Collect Yourself: Data Storage Centers as the Archive’s Underbelly

Collect Yourself: Data Storage Centers as the Archive’s Underbelly

As the quintessential personal digital archive, Facebook no longer requires an introduction; its user-base is currently estimated at one billion active monthly profiles, give or take a few fake accounts. On the front end, it’s the epitome of the user-generated content platform and of the postmodern living archive. Its underbelly, however, remains much less explored and theorized (Miller, 2006; Bennet 2010). Academic research on Facebook has instead addressed: urgent policy, privacy, and surveillance concerns (Cohen 2008; Shepherd 2012); ownership of user-generated content and its commodification through “big data” (boyd and Crawford 2011); and identity and user behaviour analyses (Marshall 2012), to offer a few examples in a growing body of literature dedicated to Facebook. Within the scholarship, as within journalism and blogging, Facebook’s growth is rarely discussed in terms of the very machines used to manage perpetual user requests: the servers. Even Wikipedia fails to make mention of the site’s data centers.

In relation to Facebook’s material management of personal archive data, several questions remain: What kinds of servers are required to host such large amounts of ‘free’ information, offering up data so rapidly, across so many platforms? How does Facebook’s advertising strategy inform how power is pulled from the grid? How do these servers function? How are they powered? How many are there? Where are they located? Taken together, these pragmatic questions inform an important theoretical intervention: these dislocated servers–existing in “enterprise zones” and arctic hideaways–not only effectively blind us to the potential environmental costs# of our everyday obsession with self-archiving, but also demand a serious revision of the preservation ideals that underpin the archive.

In my presentation, I will offer up a series of provocations about data storage centers, as the archive’s underbelly, with the intent of reconnecting Facebook to the bodies and machines that enable it, and the ideals that inform it.

 ** working on this**

Brakhage Center: Inventory

In preparation for the curatorial prototype for the collection, Eric Coombs and I are making an inventory of the 2011 Poetry and Film Symposium put on by Tom Gunning and the Brakhage Center for the Media Arts.

To create this inventory, we have laid out an xl sheet indicating the folder path (to the associated media), date, location, program, speakers, affiliation, trt (total running time), photo, audio, video, notes and keywords.

There is an xl sheet for each collection, and it contains a read me file, and info sheet and the inventory. It serves, or will serve, as a finding aid for researchers. We are debating how to best release the file – as a locked xl file, a pdf.

Our entry point has been the symposium conference program; it structures the inventory in a particular way. We’ve noted that the order of events, for example, are not always reflective of the ways things happened. Eric, having attended each of the center’s event is the living breathing archive against which this inventory is measured. Our choice to structure the archive on the program guide was to have a template the rest of the collection could follow, while noting the discrepancies.

Another interesting point has been the way in which the camera has ordered the images, and help set a chronology of the events, which we can then connect to the audio.

Porting over an Indexibit Site (DB and Content)

Time’s up to renew the domain name for the online component of my PhD project, but instead of dishing out the cash, I am opting to move my site — to “archive” it. It took me a few frustrating hours to port over the database and web contents, when really, in the end, it was just one little glitch preventing the transition from being complete: that damn invisible .htaccess file! So I’ve decided to share my process here, though admitedly you will have to have some sense of how all of this works to follow along. There’s a lot of helpful stuff online already dealing with this, so I’ve simly added what I thought was missing. But I recommend checking here, here, and even here for more details, to get started. Also, the migration process is different depending on the CMS you are using, so steps might differ for WordPress etc. (I plan to document steps for WP in the next few weeks.) These are the steps for (the old) Indexhibit CMS, using Cpanel and phpMyAdmin.

  1. Back up your site. Download the entire www folder to your desktop.
  2. Export your OLD database. Go to “Custom”; Format: “SQL” and save it with a .sql extenstion.
  3. Import your database to the new space.
  4. Create a new user for this NEW database and enable it.
  5. Note the database info: db name, user, password and localhost.
  6. Change your config file so it speaks to your NEW database using the info noted above.
  7. Upload content to your new site (including the invisible .htaccess file. *You might have to duplicate the .htaccess, name it htaccess without the period to copy it over, and then remove the period once it is in its NEW place.)
  8. Manual tweaks: log in to your new indexhibit site (http://yoursite.com/ndxz-studio/) and adjust all the links you entered manually within posts etc.

