Losing caché in the link economy

The waybackwhenmachine is often used as a cache cow on slow news days.

And so today’s Telegraph has a ‘story‘ on what various ‘popular sites’ looked like back in the day (I wonder how popular number 18 was back then, hmmm….).

It has been meticulously (and no less predictably) exposed by an audience who know more about the source and the article’s content than the journalist who wrote the piece. Nothing new or awful there, for anyone familiar with the mantras of networked journalism at any rate.

But all this could have been obviated if only the author (and/or editorial, and/or CMS) factored in some very basic web etiquette.

First – these screengrabs exemplify all the downsides of reverse-published shovelware – none link through to the original source in archive.org, which means people can’t check the details for themselves – transparent this ain’t.

Take the Google screengrab – The Telegraph tells us that Google was launched in 1996, which seems to be correct according to Google’s own official history – albeit the fledgeling search monolith was called Backrub back then.

But when you go to Google’s entries in archive.org you will find there aren’t any prior to 1998.

Fair enough – newsroom pressures and all that, getting the earliest available entry is near enough – but clearly the earliest working entry (02/12/98) is different from the version they have chosen to publish.

Which again is no sin (aesthetic considerations and all that) – *unless* that is, you value data in the same way you value information when it comes to journalism.

If the journalist (or editor) in question had interrogated this data in the same way he/she has been trained to interrogate an interviewee, he/she may have decide that the porous nature of this secondary source (inconsistent archiving, multimedia is often missing etc.) might necessitate getting in touch with the primary sources (i.e. Google et al) to triangulate findings, and enquire after these earliest images where they aren’t available.

More depressingly, this article embodies how we are sleepwalking into a future where the origins and history of the web are not consistently being kept for posterity, history, culture – you name it, despite archive.org’s best intentions.

Though going route-one would have improved this article, a future where the visual history of the web is held in private hands only, is no solid foundation for history.

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