[Smt-talk] John McKay's views of Wikipedia

Michael Gogins michael.gogins at gmail.com
Thu Jul 21 18:59:01 PDT 2011

On Thu, Jul 21, 2011 at 5:04 PM, Daniel Harrison
<daniel.harrison at yale.edu> wrote:
> Given how widely Wikipedia is used for quick knowledge acquisition by our
> students, our kids and relatives, even ourselves, and given continued
> development of online texts and the ultimate decline of paper as a mass
> media, a lot of interesting (history of) theory will be made there. Given
> its ephemerality, historians will have to catch and archive it on the fly.

This thing about the ephemerality of the World Wide Web may or may not
be the case. The fact is that all the servers where the WWW content
actually resides, including esp. such as the WIkipedia, are constantly
being backed up, i.e. archived. The archives are then stored somewhere
where somebody who needs to can access the archived content. But this
is all private, all undocumented, and after some time the tapes or
whatever are reused or go bad or are thrown out.

But some is not. Some is just copied over and over again; once more
the Wikipedia is an example of that, the histories of the articles
preserve all the old content. So in theory, as long as the Wikipedia
exists in anything like its current form, everything that ever went
into it will still be accessible. That could be a very long time,
since it looks like the WWW is going to at least copy and probably
more or less replace all other media. I would expect librarians are
very concerned and interested in this area.

Then too, everything that is public on the WWW, which is everything
that ordinary people can access on the WWW, can simply be copied at
anyone's discretion and stored somewhere. That, after all, is what
Google does. Most of the WWW is archived in Google's search engine
server farms. Web sites that I work on are crawled by Google several
times a day. I don't know if they keep old versions of it or how far
back it goes. But a librarian with a big enough budget could just make
a copy of the entire WWW every so often and keep all the copies
indefinitely. I wouldn't be surprised if librarians are discussing
this. It would be expensive -- but on the order of billions, perhaps,
not of dozens or hundreds of billions.

I think it will be a real sign of maturity for our civilization if
everything, literally everything, that ever appears on the public WWW
is permanently and redundantly archived in public, accessible,
searchable form. This is well within technical possibility.

Michael Gogins
Irreducible Productions
Michael dot Gogins at gmail dot com

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