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Who's archiving IT's history?

The mishandling of Babbage's baggage

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Worse, a lot of sites block the Archive from accessing their pages. The archive spiders call, and are recognised as "proxy avoidance" sites. It's a trick, the site monitor decides, attempting to display naughty images to people who have asked not to see them.

So Websense blacklists Wayback Machine as 'Proxy Avoidance Systems'. Observe, given the description, one might think that such sites are somehow disreputable or have little value besides getting around the censorware. Few people would consider that an extensive historical web archives qualifies. And that access is denied to a digital library by the imperatives of control, the necessities of the blinder-box.

So I got quite excited when NetModo announced:

NetModo Inc., a web-publishing venture aimed at providing free content to consumers, launched their initial website www.NewsModo.com with over 3.5 million news articles from 85 newspapers across the country in partnership with Media News Group Interactive.

You can see the reason for excitement; you can also immediately spot the limitations. "The country" for example - which country? The US, obviously! Are there any others? Not on NetModo. And 85 newspapers... isn't that rather a low number for the US? Yes, it is. It seems to be a select few, most of which have local-interest small-town news. Great for a social historian, but it's hardly going to help us find the August '85 edition of Byte, or Dr Dobbs or even the San Francisco Chronicle.

And it shows individual stories, not the snapshot of a day or a week which a paper magazine captures for history.

Of course, it may be a relief to some families to know that:

"NewsModo.com is also a 'safe' search environment. Because NewsModo only publishes professionally produced content and does not 'crawl the web' for content, parents and kids can be assured that a search on Newsmodo.com will only return content that has been published in a newspaper previously."

Because, as the proprietor of the archive points out: "This essentially eliminates the threat that some type of questionable photos or other unwelcome content will be displayed to unsuspecting eyes while perusing search results and articles on the site."

But what sort of "history" is it which doesn't record things that would embarrass sexually or religiously crippled individuals who want to prevent their babies from growing up?

Once upon a time, someone offered me all the back numbers of a particular tech magazine I had contributed to. He said: "I don't need it anymore. If I want to search for something I need to know, I Google it."

But what if you don't know you need to know it? What sort of records of the present are we actually keeping? What will historians of the future get to hear about contemporary reactions to stories of the day, without the benefit of hindsight?

Maybe, someone in the British Library ought to be solemnly printing out all the content on every news website every day, and storing them in boxes, labelled by date?

Meanwhile, you can do your bit. If you actually do have archive printed material, keep it. Also, if you find good website archives, let me know about them, and what they are good at, and I'll pass that on. I do think this may be quite an urgent mission. ®

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