To this day, this is good advice. But it’s also clear that the internet’s memory isn’t quite the steel trap we’ve been told it was.
In (what else?) a tweet posted last weekTwitter CEO Elon Musk has said the social media service will delete user accounts if they remain dormant long enough.
The period of inactivity that would require deleting an account is quite long Musk said the move would apply to accounts that have been unused for several years and that accounts would be archived in some way. But the lack of clarity about what it means to archive is of little comfort, for example, to people who continue to seek a sense of closeness with friends who use Twitter and loved ones who have died or are incarcerated.
Elsewhere on the internet, a brigade of archivists and digital historians were preparing for what appears to be another extinction-level event.
About a month ago, a popular image host called Imgur said it was changing its terms of service. Under the new revised terms that went into effect this Monday, the service will begin removing old, unused, and inactive content that is not linked to a user account from our platform, as well as nudity, pornography, and sexually explicit content.
Imgur’s crackdown is worrying, but that’s no surprise. Most immediately concerning to me is the idea that image embeds and links to Imgur content on the Internet could stop working altogether if those images weren’t specifically uploaded by a user with an account and accessed quite frequently.
One avid Twitter user he even likened the change to the Alexandria Library fire, which may be a more apt comparison than many realize. Sure, Imgur has helped visual memes and jokes proliferate on the web. But it also hosted (and continues to host) helpful user-created guides that unpack everything from different forms of cognitive bias to the best ways to safeguard a chicken coop.
While many of those useful images will survive, others, the forgotten ones, are doomed to deletion, deprived of the ability to be rediscovered and shared again for our benefit.
Of course, this isn’t a new problem. As I jotted down thoughts for this edition of the newsletter, I opened my Web browser’s bookmarks folder and started clicking through saved items to see what parts of the Internet I loved still existed. The results were pretty grim.
Long, self-indulgent essays by a writer I idolized, a gorgeous online portfolio of photos taken by a photographer in Japan, a cache of old State Department language learning resources, all gone. The link rot is real, folks, and with it comes a slow, steady abandonment of things on the Internet that we once loved or still love, in absentia.
Even things you’ve chosen to save online for personal use or convenience may have an expiration date. Just today, Google announced a new policy whereby personal Google Accounts not ones you might use for work that haven’t been accessed for two years will be deleted. This includes content within Google Workspace (Gmail, Docs, Drive, Meet, Calendar), YouTube and Google Photos.
Google’s clarity here is somewhat comforting; it won’t start deleting accounts until December, and says it will send more messages to affected accounts before they’re deleted. However, the message is clear: online, most things won’t last forever.
Preserve your digital story
The lesson? Don’t just wait for the worst-case scenario. Keep those bits of your digital life that really matter to you. If you’re not exactly sure where to start, here are some pointers.
1. Save Bits Of The Web: If you’ve landed on a website with an image you want to cling to, right-click or long-press, if you’re using your phone, and save it. (Since not all websites allow this, you may need to take a screenshot.)
If preserving individual web pages is more your concern, there are a few simple options: On your computer, you can save the page as a PDF or use a browser extension like SingleFile to produce a near-perfect copy that you can view in Chrome. Firefox and Safari. And if you’re looking to save full versions of entire websites, tools like WAIL and ArchiveBox can help you aren’t for the faint of heart, but their results would make an internet preservationist proud.
2. Back up your devices: Between messages, photos, documents, emails and downloads, gadgets like your smartphone and tablet contain a lot of information that you’ll probably want to hold on to. We’ve made some quick visual guides for backing up most of this data, you can find them here.
3. Don’t just rely on the cloud: Of course, Apple and Google are probably not in danger of an imminent collapse. But that doesn’t mean you should trust your personal content to live on in one place. It’s much better to accept redundancies, so keep any important files or documents in the cloud and locally, for example, on an external drive that you can store safely at home.
4. Download those tweets: It’s not entirely clear when or even if Twitter will actually start deleting people’s old and unused profiles. If the idea of someone’s profile disappearing fills you with dread, there are steps you can take to make sure those tweets and pictures live on somewhere.
5. Archive voicemails: There are a few ways to do this, like exporting high quality audio files from your smartphone or recording from a simpler phone with a speaker function and a computer with a microphone. Either way, don’t let the sound of someone’s voice fade away before you’re ready.
Earlier, I mentioned a trip down memory lane through my browser’s collection of bookmarks. What I didn’t mention at the time is how my attitude towards those links has changed over time, many of them are so old that I’m more of an archaeological monument than the person I used to be, and I like it that way.
These days, I’ve relied on Raindrop.io, a free service that I can easily tap into from any phone or computer I’m using. Saving bookmarks is a breeze, as is categorizing and tagging those links so none of them get mixed up unnecessarily. (Recipes I like shouldn’t live anywhere near Instagram’s tantalizing fashion offerings, after all.) And while you can pay for extra features and niceties, the free tier is smart and usable enough that you can get away with it easily if you don’t want to or you can’t pay. Software.
#memory #internet #fading