How will we preserve Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn?

On Tuesday i attended a talk by Doron Swade at the MOSI for the Computer Conservation Society.

Doron Swade is an engineer, historian, and museum professional, internationally recognized as the authority on the life and work of Charles Babbage, the 19th-century English mathematician and computer pioneer. He was Senior Curator of Computing at the Science Museum, London, for fourteen years and during this time he masterminded the eighteen-year construction of the first Babbage Calculating Engine built to original 19th-century designs. The Engine, was completed in 2002.

Doron was talking about the historical and cultural issues in the history of computing that he faced at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley, California. When something struck me.

The big kids on the block today are not the computers but the programmes they run, the software. There hasn’t been any significant advancement in computing hardware for some time. However the internet is changing the way we communicate and socialise and somehow we will need to preserve it for historical interest.

But how on earth will we preserve software like Google, Twitter or FaceBook or MySpace? Because the software that powers these sites is only part of the puzzle, because with these sites its the content that makes these sites what they are. Terabytes of user generated content. How can we preserve that so that in 60 years we can look back with the same fondness we look back at the Manchester Baby, the UNIVAC or the IBM360??

Once you have wrapped your head round that task, who will test such a system? and how will the ensure that its a true representation of what those sites look like today?

While i sat there among some of the early pioneers of British computing who were gently dozing off i wondered if one day, i would be sat in that room, while tomorrows Doron tells me the problems faced with ranking the websites, facebook before twitter, or linkedin before Myspace?

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