The archive of the Internet

Apropos of nothing, over the weekend I was thinking about the mere hours a significant amount of content is relevant on the Internet.

It probably was spurred by the deluge of stuff around the Super Bowl and how something posted Sunday morning had long been forgotten about – and maybe was already off the page entirely on some sites – by kickoff around 6:30 p.m. ET.

For an industry obsessed with page views and social media shares and milking value from these digital links, this is, quite literally, insane.

It’s counterintuitive to the mission, but it’s also how the Web has conditioned us. A 24-hour shelf life for a piece of content feels abnormally long, never mind something that people consume for a whole two days. We create, we blast to our social channels, we wash ourselves off and go again.

Because that was already rattling around my brain, I connected with this Benjamin Wallace piece in New York Magazine about Ezra Klein and his new venture at Vox Media that he’s currently creating.

The piece picks at Klein’s mission with his new project, trying to read around the edges and determine what this new thing Klein calls ‘Project X’ will actually look and feel like. I’m not that interested in guessing what Klein’s new site will be exactly – so I won’t speculate on his plans here, as I have no idea and am more than cool with just waiting for his unveil — but one little nugget that he divulged to Wallace is fascinating, in my opinion.

Here’s the important snippet from Wallace’s piece, which is a good read:

While Klein is being circumspect about the operational details of Project X, he suggests that breaking-news squibs could be very short and attached to constantly updated background articles, a bit like Wikipedia entries written by professional journalists. Long features might be regularly freshened up.

From the way I interpreted that (and other parts of the piece that I won’t spoil but will encourage you to go check out in Wallace’s story), part of the essence of Klein’s vision is news and stories move so fast that they leave people constantly fighting the current to keep up. Media is rapidly producing new content while forgetting preexisting information that is essential to understanding what’s current.

The tendency of the Internet, it seems, is to say, “Hey, here’s something new! Consume!” Rarely is it, “Here’s something new, and now here’s what you need to know to actually understand it.”

As noted in the NY Mag piece, Klein seems to believe in the power of the digital archive and allowing content to live and evolve rather than just killing it off and creating something fresh. He notes The Wirecutter, a tech site that advises people on the best products to buy, and how information is always contained to a single page but the information itself on the page changes frequently. So, a page about the best TV to buy right now isn’t recreated over and over but rather just refreshed.

Another example from the story is a Serious Eats page that Klein referenced when he wanted to find the “secret” menu at In-N-Out. The Serious Eats piece lists every one of them and has more than 75,000 like on Facebook.

“And the reason isn’t that when it was published it was a huge newsbreak,” Klein tells Wallace. “The reason is people keep going back to it.”

I’ll leave it there without trying to further interpret Klein’s vision, as I don’t want to misrepresent him.

But it scratches the surface of an interesting conversation regarding content and digital media: We trumpet the strength of the Internet as a place devoid of space or time limitations, and yet we hardly tap into its incredible recall ability in terms of content.

The most robust content archive around is (mostly) dormant, because all of our energies are put towards something new.

How we reinvigorate that archive and keep content alive and serving a purpose seems to present a valuable opportunity.

At the very least, it’s an interesting concept to spend a few minutes on when you’re watching content that’s been posted seven hours ago dwindle further down the screen and then off into a dark place the Internet was supposed to be designed to keep lit.

Twitter: @TMitrosilis Email: tmitrosilis@gmail.com

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