Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Where have all the web sites gone?

Spider webThe Secret Scotland web site came into being back in 2005, and has somehow managed to stick around and grow since then.

It should be around for a while, unless hosting costs drive it off the web, so the information it contains should be available for a few years more.

Eight years is hardly anything in terms of a publication, which is all a web site such as SeSco is. There are plenty of books and manuscripts that date decades and centuries, and baring disaster or being eaten by the odd mouse or similar, will continue to be around without the need for server farms or some sort of active backup to maintain their existence. Given a box somewhere reasonably dry and safe, they will just sit there quietly, and be to hand if someone remembers them, or finds them.

However, online publications and references appear to be quite different, and offer no such inbuilt ‘loyalty’ to their users.

I have had to edit a few hundred of the pages written in the SeSco wiki, and it has been a sad experience.

Following the example of Wikipedia, our wiki began to demand that information referred to within its articles cited some sort of source, where possible, to give them credibility, and were not just made up to create a good story, or the rambling of a demented madman. Although we do differ from Wikipedia in that we do accept personal reminiscences or story based on local knowledge, although we do reserve the right to pass comment on their credibility, and try to find other sources or confirmation.

In many cases, there are historical references, and we can find and link almost automatically to large references such as RCAHMS – Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland – RCAHMS and Canmore Home Page, since many items we are interested are of historic significance and have a geographic location.

But many other are not so famous, not yet of historic significance, or simply not of interest to such archives. In this case, we are dependent on local news items, and other web sites similar to SeSco.

Understandably, sites similar to SeSco are similar in terms of resources, so may disappear without warning – but many do not, and even if the owners become ill, or sadly die, many of these sites seem to carry on, albeit in a different form if they cannot be further enhanced or added to.

But many sites that should remain available for reference do not.

I’m thinking here about certain newspapers, the MoD, and some councils. While a number of companies also fall into this category, I can’t really include them in this generalisation since their reason for being is not to maintain archival information relating to their past. Unlike the three examples I gave, they are there to promote the business, not detail its history. That said, one would think that a certain amount of pride in their past would see them create a lasting record.

But this is turning out NOT to be the case.

Useless apologies and search invitations

While I am not going to list specifics and point a wagging finger, those three examples I just mentioned are all guilty of simply deleting much of their archival material relating to historic subjects they once detailed on their web sites in past years. This has often happened when they decided to carry out some sort of re-organisation, and destroyed all the urls that pointed to the articles. Now, these often lead to a standard “Apology Page” which tells the visitor the page requested is no longer available due to changes, and then offers a generally useless invitation to search for the missing article on the new web site. I say ‘useless’, because I have seldom found the material I was looking for on the new site. More likely it will have been deleted, or just not carried forward, and the invitation to search for it is a facile attempt to make it look as if the change was made with some consideration for past visitors, or those returning to check some information found earlier.

These apologies and invitations are often more like insults to the visitor, since the owner knows they are pointless sops.

I would have thought newspaper would have wanted their content to stay available, if only to generate some later sales.

The MoD’s web site changes have been particularly galling, as they once produced excellent articles informing readers about their resources, past and present, but I think two revamps and url changes have seen most of this material become inaccessible (as in hard to find again), or simply dropped and no longer in existence.

Such losses are hard to understand, since the work and effort needed to create them have been expended, they only had to be left online and accessible to maintain their value.

Dead links

I’ve started marking “Dead links” in the SeSco wiki now, simply because there are so many of them to be found when I review articles written a few years ago.

But the sad thing is not even the presence of the dead links – even a dead link serves as evidence that the source material was once available.

The really sad thing is that the information those links lead to is no longer available.

Far from being better eight years later, the web – as a source of information – actually appears to be a poorer resource today than it was in the beginning, and if I was writing those articles today, I would simply not have the historic information I was referring to back in 2005, and could not write them with the same detail.

That says to me that there is something deeply wrong somewhere.

We are told the web is growing year after year.

If that’s true (and I don’t doubt it) then what sort of rubbish is replacing the once valuable information that is leaking from it and being lost?


April 10, 2013 - Posted by | council, Lost, Site News | ,

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