The disappearing internet

UK2 Group 2014 – on

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 22.57.30The disappearing internet
Does information last forever on the internet? It may have seemed that way for the Spanish man who took his case to the courts earlier this year, arguing that Google hits about the repossession of his house in 1998 were far too prominent. The European Court of Justice agreed with him, and Google received over 40,000 requests for to remove “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” personal data in the first four days after the ruling alone.

What may be surprising, as Google starts on the arduous task of complying with the “right to be forgotten” laws, is the fact is that an individual web page doesn’t actually last very long. Estimates vary, but the average lifespan of an individual page on the internet is somewhere just short of 100 days. Of course, the disappearance of a single page doesn’t have to mean the contents is gone, but one thing is certain: as the internet grows older, it keeps changing; just think about how websites used to look ten years ago compared to now.

Those nostalgic for the old internet may be reassured to know there’s a man in San Francisco who’s made it his mission to archive the internet. Brewster Kahle started his work in 1996, and compares the Internet Archive the Library of Alexandria. A device called the Wayback Machine currently contains over 400 billion copies of web pages, and the number keeps growing as Kahle and his team preserves a new version every couple of months. According to Kahle’s own estimates, the archive contains about 15 petabytes of information- that’s about one million gigabytes of data.

“Our mission is universal access to all information all of the time,” Rick Prelinger, president of the Internet Archive board, told ‘The Guardian’. “Digital information is part of our cultural heritage but it’s tremendously volatile. It’s fragile.” One function of the Internet Archive is to preserve documents so it can be proven if they have been changed or removed, as has been the case with sensitive company issues or government websites.

But another function is how the project is preserving a cultural heritage. One piece of internet history which is fading from memory is the web-hosting service GeoCities, which Yahoo shut down in 2009 – but not before it was copied by the Internet Archive. Maybe the contents of GeoCities doesn’t seem all that worthy of preservation today, but it’s not hard to imagine that in 100 years from now, historians will be thrilled that someone went to the trouble to keep the first versions of the internet, an invention that is slowly and surely changing the world.