Monday, September 28, 2009

Internet Longevity and the Treehouse

Quentin Hardy writes for Forbes,

"If Google's actions seem entirely wrong, consider how we would feel if, in response to all the criticism, Google simply destroyed the 10 million-volume corpus. We would feel an almost irrevocable loss."

I would, I really would. I've only used Google Books once to poke around in it, but it's one of those things I intend to go back to, to poke at whenever the urge strikes. I think the immediate gut reaction to the notion of that database being erased is about on the same level as hearing about a fire in a library. The initial action, mind you. Buildings burning are lamentable in their own way as well.

Another part of me thinks that database that's already scanned in isn't going to go anywhere. One thing I liked about Tad Williams' Otherland series was its depiction of the Treehouse, a site with no set address, a networking of machines set up to be the last true place of freedom on the internet. Is the database too big to be stored elsewhere? I don't know. I just know that once something's out here, it seems like it's out here forever. And that is why I am very glad cell phones didn't have cameras when I was in high school, because the embarrassing stuff that happened to me that would have been captured and posted would never, ever go away. And that is why we all heed the tragedy of the Star Wars Kid.

As an aside, Jonathan Zittrain's TED Talk 'The Web as Random Acts of Kindness' mentioned that it's been agreed on not to post the real name of the Star Wars Kid on that Wikipedia article. You can find it easily enough, but just not on Wikipedia. The discussion page of the article points to a policy regarding the biographies of living persons.

"Wikipedia articles that present material about living people can affect their subjects' lives. Wikipedia editors who deal with these articles have a responsibility to consider the legal and ethical implications of their actions when doing so... Biographies of living persons must be written conservatively, with regard for the subject's privacy... This is of particularly profound importance when dealing with individuals whose notability stems largely from their being victims of another's actions. Wikipedia editors must not act, intentionally or otherwise, in a way that amounts to participating in or prolonging the victimization."

On the other hand, I bet 'Star Wars Kid' isn't even in the Encyclopedia Britannica.


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