 

Brakhage Center: Korsakow as a tool for digital curation?

I’ve just embarked on a project at the Brakhage (Media Arts) Center (University of Colorado – Boulder), and my job here is to come up with modes and models for digital curation. The idea is to help showcase various collections in the archive and organise them – so I proposed a tool that could conceivably organise a collection by showcasing it: Korsakow.

Korsakow is a non-linear database driven repository and a tool created for storytelling (and, as far as I can tell, subverting traditional documentary forms). From experience, it is also, by default, a method and means of working: aggregating, sorting, and displaying collections in a multimodal way. The creative process is highly iterative and requires a continuous conversation between the software and the media at hand. In other words, while you can (and often should) plan out the relationships (keywords) between media assets, this planning is perpetually revised through interaction with the database and interface. It’s neither about randomness nor chance, but rather about a set of limitations in our conception of links, or, in what we determine should be connected to what. Largely keyword driven, the software demands curation – choices to provide context to media. What’s special about the way we are thinking of using it is that its application will be to a collection of disparate media sources, and eventually collections of collections in the archival sense, which as far as I know, hasn’t been applied yet. As my incredibly insightful collaborator, Eric Coombs, sees it – usually technologies are invented for practical uses and subverted by artists; this time we’re repurposing an artist’s tool for a decidedly pragmatic end goal. We’ll see how that goes. I’ve committed to documenting our process here – and later on the BC blog perhaps – to detail the conceptual transformations, failures, obstacles, and epiphanies of our curatorial journey.

Korsakow is a ‘dynamic storytelling’ tool; it is Flash-driven and as such is limited to desktop, online, and kiosk display. Plans are underway to release an HTML5 version, which will be mobile-friendly and possibly offer new features. Korsakow was invented by Florian Thalhofer, a Berlin-based media artist. Its development has since been taken on by a team at Concordia University, in Montreal. This team is lead by Matt Soar in the Communication Studies Dept., working with various programmers (Sean Fraser and Dave among others) to continue the development of this amazing, unique, and free (for educational purposes) open source tool. One of my goal is certainly to see how our project at the BC can generate financial or technical (or both) support.

What we’ve outlined as the first step is to create an inventory of the one-off Poetry and Film Symposium from 2005 as an archival project prototype. If all goes well with that one, we’ll have generated a model for the regular symposium content. The content consists primarily of audio recordings and stills, and a few videos. Some of the media is of mediocre recording quality, which may pose an interesting archival challenge in software that begs for rich and vibrant content.

The discussion today revolved mostly around how to conceptualise the archive for this project. Can Korsakow effectively replace or provide an alternative to the ‘online archive,’ which typically resorts to long lists, sorted according to author, media and date? Can Korsakow provide an archival ‘experience’ to researchers? How will we curate the content? Will we select everything (all recorded media) or highlight key moments only? What are the implications of either option, for the research archive? Should duplicate all ‘raw’ materials in a comprehensive archive – maybe archive.org or or through torrent files or as a back up copy on our own server? Who is our intended audience? How will the archive be used and possibly misused? What advantages can a Korsakow archive provide a researcher? What are its drawbacks on the front and back end? Can the collections’ contexts be effectively generated through keywords? What will determine the connections between speakers and ideas? How can we make the material we have come to life through audio and images?

These are the questions we begin this journey with… the next few months will therefor demand attentive listening to/looking at all the media on hand pertaining to this symposium, and noting keywords to begin mapping the project. To be continued.

Public Evernote Feed Embed in WP

Evernote is a good way to clip media from the web, so it’s also an efficient tool for aggregating your online research findings.

There are a few easy ways to then embed your (public) notebook(s) into your research blog/website. So far the best solutions I’ve found for WordPress are:

1 iframe snippet;
2 the RSS feed in the sidebar;
3 HungryFEED.

