularly and takes in more websites.

Back home

I don’t have children to pass these archives on to. I have a partner [update, 2014, I don’t have a partner now] and a friend who I’ve already discussed this subject with. They would do their best to preserve this website in some form, but I need to make it as easy as possible for them to do so.

It isn’t just the site itself, but nine years’ worth of photos of York taken to accompany it. The photos, and this website, will of course be of interest mainly to people living in York. The most sensible place for some kind of record of it to be left for posterity would be in the city archives. Somehow I’ve never got around to asking if they want it. I was meaning to for years, but then the arrival of the council’s own ‘York Stories’ rather complicated things.

And the other stories

These questions of preservation are particularly pertinent in the light of that other ‘York Stories’ (later known as York Stories 2012). Which, as I’m sure most York residents know, set out to record the stories of York residents about the city. Which is what I was kind of doing already, in my own small way, but never mind. I was asked, when the clash of projects could be ignored no longer, if I’d like my website included in the council’s York Stories.

Logistically rather difficult, as they chose the same name, and my precious website could only end up being subsumed by their massive well-funded one. Did I want to give them my website, ‘York Stories’, (established 2004, labour of love, self-funded) for their own ‘York Stories’ (established 2012, celebrating the council’s ‘York800′, council and JRF funded). No I didn’t, and I hope you can see why.

Changing technologies

So, though this website captures many aspects of ‘real York’, it won’t be preserved forever on a memory stick or some other digital storage embedded in the city wall, which seems to be one of the plans for the council-funded one.

But then that perhaps wouldn’t help anyway, in the longer term, in terms of digital preservation. Technology changes so fast, and the media on which we record it can become obsolete rather quickly. I need only mention those floppy diskette things. I have a large box full of them, with various things archived on them. When diskettes looked to be obsolete I then had to archive it all onto CD, so have a box full of them too. I also have a Zip drive and the (expensive) disks for that, with other things archived on those. Most recently, two external hard drives with a USB connection, and a couple of USB memory sticks.

Will we have computers with USB connections in 20 years’ time?

Perhaps the best solution is the good old-fashioned tried and tested: printing it all out on paper. Though that’s not feasible for my massive and unwieldy old website.

Here and now

After trying to look into the future, I need to go back, over a lot of pages on this website. To change their tags and categories, as it’s all got into a bit of a mess. Back in November 2011 I couldn’t envisage what categories I needed and what tags I should use.

Though perhaps these attempts to categorise and organise are a waste of time, if it really is merely ephemeral.

“No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”
Isaac Asimov

Elsewhere on the web/footnote

The council-sponsored project mentioned above has a website at www.yorkstories2012.com.

  By Lisa @YorkStories 22 January 2013 , To link to this page's proper location please use the > permalink.

About Lisa @YorkStories

Lisa @YorkStories is the creator, administrator, and writer of content on www.yorkstories.co.uk. She can be contacted on this link or via Twitter, @YorkStories

4 comments

  1. TLDR?—NOT!

  2. YorkStories

    Hello Stephen, thank you for reading it through :), that’s two of us then …

  3. Andy Tuckwell

    More than two!

    Thoughtful and well-put, as ever. I wish I knew the answer – it’s a world-wide problem. Meanwhile, I think we have to hope that swapping from an old to a new storage format every few years will get progressively easier and keep on doing just that.

  4. YorkStories

    Thanks Andy for reading! I also hope that web archiving will happen more frequently as it seems that the best long-term home, for content created on the web, is the web.

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