March 29, 2002

Persistence of Memory

So I'm surfing over at Doc's site, and I see a link to an essay by Tommy Williams which purports to be some interesting thoughts about working for Microsoft. So I click on over, and Lo! the document has been pulled. Tommy says it was at the request of his wife (is she also a Microsoftie?).

Of course this gives the conspiracy-minded among us uncomfortable feelings -- did Microsoft apply pressure to get the essay pulled? Or was the pressure merely implied (why would Tommy's wife be concerned if she was not also a Microsoftie?). Disturbing.

But this episode raises another question about persistence of information on the web. When an essay is printed on realspace, it's out there: without heroic effort, it cannot be pulled back or expunged. But in the electronic world, a document can just disappear. And if Google hasn't cached the page yet, the document is (for all intents and purposes) gone.

If the Web is going to be of any historical significance whatever, there is going to have to be a way to reliabily archive its contents for posterity. And I don't mean for days or months either -- I mean for years.