The temporary web

Is there a place for permanency on the web?

If you walk into any library, you’ll find books older than any computer. There are archives of newspapers that go back decades. We have access to photos as old as the art of photography. There’s some sense of permanence with the archiving of these items.

Everything I create on the web feels temporary and fragile.

The bulk of our content creation via various social networks lends itself to be temporary. If no one sees an update two months after it was posted, we don’t think anything of it. By design, social networks tend to spawn a large quantity of incredibly ephemeral content.

If you are part of the indie web movement, you’ll likely host and own as much of your content as possible. This content isn’t any more permanent than something posted on a social network. This kind of content relies on your server staying online, continuous ownership of a domain, browsers to be able to render the content, and for browsers to be able to access that content. Any number of things could fail and your content could simply disappear. Heck, when we die, most of these things could fail and silently cease to exist.

You could put your content onto a web service like WordPress.com or any number of other services, but that content will now rely on that service remaining active. Historically, businesses tend to not last hundreds of years.

Another option might be to pubish content in multiple formats and distribute it in as many places as possible hopefully increasing the odds it will stand the test of time.

There is archive.org, which does a pretty good job of archiving as much of the web as it can, but it isn’t perfect. It won’t archive private content and does miss a bit of data. It also is a service that might not be around in 100 years (though I’m rooting for it).

How much knowledge and history are we already losing? Every time a community shuts down, forums close, a service shuts down, how much knowledge is being lost?

What about the permanency of design?

We can archive the site and design of it, but as we learned looking at older websites designed for 640 x 480 pixel monitors, the designs don’t hold up very well. This is because we’re viewing them on devices they never could have predicted with high resolution screens. To view them as they were intended to be viewed, we would need to get an older monitor.

Right now, we design to be as future friendly as possible using progressive enhancement to hopefully keep our work functioning and looking nicely on whatever new technology shows up, but that might just result in the same issues. For example, how will the web look when everywhere we look is a project interface, a hologram, or beamed directly into our brain?

Once again, I ask, is there a place for permanency on the web?

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