Well, here we are on October 26th, 2010.
Can it really be a year ago that Archive Team had dozens of people assaulting Yahoo’s servers desperately trying to save disappearing history? Well, let’s be frank — not disappearing history, but in fact history being actively and quickly destroyed on purpose. I mean, it’s not like Yahoo! had some sort of terrible server failure or something. They in fact had made the active decision to turn off the site called Geocities, an at-that-point 15 year old hosting site that contained terabytes of user-generated content.
Oh, we were having a great time one year ago – rushing around from this server to that, faking the Googlebot user agent string, bringing our full downloading power to bear. At one point we were well past 100 megabits of bandwidth yanking onto all our archives. As October 26th leaked into the 27th, we watched as site after site disappeared. Sites that were, in the vast majority of cases, less than 10 megabytes. Remember the last time 10 megabytes mattered?
Well, apparently it mattered enough to Yahoo! to decide to kill off Geocities across a couple days, after announcing somewhat quietly that all that data was going away. The usual sarcastic-hand-wringing and point-and-laugh ensued from popular press. “Remember Geocities?” and “Good Riddance” were the order of the day. So it came as a surprise to some that Archive Team thought all of this worth saving – by any means necessary.
What we were facing, you see, was the wholesale destruction of the still-rare combination of words digital heritage, the erasing and silencing of hundreds of thousands of voices, voices that representing the dawn of what one might call “regular people” joining the World Wide Web. A unique moment in human history, preserved for many years and spontaneously combusting due to a few marks in a ledger, the decision of who-knows for who-knows-what.
Well, actually we do know what – it was to show that Yahoo!, after purchasing Geocities for nearly $3 Billion Dollars With a B, was cutting costs for the 2009 financials. Faced with a lingering, saddened death, new management sought to save money where it could, and projects unshielded by internal advocates were thrown out with the bathwater. (And the bathtub, and probably a number of unused plumbing supplies filling one of the back offices). The amount saved? Probably very little – the servers ran themselves (it appears there was no actual team assigned to Geocities beyond maintenance for the last year of its life) but by saying that something that was there was no longer there, the illusion of progress could appear. So an announcement happened, and then over the next few months, the death march continued, until October 26, 2009 fell and with it the sunset of Geocities.
Of course, Yahoo! might have tried spinning off the company, but it doesn’t appear to be the case that Yahoo! knows how. So death appeared to be the only option, since shutting down Yahoo! properties was “in” that year.
But you see, websites and hosting services should not be “fads” any more than forests and cities should be fads – they represent countless hours of writing, of editing, of thinking, of creating. They represent their time, and they represent the thoughts and dreams of people now much older, or gone completely. There’s history here. Real, honest, true history. So Archive Team did what it could, as well as other independent teams around the world, and some amount of Geocities was saved.
How much? We’ll never know. One of the Archive Team members called Yahoo! to find out the size and was rebuffed. When we called later in the year to ask exactly when the site was going down on October 26th, we were told that the person who spoke to us last had been let go. It must be like spring break down at that place.
But we know we got a bunch of Geocities sites – a significant percentage, especially of earlier, pre-acquisition data. We archived it as best we could, we compared notes, we merged and double-checked and did whatever needed to be done with what we happened to have.
So now, on this one-year anniversary, Archive Team announces that we are going to torrent it.
YES THAT IS RIGHT, WE ARE RELEASING GEOCITIES ON A TORRENT.
This is going to be one hell of a torrent – the compression is happening as we speak, and it’s making a machine or two very unhappy for weeks on end. The hope had been to upload it today, but the reality is this is a lot of stuff – probably 900 gigabytes will be in the torrent itself. It’s not perfect, it’s not all – but it’s something.
Who will want this? Anyone who feels like browsing among the artifacts of yesterday, who wants some data to play with, who is doing research into history, who wants to get some mileage out of a few weblog postings of crazy glittery animated GIFs and MIDI music. It’s not for everyone. Some people will probably grab a few files out of the thousands of archives in the torrent, unhook and call it a day. Others will want all of it, every last bit, to put onto their $80 1TB hard drive they bought down at the local computer mart.
UPDATE: The compressed archive is 652 gigabytes, and you can stop down at that famous computer history site The Pirate Bay and get the torrent.
While it’s quite clear this sort of cavalier attitude to digital history will continue, the hope is that this torrent will bring some attention to both the worth of these archives and the ease at which it can be lost – and found again.
Clear your disk space – this one’s going to be a doozy.
FURTHER UPDATE: There’s an update on the status of the torrent on this entry.
Categorised as: computer history
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