Last night I noticed that one of my domains had renewed. I marvelled at the price charged, for what is just a line in a database. But I found a strange agreement of price from so many vendors. It didn’t seem easy to find anywhere that was cheaper. I then looked at the registry where most of my domains are hosted, and found – to my fury – that they had invented a fee to transfer domains elsewhere. How kind.
These charges add up, if you have more than one or two domains. I let tertullian.net go a while back, and quickgreek.com. But what happens when I get older? Will I want to spend any of my slender retirement income on inflated domain name fees?
This led me to reflect. Does anybody create their own domain any more these days? I can’t think of the last time that somebody created a site like this. But if they do, these absurd charges await them. Furthermore the same people have invented a requirement to use https, rather than http, and so created a need for a certificate for which – of course – they charge annually. In fact this whole business is a racket. It looks like a cartel, and it probably is one.
But it’s a racket aimed at companies and corporations. The internet infrastructure is increasingly aimed at companies and corporations. Google, our beloved search engine, is now aimed entirely at advertising, and so prefers websites which sell advertising – companies and corporations.
Private individuals hardly get a look in any more. If they do, they will create blogs on WordPress.com, or a Facebook page or group, or something like that. It is another matter whether they will ever be heard of.
The world-wide web was originally decentralised. Anybody could take part, on equal terms. But this is no longer the case. Google favours monopolies, companies and corporations. It privileges Wikipedia, for instance – a monolith – rather than treating sites equally. And if Google privileges you, you are privileged indeed! Google itself is a monopoly, or nearly so.
But Google is now a very bad search engine. I did a search on myself, and got around 70 hits – the product of thousands of pages of ceaseless contribution to the web over a period of 23 years results in 70 hits. A quick check on Bing revealed far better results. But the reason is very obvious – Google is the one making money out of all this, and Google is slanted to monopolies and corporations.
As I thought about all of this, I started to wonder about the results of my labours. What will become of the translations that I made, or commissioned, which are all of value? In every case there is or was no other English translation. Can anybody find them?
In the past I relied on the decentralised nature of the web. I was and am very happy for anybody to mirror my content, or to upload it anywhere. The more the merrier, I thought, and thereby preservation is ensured.
But can anybody find any of this stuff any more? I wonder, sometimes. And what happens to my sites, my content, when, in the passage of time, something happens to me?
In the past I never worried about this, because I knew that Archive.org existed, and I felt that it would all get preserved somehow. But is this true any more? Are there measures that we should take, those of us working in specialised areas, to preserve our content? If so, where?
Long ago someone at a university offered to provide a home to my content. I declined, because I was young and thought nothing of it. But I know that universities do not preserve websites. The number of broken links that I encounter these days, from older content, is considerable. In fact they don’t preserve paper content very well either – there are a number of books on my shelves which were originally donated to a university library and were then sold off by the heedless library. Even if it continues to exist, web standards change, and old technologies become obsolete and things stop working. The raw HTML page is perhaps the most enduring – a website generated from PHP will start giving errors in a decade.
Most of my stuff is probably at Archive.org. But is that a safe place now? I have my doubts. The corporatisation of the internet means that corporations will gain ever greater power. In Germany that means that the book publishing firms basically prevent anything much going online without their permission. The publishing firms have sued archive.org in the past. They have sued Google. They don’t want any books online, because they want to make money selling that content. As the corporations gain power, surely the future is with them?
The evolution of the internet into something centralised, composed mainly of a handful of websites has rendered that internet much more open to control by others, whose motives may be to exploit, not contribute. I don’t want to delve into US politics, but what has happened in the last couple of weeks suggest to me that a radical change is about to overtake the world wide web. We have seen the social media sites act as one as a cartel, banning a sitting US president and purging his supporters. Although they must have acted under political pressure from the incoming party, it is possible that they have thereby fallen into a trap. He who lives by the sword dies by the sword. Nobody anywhere likes the idea of a handful of people like Mark Zuckerberg controlling the political environment. They can hardly now plead freedom of speech, or claim impartiality. They now have no allies. They have probably acted illegally. They have violated the trust of a huge number of people around the globe. This leaves them at the mercy of the new administration. If the latter chooses, they can use this as a reason to break them up, and reshape the web, with little opposition. I have already seen articles on how unpopular Facebook is with the new administration. This suggests to me that Facebook is toast. How a future internet will work is unclear, but it will be much less free-wheeling and much more regulated. I suspect that Archive.org may die in the process.
So we face a period of change, and this will bring opportunities as well as problems. What seems clear is that the internet which we all remember is dead.
What now? And … how shall we preserve our content and transmit it to the future?