The internet is a weird place. It seems like nothing that you’d prefer to forget ever dies while whole chunks of your life can disappear into the cloud with very little warning. People worry about preserving all the digital ephemera that we produce, or about deciding which categories of ephemera are worthy of these efforts. And while actually losing content is the stuff of librarianish nightmares, it seems to me that there’s another aspect of internet life that we are continually losing without even realizing that we had it, and that’s the thread public conversation that holds all the individual streams of blog posts and news feeds together.
In other words, even though my blog and my friends’ blogs haven’t disappeared off the face of the internet, it would take a lot of work to recreate the moment in time in which any given post was written and see the broader environment of posts and discussions that make up any given posts’ context. Even this post is part of a conversational environment that includes the post I linked to above (and the posts to which it links), one other blog post that I can’t find any more, a couple of conversations on FriendFeed, the simple fact that an issue of Walt Crawford’s Cites & Insights came out recently, Greg Schwartz’s weekly requests for “newsworthy” content to talk about on Uncontrolled Vocabulary, and an IM conversation with Steve Lawson. That’s a lot of conversational context, each piece of which will be preserved in its own space (each blog’s archives, the Cites & Insights archives, the Uncontrolled Vocabulary audio, blog, and wiki archives, FriendFeed, and chat logs). But the moment that brought them all together, that asynchronous conversation, that zeitgeist, will probably melt into the cloud and render each piece of the conversation less rich for those coming back to them later. In fact, this post’s context is already melting since there’s one piece of if that I can no longer remember well enough to find.
There are a few vehicles that I know of that preserve these conversational contexts to varying degrees. Cites & Insights is one of them (and the one that I think defines the genre I’m imagining), Uncontrolled Vocabulary is another, This Week In LibraryBlogLand will be a third if it ever resurrects, and the now-defunct Carnival of the InfoSciences was often a fourth. Each of these gathers together the posts of others and strings them into some sort of narrative about contemporary issues in librarianship. But each also has its weakness as a Preserver of Zeitgeist. Cites & Insights preserves the issues that interested Walt, for example, and Uncontrolled Vocabulary preserves issues that Greg deems newsworthy. These foci are necessary and by no means a fault, but it leaves me wishing that more people had the time, energy, inclination, and ability to take on the task of this kind of preservation so that more pieces of the intenet conversation would get named, recorded, and preserved.