NB: I haven’t done anything here pertaining to CSS or design for how the content displays – all are set to defaults for the purposes of this post. But you can adjust everything below in terms of how it looks…


** it doesn’t matter what you name this Notebook, but probably putting “Public” in the title is helpful to keep stuff organised.

Copy the link generated – you’ll need it for embedding.

 

 

1. For a quick and dirty iframe embed: (you can use iframe to embed just about anything):

Write this code, but instead of “example.com” –> insert the link you just copied (something like: https://www.evernote.com/pub/archinodes/public/)

Which gives you: (click on green button)

** the drawback to this; it seems that login is required…


 

2. More simply, use the RSS Widget (in WP), feed it through the sidebar:


 

3. Third option: the plugin HungryFEED displays your Evernote clippings like this:

[hungryfeed url=”https://www.evernote.com/pub/archinodes/public/” link_target=”_blank” max_items=”5″]

 

 

 

HungryFEED may require a few steps (from FAQ) to work properly:

Search Strings

Search Strings

I’m starting a new collection project that deals with Search Strings. These are words people use to search out content – in my example below, to get to online and p.o.d journal, nomorepotlucks.org. As part of an ongoing research interest in digital archiving and media archaeology, I’m starting to think about the role of these Search Strings; how they define, organise and indadvertedly help us theorize the site over time. Because nomorepotlucks.org has no stated mandate, no explicit function to carry out, no funding or sponsors, and no markers beyond the community that shape it, these strings give us insight into the direct or accidental trajectories to the journal. More thinking on this to come… but for now, it remains pretty clear what people are searching for (whether or not they find it in NMP)…

These are stats for the first 3 days of September, for the new issue ‘dirt’. A full month produces hundreds upon hundreds of these strings…

Hits Search String
—————- ———————-

3 5.77% http://nomorepotlucks.org/site/fuck-positive-women
3 5.77% liz brockest
2 3.85% au quebecil pleut comment ils disent
2 3.85% catfight with nurse
2 3.85% gay cock
2 3.85% love berlant and negri
2 3.85% magie pentru sex
2 3.85% no more potlucks
2 3.85% nomorepotlucks
2 3.85% sex magic
1 1.92% 1970s weightlifters
1 1.92% agustin 2007 migration agency
1 1.92% anal sex lover
1 1.92% aunty joan lesbian
1 1.92% autoethnography anecdotal
1 1.92% bdsm race play landscapes
1 1.92% cock gay
1 1.92% eliza chandler
1 1.92% garry lewis james osterberg
1 1.92% gay cock play
1 1.92% gay cock.
1 1.92% hardt politics of love
1 1.92% homonationalism
1 1.92% indie drawings
1 1.92% lakota face paint
1 1.92% louise hay t-shirts
1 1.92% mark leckey
1 1.92% mary bryson course in affect
1 1.92% momoko loving you too much
1 1.92% montreal sex chat rooms
1 1.92% printmaking performance art
1 1.92% sean dockray
1 1.92% self anal fucking
1 1.92% sex veined
1 1.92% strangers to fuck
1 1.92% suzy malik artist toronto
1 1.92% the dirty heather
1 1.92% transexoual porno very hart
1 1.92% velma.candyass

Opening the Archives @ Console-ing Passions 2012 – Boston

http://blogs.cas.suffolk.edu/cpboston2012/

Below is a very rough draft of my talk at Console-ing Passions 2012. Ideas in this presentation need a lot of flushing out, but here it is…

Paper Title:
No More Potlucks: Media Archeology as Feminist Archival Intervention

Proposal

This presentation focuses on the archival trajectory of Canadian queer feminist DIY journal of
arts, nomorepotlucks.org. Specifically, it looks at the significance of the project’s digital traces
for speaking to the artist, activist, and academic communities it has represented over the course
of the last eight years.


