6 min read

The first blog post I wrote was lost, the oldest one I kept is from September 8, 2005. It’s been almost 15 years and I am very happy to see how much better I got in writing and in understanding the world.

Keeping a site like this is not just about writing and choosing photos. It takes curation and revising how things are organised to make sure nothing gets lost.

One of the things that I didn’t want to lose were the comments from all the amazing people that have stopped by and given some of their time to show appreciation or disagreement. The last one is always a good opportunity to learn and make sure your beliefs are still sound and logic.

So I dove into the database of comments, finding some of them lost and misplaced because the website’s posts changed links.

Some of the links were broken and had to be pieced together; others were wrong and their comments gone.

I believed I saved all of the comments and in the process drove down an avenue of memories and hindsight on fragile the web we built is.

Photos and Images

Remember flickr ? It’s still alive and running but not everyone I knew back in 2007 still uses it. A lot of the photos you see in my old posts come from there, but the attribution link is broken because the user decided to delete their account. Some are still working, but the photographer moved on, or passed away.

Those links are still here for historical reasons, and because it is important to show that those photos have owners, talented people that were kind to share their work without asking for return.

And the problem doesn’t stop at the attributions of copyright that land in a “Page Not Found” message. Even the files seem to deteriorate.

As technology evolved, we got better cameras and better monitors. Photos that were pristine now look faded or pixelated. Storage was also a problem. Keeping a website means storing all the files and for a 25 year old with a small budget that meant saving every cent. So I made sure to keep a good balance in image quality and file size. It didn’t do an amazing job resisting the test of time.

Files and websites

Websites have a life cycle, and some of the links I found no longer work. Google hates broken links as much as I do, but I also hate to be unjust to the reader. Links that point to other resources, that no longer exist, are still present in the articles I wrote. Again, for the reason of proof of existence.

I have known of this problem for a while now, and for that reason I got into the habit of saving every file that I use for reference. PDFs, videos, images, music, etc. They may not be used in the article, because there is a link to the original version or author, but if one day that link stops working, the value won’t be lost with it. (This is why this site amounts to over 9 GB)

Comments

Back in the day, like many, this site was powered by WordPress. It had it’s own comment system. Then disqus1 appeared, and I tried it for a while. After I stopped using WordPress, I kept the same comment service running. This was when all the links changed to improve the Search Engine Rankings, and a lot of comments got lost in the database.

Social Networks

Remember Path? How about any of these?

  • Delicious
  • FriendFeed
  • Google Wave
  • Jaiku
  • MySpace
  • Orkut
  • Posterous
  • Shelfari
  • Vine

The list could go on, the point is that they have disappeared and some good content along with them.

And a social network doesn’t have to vanish for you to lose access to what’s there. The owner of a piece of content may lock their profile for any number of reasons and you or your readers won’t be able to see it ever again.

Legal action on copyright infringement can also take away access to something that was public. Just think about what happens when a YouTube video is found to be at fault with the guidelines.

We have built a fragile web

And we are making some of the same mistakes. Think about how many Social Networks use URL shorteners. What happens if Bit.ly decides to close and all those links stop working?

The websites that we are building use content management software like WordPress, Drupal and others. Will they withstand the test of time or will we have to migrate them to a new system at some point? Trick question, it won’t. Until then we can stay true to our mission and keep on publishing.

If you were hoping for a bright ending, please don’t give up just now.

Fragile and Amazing

Through these ordeals and all the experiments we have been running in the way we can communicate among ourselves, we saw a lot of good come out of it. Creators that could have gone unnoticed for ages found a spotlight.

Social Networks have found business models that are more or less stable without infringing on our privacy. Take Patreon and Etsy as an example.

We have built an economy and services that were important when dealing with the covid-19 lock down.

And if we fight fake news, we are able to see a variety of important perspectives about what is going on in the world. We can connect with a Human who lives across the ocean and who happens to play guitar.

The web we built is a living thing and is faced with challenges today. It grew too fast, got infected by fake news and scams. In the meantime, it helped us see what is wrong in our society through the Arab Spring and the Black Lives Matter movements.

It’s up to us to curate and educate. We should try to make sure that we publish with quality in mind and take steps to see it live on as much as possible. And we have to educate each other on how to use the web and how not to be a victim of misinformation and fake news.

That’s the only way that we can make sure that communities like Random Acts of Kindness stay alive to serve as inspiration on how amazing the web can be.

Unsplash Logojason leung

  1. Disqus is a worldwide blog comment hosting service for web sites and online communities that use a networked platform. The company’s platform includes various features, such as social integration, social networking, user profiles, spam and moderation tools, analytics, email notifications, and mobile commenting. Wikipedia ↩︎


Bruno Amaral

I am a urban cyclist who loves to mix technology, Creativity, and Storytelling.

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