Raiders of the Lost Web

Posting to various lists

I suggest this disturbing article from the Atlantic, about the disappearance from the web of an article that was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize as recently as 2007.

In short, the article that disappeared was published by the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News. It was published in print but they updated it extensively for the newspaper’s website, in fact making an entire separate interactive interface for it. When the paper went out of business the next year, it sent its paper archive to the Denver Public Library, but the website was (apparently) just shut down. The story about the extensive, online article (34 parts) is enlightening, but one part about recreating the site struck me:

“…most of the work involved combing through old code and adapting it for a today’s web. In a pre-iPhone 2007, “The Crossing” had been designed as a desktop experience. It also relied heavily on Flash, once-ubiquitous software that is now all but dead. “My role was fixing all of the parts of the website that had broken due to changes in web standards and a change of host,” said Sawyer, now a junior studying electrical engineering and computer science. “The coolest part of the website was the extra content associated with the stories… The problem with the website is that all of this content was accessible to the user via Flash.””

This struck me about how fast things are changing: “pre-iPhone” is now considered a type of “era” in terms of information and computing, and that Flash is all but dead (on the web, Flash was one of the major ways to add animation and video but is being phased out, especially with browsers on mobile devices).

All this is true, and all since 2007. Just 8 years ago, it was a different era! The first iPhone came out in 2007 and Google recently announced that there were more searches on mobile than on desktop ( I think even younger people would be amazed at that. (Actually, Flash on the web has been dying for awhile and I think I would have been concerned using it for important purposes even in 2007)

In my experience, it is tricky to mention archiving with web developers. I remember once I brought up archiving at an institution where I was a consultant, and the immediate answer was: we don’t archive. That’s not our job.

I replied: You have the only copy in the world. You control the URL. You are the archive–nobody else can be. You can decide to be an archive that throws everything away after it reaches a certain age–and there are archives that work that way, but nobody can do it but you because you control everything. If 25 years from now, people see a reference to something on your website that was published today, should those people be able to access it?

I mentioned that maybe it didn’t necessarily have to work seamlessly but people who want to access a page that has been taken down (archived), should find out what they must do to access the page. If nothing else, just make sure the information itself, not necessarily the bells and whistles with javascripts, flash, java, etc. but all the information itself, is in the Internet Archive and retrievable. Then, you can hope for the best, but they had to do something.

Web developers often don’t think in those terms. That is a librarian idea. I wonder how many articles such as the one described in the Atlantic article really are lost forever? The pictures and videos of cats and babies can disappear, but other sites are more important.

I say this, but at the same time, I wonder about my own blog site, My blog was originally on Blogger at but I changed to WordPress for some reason I have forgotten, tried to transfer everything, and lost some of it. A lot of my blog is in the Internet Archive, but you have to search under both URLs. In the IA, it only goes back to 2010 but on my current site, it goes back to the beginning in 2007.

I just noticed my first post where all I did was mention that I was starting a blog.

That post has gotten 63 thumbs up and 61 thumbs down.

Well, you can’t please everybody! At least I’m ahead of the game–for the moment!

(The Atlantic article was also discussed at