Nomorepotlucks.org was launched in 2003 and served as a virtual posting board for queer
feminist events in Montreal (Canada). At the time, it was a hand-coded static html website,
where new events replaced past ones, showcasing only the current as a means to connect
people to events in the city. The posting board was decidedly local. In 2005 the site shifted to its
first content management system (CMS) but retained much of the same purpose. However, as a
CMS, past events were ‘archived’ and remained on the site as new events were added. In 2009,
nomorepotlucks.org was revamped conceptually and technologically to become an online and
print-on-demand journal of arts and politics, showcasing a new issue every 2 months. In those
years it shifted from open source CMS, Drupal to WordPress, primarily as a growing concern for
the project’s preservation.


As the cofounder of the journal and as the web developer and technician for the project, I
explain in detail the archival trajectory of the project and its political implications. In particular, I
attempt to tease out the ways in which archival strategies are always in part a product of the
politics of the social movement they emerge from.As a creative feminist intervention, I invite reflection on the kind of archival analysis that invariably creates for the archive as much as it draws (archaeologically) from it. This
presentation therefore revolves around the notion of archival intervention as creative
contribution, and attempts to give concrete examples of media archaeology, as a queer feminist
methodology and tactic (Cvetkovich 2002; Ketelaar 2002; Takahashi 2007; Chun 2008; Parikka
2010).

My talk will be in two parts – one part which I will read to you and one part as a kind of media archaeology demo.

What I hope to demonstrate (if not reiterate) in this short presentation is that archival theory is not a corpus reserved merely for the day-to-day practicalities of archivists. Rather, I want to underline how it is also deeply implicated in the processes of media researchers, scholars, activist, artists, and practitioners: those who make use of the archives, intervene from within, and critically engage in its possibilities and limitations. This relationship — between use, intervention, engagement, and the archive — becomes central to questioning the role of the archive as source, as long intimated by those dealing most closely with issues of ownership, exile, and representation in relation to archival theory. Such issues of power may resonate, but too often get disconnected from larger technological discourses.

What I propose here is that as a result of theorizing the archive in this way—adjoining political voices with technological practicalities—we can move toward an increasingly self-reflexive approach to archiving that accounts for the documentation of research processes, and deliverables, as not only integral to methodology, but as elemental to rigorous scholarly output and critical production practices. Within this revised and revived framework, the archive has the potential to shift conceptually, from repository, place, database, and source, to trajectory, performance, or what Wendy Chun calls the enduring ephemeral, where “raw and abstracted material created as part of research processes and which may be used again as the input to further research – carries with it the burden of capturing and preserving not only the data itself, but information about the methods by which it was produced”. Determining the bounds of the archive — as enacted, embodied or performed — rather than solely conceived as place, space, or repository — is inextricably linked to the possible knowledges produced about it, and the legitimacy of voices, histories, politics, and testimonies it enables. It is also, however, about what falls out and fails, and what these perceived failures reveal about a researcher’s subject-position vis-à-vis the archive. These are preoccupations particularly well addressed, through a media archaeology framework – even and especially as media archaeology remains open to interpretation–; which is, according to Jussi Parikka: “much more than paying theoretical attention to the intensive relations between new and old media, mediated through concrete and conceptual archives; increasingly, media archaeology is a method for doing media design and art.” This attention to ‘doing’ media and design is particularly important for the point I’m trying to make through nomorepotlucks.org, an example that I hope will demonstrate that the archive can be an ongoing and creative endeavour circulating through the queer networks that activate and maintain it.

By way of nomorepotlucks and various design projects I am involved in, I have become interested in the movement and mutations of digital culture. I’m less interested in dichotomies of materiality and immateriality, or in the distinctions between traditional physical repository and database, which are often – still – the more common points of contrast in relation to the archive’s potential. Instead, my interest is focused on different modalities of access, and the possible reworkings of the politics of ownership of the archive: to occupy the archive, and to inhabit it instead.

If the archive prioritizes the future, it not only anchors but also justifies its position as mediator and safeguard, and with this, the notion that human interaction with artefacts run many risks that are counter to the preservation of an original and arrested moment – through tampering, decay, errors and so on. Preservation, to this end, has meant a necessary distance between precious originals, for the sake of long-term access; — however it is rarely made explicit when this end point is expected to be, and for whom this later access is reserved.

