Permanence (or a lack thereof)

Impermanence in the digital age. Posted in:

When Google VP Vint Cerf warned that increased dependence on technology could lead to a 'digital dark age', he merely echoed the concern of everyone involved in the preservation of information in a digital world. While it is expedient to dismiss his claim as sensationalist and/or paranoid, Google's announcement yesterday that they are closing down the Google Code source code repositories provides an unfortunate echo to his cries.


Perhaps somewhat ironically, the link to Cerf's interview has gone dead three times now. Lacking any active news outlets still carying copies of that interview, I've given up and pointed the link at the wayback machine.

When I received Google's email detailing the repositories I have ownership over, I found a number of University projects, some python sample code, an entry to a video game competition, my now-venerable python user interface library, and one more item which I had forgotten about: a collaboration some years back to build a video game.

Like most such ventures, the collaboration fell apart after a few short weeks, the project creator and I went our separate ways, and I never heard from him again. But now, with the code scheduled to be consigned to oblivion within a year, it seemed like a good time to reach out and formally put the repository to rest.

It was then that I realised just how easy it is to lose information forever. I have an email address for the project's creator, but it turned out to be a long-defunct hotmail account, in the name of the project, not the user. The handful of of emails we exchanged don't list a real name, and mining various websites I was only able to find a possible first name, as well as a location of Christmas Island - a place so obscure I doubt he actually lived there. Team collaboration was largely accomplished through a private forum, but the project's website is long gone, the contents of the forum with it. The domain is still registered, but through a registrar in China, which doesn't list an owner in their whois records.

Long story short, unless he happens to read this blog post, I'll probably never hear from '[email protected]' again. And in the greater scheme of things, it doesn't really matter: the game was never made, what small quantity of code made it to the repository will never be reused, and I doubt there is clear ownership of the code and assets regardless. The principle of it all still rankles, though.

For however short a time, a group of individuals came together to build something ambitious. That endeavour is over, the fleeting sense of camaraderie long gone. All that remains is an untouched repository and the half-remembrance of an anonymous typist behind a presumably-distant keyboard.

Who knows? Perhaps the other team members have stayed in touch. All that I know is that it's all too easy to lose track of people and things in a world based entirely on ones and zeroes...