On The Long Memory of the Internet

by phildini on August 13, 2014


Its common knowledge that anything you do online stays online forever. Once you publish something to the internet, it can never really be unpublished. I'm not saying my past weekend completely disproved this theory, but it definitely made me think hard about what actually lives and dies on the Great Wide Web.

This blog has been running in some form or another since 2008 or so. This past weekend, after discovering my long-running Wordpress setup was utterly borked, and seeing that I had a recent backup, I decided to blow away the Wordpress install, re-install Wordpress, and restore the backup.

This went smoothly enough, until I realized that what I had for a backup wasn't a Wordpress backup, but a SQL dump. After trying to look online for ways to restore that SQL dump into the new Wordpress installation, I gave up, and momentarily sat stunned at my loss.

Its not a complete loss, since I still have all the text and all data in that SQL backup, but it means that any links to anything I've written in the past 6 years no longer work. This was a bigger blow, since I'd like to fancy I have decent SEO for some of the things I've written.

And that train of thought led me to the idea at top: Nothing dies on the internet, right? Between the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine and the copies of the internet Google has cached, all my work is still accessible online, right?

The answer is "kind of". Yes, there are three snapshots of my site on the Wayback Machine (which is a bit of an ouch moment- so much for my importance online!). These copies are pretty much just text, and don't include any of the media in the posts. And there are probably cached copies of my posts in the Google archive, but good luck finding them. I could not.

Food for thought when deciding whether to host your own system, or host through a company that has some interest in your data always being accessible. I'm not proposing abandoning Wordpress and moving completely to Tumblr (or Medium or Svbtle or Posthaven), but it is making me consider one value of cross-posting: backup!