Several examples show the ways in which preservation has meant inaccessibility, and has been justified through a rhetoric of future potential that is inherently greater than what a present connection can seemingly ever afford.

The Lascaux caves in southwestern France, which are estimated to house vast murals of drawings that are more than 17 000 years old are now being taken over by mold because of preservation efforts that try to control the humidity of the caves. The Lascaux caves have been closed to the public since 1963. A website allows viewers a virtual tour, and there exists a replica of two of the caves that people can visit, located about 200 meters away from the original caves.

Similarly, the Bettmann Archive is a collection of 19 million or so photographs and images owned by Corbis (Bill Gates) since the mid 1990s. Corbis moved the archive into the Iron Mountain National Underground Storage Facility, located 70 m/200 feet below ground in western Pennsylvania, in a space deemed to be at optimal temperature for long-term storage. Only images considered to have commercial resale value are digitized and made public (less than 2 percent of the collection). The rest remains underground under lock and key.

These are just two examples but they are sufficient to at least highlight the paradox we’ve come to largely accept — that preservation privileges so called long-term historical value, which must by definition be out of the reach of the present. While long term preservation is important in many cases, it is largely a framework that relies on the perceived scarcity of material and often singular objects, and as such, may not be fully equipped to account for digital culture – for which mutation, viral proliferation and ephemerality should arguably be informing the framework.

I think this becomes an opportunity to do archival work differently, in line with postcolonial feminists politics that counter the archive’s proposed linearity and quest for a singular truth. As Anjali Arondekar puts it, questioning the archive as source still “coheres around a temporally ordered seduction of access, which stretches from the evidentiary promise of the past into the narrative possibilities of the future” (2005, 5). To think of the archive as a creative act, then, is to consider means by which to assemble stories, as a mode of ‘doing’ that records its own performance. And, as Ann Laura Stoler puts it, where fragments have the potential to speak differently depending on their configuration. This is the kind of archival potential we have tried to activate through nomopotlucks.org – a Canadian journal of arts and politics, as portraits of proclivities. In short, I’m proposing that a publication – and all its offshoots (especially its intangible ephemeral offshoots) constitute an archive that privileges mutations through circulation, and situates the communities through which the project circulates as its inhabitants.

Articles and arts works from nomorepotlucks are reprinted in other journals, in course packs, republished or pulled from personal blogs, academic papers or larger art projects, tweeted and retweeted, favorited, and posted on a Facebook wall, copied and pasted in part or in full into new venues for dissemination and so on — which together constitute the inhabited archive, where movement through social media and personal networks preserve both the project’s momentum and identity.

As the cofounder of nomorepotlucks.org, and as the person who does the technical and design work for the journal, I’m — in many ways — in a privilege position to also “archive” it, because a lot about what makes technology interesting for me, archivally anyway, is in the politics that shape access. But the flipside is that I might be too close to the material to even be able to assess the significance of its archive. To archive is always in some ways to assume value. Despite this ambivalence, my goal is to initiate a conversation about what a media archaeology approach might uncover for nomorepotlucks, and in so doing, tease out the ways that archival strategies are always, in part, a product the politics of the social movements from which they emerge, but also of individuals within a movement who are specifically “located.”  Positioning oneself within the archive – as a feminist tactic in itself — brings awareness to how the process of archiving invariably creates for the archive as much as it draws (archaeologically) from it. And I’m obviously not the first person to make that point (but I’m skipping over the Derrida and Foucault references today).

—-DEMO
So, if you have a laptop or mobile device, type in: “nomorepotlucks.org” – or look up and follow along on the screen, and I’m going to circulate a print copy of the journal as well, so you can see what I’m talking about. I’m also — in thinking about the panel as “opening the archive” going to pass around a USB key with an almost complete collection of the articles, including the latest issue, but not including the video or audio files.

I’m doing this so that we can later talk about what this kind of archive does, what its limits are, how its content circulate, or fail to, and what role the network (or community) plays in the performance of preservation and access at various levels. We can also include in that conversation issues of access, copyright and creative commons licensing—each ideals of ownership–which is the reason some of the audio and video doesn’t circulate as freely as text.

