23 April 2011

The Google Video scare shows the danger of trusting one online archivist too much.

I've often written about good services being shut down on this blog and, when I heard Google's announcement concerning the imminent closing of Google Video, I felt sure I had another sad tale to write about. However, I'm happy to say that, for the moment, cooler heads at Google have prevailed and their pre-YouTube acquisition video service will kept open indefinitely as the content is migrated to YouTube. I have to give credit to Google for taking its users' content more seriously than many other Internet companies. For instance, I can still access my notebooks on Google Notebook even though the service hasn't been accepting new users in a long time. It's good to know the company hasn't totally lost touch with its roots, but it's still disturbing that the initial decision was reached to begin with.

Whether it is comfortable with it or not, Google has evolved into one of the foremost archives of the Internet. It hosts millions of blogs on Blogger, many of which are long "dead." It stores the wisdom of the ages on Google Books. It has scores of old newspapers available for searching and viewing at the Google News Archive Search. Of course, it also is the major online video archive too since it owns both YouTube and Google Video. It is disturbing to think that some bureaucrat or accountant could decide a service is no longer worth keeping and with the stroke of a pen or the firing of an email lead to content created by thousands or even millions of people being destroyed. It's not like this kind of thing hasn't happened before -- look at how Yahoo! gleefully junked GeoCities and its 360 blogging service. The trust that so many of us place in big Internet companies to safeguard our content is probably misplaced. Yet we also have a huge need for archives online, all the more so since the amount of digital content being created daily is mindbogglingly enormous. I wonder how many people who posted their work to Google Video when it was still accepting uploads are now dead. Had Google not reversed their decision, much of the content those people created would probably have been deleted for good because they were no longer in a position to protect their own work.

It's clear we can't trust the beneficence of the Internet giants to keep our digital history alive. We need as many archives as we can get. So don't grow too dependent on the Big G or any one archiving entity. Keep local copies of all your own work. Consider uploading your stuff to multiple hosts. And above all else support serious archiving projects like the Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg. As a consumer, it's easy to grow accustomed to using one archive for one's viewing needs. That's OK -- we all have preferences. However, we have to accept that our favored archive may not be around tomorrow so it only makes sense to prepare ourselves for that possibility and do what we can to support the alternative options. In the long run, it's best for many different projects to shoulder the archiving load. That will mean that the loss of one partner in the struggle -- such as Live Search Books -- will not do as much damage.