Alyssa and I share the same excitement about delving into Web design. We’re both eager novices. I especially appreciate her take on the importance of how good design on a book cover can make even the crappiest tome seem appealing. And, as a professional librarian, her opinion in this regard carries great weight with me.
We are both equally concerned with the problem of preservation. In my blog post, I reacted much like Alyssa to the concerns about Web impermanence that Jill Lepore addressed in her article. I applauded the efforts of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine in capturing for the historical record everything that appears digitally on the Web. I see it as a noble and worthwhile enterprise. But Alyssa is right about one thing: Why save everything? Future historians won’t be able to sift through the massive amounts of data archived by the Wayback Machine. And, frankly, as Alyssa rightly points out, “[m]ost of what is on the internet isn’t worth being seen years from now.” She is absolutely on target when she asserts that the Wayback Machine requires some strict guidelines in what it saves for future reference. Alyssa points out many of the most critical categories, such as digital projects, academic articles, government information, popular and / or influential blogs, news Web sites, and so on. But what about those culturally and socially significant Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter that identify who we are today? I agree with Alyssa that no one in his or her right mind will ever want to view his or her Facebook page of today in the year 2050. That would be the equivalent of finding photographs of yourself wearing a powder-blue leisure suit. (Unfortunately, I have one of those pictures!). The historical community will have to give this subject some serious thought, because we’re the ones who will need to use this information — now and well into the future. But what we choose to save will require some discretion; prescience; and, in some cases, quick thinking. Something that appears on the Web today that suddenly sparks a world-wide movement may disappear from the Web tomorrow — and we may have missed capturing it. How will we know in advance? What will be the indicators that prompt us to save something for future reference that we’re not even certain it may be important? I’m glad I read Alyssa’s blog, because she helped me recognize the depth and complexity of the Web’s “impermanence” problem in a way that I failed to explore in my own blog. Thank you, Alyssa!