I will be showcasing early iterations of the site, coded in html in 2003, via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. For the second iteration, created using CMS Textpattern, I will navigate the site by way of backs up copies made onto CDs in 2004 and 2005. Following this, the site shifted to CMS Drupal, which is no longer available online, but for which I’ve exported the database for perusal (in PDF, SQL and XML versions). But first, I will show the current version, featuring issue # 22: Record. If asked what Nomorepotlucks is, most likely the latest iteration of the project speaks loudest.

———-

3 main takeaways from this presentation, up for discussion:

1-    media archaeology allows for a recognition of the archive as a process that necessitates exposing one’s methods for research, recovery, and excavation.

2-    the idea that the archive becomes an act of creation – it is part of the creative process and part of the design thinking and doing – rather than an afterthought, or concern for the future.

3-    preservation can be positioned as a kind of archival awareness that is equivalent to inhabitation, rather than a statement about ownership and control over culture, or of and over time, and/or of proprietary archival spaces. Inhabitation is about an embodied notion of preservation – which literally means “to be present in” and to occupy.

 

 

 

Google’s Suggestive Archive

“Never forget that Google collects data for a commercial purpose. It is not a public archive. Besides this, the Google search engine is getting more and more ‘polluted’, coming up with useless and predictable search outcomes.” – Lovink 

As you type, Google’s algorithm predicts and displays search queries based on other users’ search activities and the contents of web pages indexed by Google. (ref)

Not everyone sees the same suggestions; it can depend on location and language.

Popularity is also a factor, but some less popular searches might be shown above more popular ones, if Google deems them more relevant. (ref)

Google Autocomplete also has what the company calls a “freshness layer.” If there are terms that suddenly spike in popularity in the short term, these can appear as suggestions, even if they haven’t gained long-term popularity. (ref)

Things about nationality (not religion though) are removed from “suggestions”, as are:

– Hate or violence related suggestions
– Personally identifiable information in suggestions
– Porn & adult-content related suggestions
– Legally mandated removals
– Piracy-related suggestions

Google has been sued a few times over problematic “suggestions”. (ref and ref)
 

The following is my experiment in our collective mindset, with “suggestions” made by the Google search engine, documented for the past three years… and ongoing.

 

 

Keywords
academia
activism
arab
arabic
body
boy
boyfriend
bush
canada
capitalism
care
catholic
chance
change
christianity
communication
control
courage
cowboy
culture
daughter
death
destiny
dude
enemy
evil
faith
fascism
faith
father
fear
female
femininity
feminism
fool
free speech
friendship
gay
gender
girl
girlfriend
god
goddess
goodness
gospel
government
grace
greed
gun
happiness
hate speech
heterosexuality
homophobia
homosexuality
hope
identity
insanity
instinct
integrity
is
islam
jew
jewish
joy
justice
labour
law
laziness
life
love
luck
lust
male
man
masculinity
mind
money
morality
mother
muslim
need
obsession
passion
peace
perception
perfection
phd
poverty
power
pride
procrastination
property
prostitution
quebec
race
racism
rage
reality
reason
religion
respect
right
sadness
sanity
satan
sex work
sex
sexiness
sexism
sexuality
shyness
sin
slavery
socialism
son
soul
spirit
terror
terrorism
thought
tom cruise
transgender
trouble
trust
want
war
woman
work
xy

References (to explore)

Murphy, Samantha 2012. How a Google Search Travels Around the World [INFOGRAPHIC] http://mashable.com/2012/06/13/google-search-infographic-2/

Beall, Jeffrey. 2010. How Google uses metadata to improve search results. The Serials Librarian 59(1): 40–53. Taylor & Francis Group. Link.

Google Autocomplete: http://support.google.com/websearch/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=106230

Blachman, Nancy and Jerry Peek. 2011. Google Guide. Part II: Understanding Results. Cached Pages. http://www.googleguide.com/cached_pages.html Posted December 28, 2011.

