diamond geezer

 Wednesday, August 07, 2013

This time last year, one of the most popular websites in Britain was


So what's on the site now? Go on, have a guess, before you click and have a look.

That's right, it's all vanished. Instead the URL redirects to the official Olympic website, specifically http://www.olympic.org/london-2012-summer-olympics, which is the typical fate of Host City Games websites these days. Olympic.org has a fairly sanitised view of London 2012, focusing on headline stories of global interest. "Thank you, London, for 'happy and glorious' Olympic Games!" it beams, with highlights including Bolt, Phelps and a photo of Yeoman Mandeville. Fresh news stories are still stacking up, including LOCOG's final accounts and a 1-year-on retrospective of the Opening Ceremony that's just detailed enough to dampen the eye. But if you want to see the proper London 2012 website with all the event information and medals and press releases and backstory, bad luck, it's been vaporised.

You might say, who cares? The Games were a drawn-out crescendo that peaked last summer, so what need could there be to relive the experience? Nobody seriously needs a map of how to get to the basketball, or a link to the 2012 shop for a signed Bradley Wiggins photo. But the medal table would be nice, and the archive of news stories, and full details of the Torch Relay, and all those action photos that made us squee. In particular I'd love to see the full newsfeed stretching back through the months and years before the Games, even back to 2004 before we won the thing. Those stories and articles are history, essential to understanding the development of East London, and someone's pulled the plug.

The London 2012 blog was an early casualty. It had run since 2006, with a stream of first-person posts to give a flavour of the full breadth of Games preparation. And then without fanfare, in the early part of 2012, the plug was pulled. Every scrap was bunged off into an archive, accessible only via the search function, and then summarily erased. Less dead but barely dormant is the London 2012 Twitter account, which has only blipped eight times since the Paralympic Closing Ceremony. Meanwhile still very much intact is the London 2012 YouTube channel, where all the uplifting and promotional videos appear to have been preserved, while the London 2012 Facebook page has bounced back into life to celebrate the 1st anniversary of each day of the Games.

Other websites have maintained their 2012 archive rather better. The BBC's London 2012 homepage is still there, semi-frozen in time at a moment just after the Olympic Closing Ceremony, but with a 2013 newsfeed trickling down the centre. Perhaps that's no surprise. The BBC has a fine tradition of retaining most of its news content, with numbered URLs that still work more than 10 years later. The Daily Telegraph still writes about the Olympics regularly, burying last summer's exploits beneath a legacy volley. But the stream of London 2012 that sped before us on social media, no, you'll never recreate that.

I'm highlighting the Olympics as a prime example of linkrot. Pages once important are taken down, and those you've relied on can vanish overnight. The internet is a very transient place, and that's because it can afford to be. Why delve back into the archives when there's always something new to look at? There's no urge to curate the past because there's tons of the present to dive into instead. And if that means content disappears, never mind, because nobody was looking at it anyway. Apart from historians and researchers of the future, and the generally interested, that is, who'll no longer be able to dig back for primary source material.

Thank heavens, then, for the British Library and the National Archives, who've captured 445 Olympic websites for posterity, ranging from athletes homepages to the big London 2012 website itself, on several occasions. Visitor information for the beach volleyball? Still there. Medal table as it stood on Bolt's big night? Still there. All the London 2012 news stories going back to 2006? Still there. All those missing London 2012 blog posts? Yay, still there! But only if you know where to look, and who would?

Let me end by doing a linkrot experiment using this blog as source. I've dug back into my archives to the 7th August 2012, 2010, 2008 and 2003. I've clicked on the first 20 websites linked to from the day's post (or preceding posts, as necessary). And I've counted to see how many of those 20 links still work. As you'd expect, the numbers tumble.

1 year ago: This was the thick of the Olympics, so most of the venues, events and national houses I was writing about then no longer exist. So what's happened to the 20 weblinks? Amazingly, every single one still works, even those for half a dozen hospitality villages that closed down 51 weeks ago. Digital degradation usually takes more than a year to kick in. [20/20]
3 years ago: ...whereas links from 2010 have already started to fade away. A train company has closed, a tourist portal has reorganised, and a foodie site has been taken over by a "Reported Attack Page!". But 14 of the 20 weblinks still work, including one deliberately mothballed by the BBC, and one from the Independent (whose 20th century web archive is possibly the most complete of any media organisation). [14/20]
5 years ago: Back in 2008 the Beijing Olympics were just getting underway. Their website still works, almost, whereas london2012.com is one of those I linked to back then that I can't link to now. Again six of my 20 weblinks have disappeared, many of these thanks to London borough website reorganisations. But Amazon has its permalink policy sorted - their link to Abba Gold worked 5, 10 years ago, and will no doubt work in 5, maybe 10 years time. [14/20]
10 years ago: Precisely 10 years ago today London held its first flashmob... you remember? I was also busy writing about famous places within five minutes walk of home, with the aid of a lot of links that very much no longer exist. The Times and the Sun have slipped behind a paywall. "Sorry, the GeoCities web site you were trying to reach is no longer available." "You may have followed a broken link or an outdated search result." "Item no longer available." "The page cannot be found." "404 not found." But 9 out of my 20 weblinks still work, which is more than I thought it'd be. Special praise to Fancyapint, whose pub directory remains unaltered, and to the Met Office whose mega-heatwave record-breaker page still exists with sufficient data to delight any meteorological researcher. One wonders how much of TfL's archive will survive their website's upcoming revamp. [9/20]

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