26 February 2010

The British Library wants to keep your blog forever and ever

The British Library wants to preserve disused UK websites before they disappear. The idea is that websites and blogs are the history of our time. They serve that same purpose as letters and personal papers served until recently.

The average life span of a website is seventy-five days. Current copyright law obliges the British Library to seek permission for every website it wants to preserve. The Library would like new government regulation that would enable them to save any publicly available website automatically using a webcrawl. A bit like the Library keeping one copy of every book published in Britain.

The UK web archive already has six thousand sites out of an estimated eight million.

Whilst understanding the interest from an archival point of view, do we really want everything we write online to be preserved? There is something about writing on paper that we acknowledge as being on a legal continuum. After all, we sign personal letters and are aware of the fact that they can be entered as evidence in court. Identity and accountability online are understood as being of a completely different nature. 

There are wondrous websites out there and they should be preserved but I have often written comments of the bottom of a webpage which were more like utterances written with little forethought or consciousness, as in conversation with friends over wine and dinner. Online "spurting out" stands in sharp contrast to what we would write in a proper letter or anything we know shall be preserved.

The ephemerality of all things online is part of what makes the internet what it is. If you take the internet freeze it and fix it in time, it becomes a completely different experience.

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