Google Guide. 2007. http://www.googleguide.com/google_works.html Google Help Forum. http://www.google.com/support/forum/ Google. Technology overview.
http://www.google.com/about/corporate/company/tech.html

Keen, Andrew. Interview with Siva Vaidhyanathan about The Googlization of Everything: How one company is disrupting commerce, culture, and community. SXSW. Link

Archive as Dumpster @ CCA 2012 – Waterloo

Disclaimer – below is a pretty rough draft of my Archive as Dumpster paper, presented May 30th at CCA 2012, Waterloo. Because I was reading this paper, I don’t have the proper referencing – but contact me if you want ’em!

The Archive as Dumpster

In Le goût de l’archive, Arlette Farge, explains that “the archival operation first of all consists of separating the documents. The question is to know what to keep and what to abandon.” The decision of what to keep, which is partially accomplished through acquisition, as a first level filter, and appraisal, as a second filter, have become core archival functions because they enact value by sorting out what is worth keeping based first and foremost on perceived long-term historical potential. Undoubtedly, in traditional archives, these decisions are necessary given the limited space of the physical repository, as well as the costs of conservation—to protect artefacts against rapid deterioration based on environmental, human, and technological factors.

As such, despite decades of archival theory upon which to build, the archive is made increasingly difficult to critically engage with on common grounds—between scholars, activists, archivists, programmers, artists, etc—given that its definition now includes, as layers, the physical repository, the web, the internet archive, the database—what Appadurai might define as an anthropological or living archive—from .tar and .zip file extensions, to the so-called dump file. The dump file, also known as the “core dump” or “memory dump,” has become computer jargon to indicate the storing of a large amount of raw data for future examination. The online archive, the archive as dump, or as I prefer, dumpster, calls into attention not just the media that host and are created to preserve its contents, but also the blurry connotations of digital value. Through Vibrant Matters, Jane Bennet argues that:

There is definitely something afoot, something about everyday (euro-american) life that is warning us to pay more attention to what we’re doing.  There is the call from our garbage: our private and public spaces — houses, apartments, streets, landfills, waterways — are filling up with junk, with vast quantities of disposables, plastic artifacts, old tv’s and devices, clothes, bags, papers, bottles, bottles, bottles.

It’s no stretch, then, to also extend Bennet’s insights to practices of digital hoarding—both personal and those facilitated by technology, which together raise questions of pollution, contamination, and digital detritus, generally subsumed under the idea of the ‘viral’ proliferation of data.

The archive, then, when configured as computerized database and repository, also relies on storage space for containing as well as organizing its contents. However, while the capacity of media storage has increased rapidly and exponentially; from the punch card to analogue to digital to solid state to cloud ‘space,’ the capacity and manner of storage is now largely understood to be ever-expandable, to the point where many argue that the online archive inherently solves the issue of appraisal (and therefore, value) by allowing that no digital artefact be thrown away, discarded, or deleted.

The prevailing idea has been in the possibility (and excitement) of collecting ‘everything’—with little attention directed toward the traditional assessments of long-term value—and this is as true for organised initiatives such as the IWM, as it is for personal collections growing through social media. Unlike the conventional archive where storage limitations impact archival processes, however, the rubric of the online archive has been totalizing. As counterpoint, Sven Spieker suggests that, “Archives are less concerned with memory than with the necessity to discard, erase, eliminate.” Archival selection is always already an ongoing process, shaped by the technologies in place that facilitate storage first, and access to content second. However, due to the lack of triage online—a ranking of priorities—the web, as a whole, bypasses the archivist’s appraisal, which then usurps traditional notions of value that derive from a familiar or traditional workflow: fixity, provenance, scarcity, authenticity and integrity are no longer valid base concepts. Put simply, archival theory, its workflow, and its politics are interconnected—and without one, nothing and everything may be of value, as value—regardless of its shifting definition and scope—is the underlying motivation for archival preservation.

The idea of digital value has been taken on by scholarly practitioners such as the Digital Methods Initiative, in Amsterdam, who, among other projects, created the website deletefrominternet.com, inviting people to nominate websites “unworthy of the Internet” for deletion, to help “clean up the Web”. Through its anti-social bookmarking service, the project attempts a discursive democratization of appraisal, where the inherent and predictable failure to achieve this goal becomes in itself their most important commentary about web culture.

