This post was published in November 2011, so the information in the post or about me in the sidebar may no longer be correct.

The web, growing up

Jeremy Keith recently huffduffed a conversation about digital preservation. It revolves around the creation of archiving software that will hopefully help reduce the impact of link rot on the web.

(That conversation is interesting, and you should definitely have a listen. What follows is only tangentially related.)

This audio got me thinking about something that had always niggled at me in the past: the BBC not updating old article styles when they change the appearance of BBC News. Take, for example, what must be one of the most viewed BBC News articles of all time: “US rocked by terror attacks”, published on Tuesday 11 September 2001.

The BBC News site has gone through a thousand and one different looks over the last ten years (most of which spent a few weeks receiving hateful comments), but that article still looks exactly as it did on the day it was published. Contrast that with similar articles dated 2001 from The Guardian, Wired and The New York Times, and you can see they all match the current look of the site they’re a part of.

What the BBC are doing had always bothered me subconsciously, and now something’s changed. I’m not sure if it’s the audio that Jeremy posted which has swayed me, but suddenly I find myself really liking what the BBC are doing. I love that that article is still at exactly the same URL it was when it was published. I love that the source is filled with <table>s, <map>s and <font>s. And I love that the whole thing is 600 pixels wide.

It’s a piece of history. Even though the BBC have been criticised by many for taking historical content offline (including Jeremy, who hosts a sample of that content), I hadn’t realised how much I appreciate everything they put into BBC News.

I’m going to try my best to do the same with everything I publish:

  1. URLs that never change.
  2. Individual articles that look exactly as they did when they were published.

The first will be a challenge, since I’m already falling out of love with this domain name.

As to the second, I’ve made a start using the Custom Post Template plugin for WordPress. My post on York a year before I arrived here (reading that again is so odd) looks almost exactly as it did when it was first posted. (Yorkies: the Louis mentioned in that post is Louis Rose.)

And if I move away from WordPress in the future, it should be relatively easy to just keep shuffling the plain old HTML around so that everything keeps looking the same.

Most of all, I love that that York post now looks as old as it is. It was written by a sixteen-year-old in 2007, and it should look like it was designed by one too.

One Comment

  1. zethraeus says:

    I think online identity is too important to lots of people and companies for them to be ok with keeping old content and layouts unadulterated. And what are you meant to do with entry portals that need to be updated with current information?

    As a user though, it would be lovely to have a wikipedia-esque revision history for every page ever. Consider signing up for pinboard’s archival service. When you bookmark something, the page gets saved in its current state. It’s like the wayback machine, except you have control over when an archiving happens and it’s completely searchable.

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