Deleting History Condemns You to Repeat It
Im losing my memory. Well, not mine personally, but I am losing stored information in two areas that are important to me. Recently, the IT administrators here decided to implement a new policy for our Notes servers. They will automatically delete any memos more than 3 months old from all mail databases. I can see why this makes sense. After years of pleading with users to keep mail databases down to "average" size, some of ours are still at least 300MB. IT gave us plenty of time to archive needed data before implementing this policy.
But while cleaning up my old database, I found some interesting things. Besides the contact information that most of us will be scrambling to save, I also found insightful debates among staff here. I found real-world examples of topics wed covered submitted by readers who liked a story. And I found touching farewells from former colleagues. In short, I found the collective memory of an entire organization.
Now much of this will be lost, and I cant fault our IT guys because it needs to be done.
A similar topic with a much broader reach is the searchable databases of the Internet. Recently, Google acquired www.deja.com, which had long been the main archiver of Usenet.
My first reaction was positive. Deja had dropped the ball recently, and Google has a good record at maintaining searchable databases.
I could quibble about Googles so far very slow approach to updating the Usenet database, but thats not what really bothers me. What bothers me is that these things can be sold at all.
The Internet is part of the largest communal experiment ever, yet much of its history is being lost. No more can you find some of the original early-90s Web sites, such as CNN News or the original mtv.com. Among the lost Usenet archives are things like Tim Berners-Lee discussing his new hypertext language and Marc Andreessen discussing Mosaic.
If, early on, someone had decided that archiving the Web was not the job of businesses but of universities or colleges, would this still be the case? Its not too late for someone to do whats best for future generations.
After all, would it be acceptable if Barnes & Noble ran the Library of Congress?