Another project in this vein, by Les liens invisibles, is the online Musée des ordures which addresses the “the daily overproduction of user generated content and the continuous political solicitation to which we are subjected,” for which they deem it has become “ever more difficult to make sense of the sheer number of objects circulating on the internet” (http://www.ordure.org ). This project has been more difficult to track– they were banned from one of the social networks they were using as both case and tool—their Twitter account has been suspended. They explain their project as such:

Ordure is an ever present shadow signifying to all that is deemed unworthy. Unwanted, discarded debris induces choking urbanisations, smearing land and urban scapes alike. It thrives in the sway of the brutalising exploitation of natural materials and processes usually dealt with elsewhere, (where labour markets are cheap). The interchange is filled with abrasions, natural disasters, and human sacrifices. The world as a rubbish dump. Aesthetics profits from such profligacy.

Similarly, but with a more pragmatic end goal than showcasing web ‘ordure’ through social media, American programmer, Justin Blinder, created Dumpster Drive as a means for Web users to recycle and repurpose each other’s digital files. Because the “drag-drop-delete process of deleting data from our computers prevents them from ever reaching others,” the project website explains, “Dumpster Drive makes your trash social within the context of your desktop, allowing you to dumpster dive through the discarded files of others.

Needless to say these projects remain more tongue-in-cheek comments on the circulation of digital ephemera, but the questions they raise remain extremely pertinent and bring us back the materiality of our bodies and the environments in which they live.

New Media scholar Erik Kluitenberg argues that collection of ephemera online becomes a challenge to the power of the system of archiving that determines the structure and discourse of historical worthiness. As he explains, distinguishing what has value (historical, economic) from that which can be discarded, more often than not shows the extent of what is not valued: “Ephemera are considered noise, irrelevant, and as a result, a large aspect of living culture is often excluded” from traditional repositories. But as Katharine Mieszkowski (2001) points out in a Salon article about ‘dumpster diving’ the web: “it’s just such banal ephemera that counts, if you have enough of it.”  For social media sites, and large-scale collaboration projects, the banal comes to constitute an important slice of web culture, the kind of daily ephemera largely bypassed by traditional archival collections precisely because of its ‘junky’ quality. As Mieszkowski also suggests, value is a matter of collection itself, and of the network or relationship between items, in a collection. This is a point also reinforced by Richard J. Cox in his exploration of personal archives generated of the web, and their growing importance in society’s conception around digital historical value. Cox suggests that “We are on the cusp of seeing a new kind of archival future, and whether this is good or bad depends on how well archivists equip citizen archivists.” Presumably, the value of the personal archive online also requires individuals to be archivist of their own lives, and hence, implies recognition of one’s worth and historical importance, within and beyond a collective. It also, to some extent, implies that the archive is built into the collective, and that such connectivity builds memories at least as much as it preserves them.

The online archive offers a multiple modes for self-appraisal and exclusion, based on an understanding of the value of the archive. However, despite the established, yet ever evolving, concepts that have founded archival value, the online realm, free of such referents, is without clear determinants of importance, worth, or usefulness. Not because content is without value, but because we (still) do not know how to collectively assign value to content online outside of a scarcity model, nor how to best organize large amounts of data within a framework that is about more than the moment of search (and hence antithetical to long term visions.) This is made most evident by the large scale ‘dumping’ of early web histories by UGC sites, such as GeoCities, Friendster, and more recently Google Video and other services, in contrast to the seemingly unassailable position of Google as a search engine, or Facebook as social media network, today.

Given the sheer amount of ephemera online, does archival value only come into play when content risks being deleted? Is archival value online an afterthought, in effect on a case-by-case basis, as a means of dealing with loss, as is it happening? Are these important questions any longer, if, as Brewster Khale (founder of the IWM) and others assert, there is no need to throw anything away? If we have endless space for storage, does this assume we have endless time archived as well?

If the average ‘life’ of a website is of (only) one hundred days, as David Womack reports, how can an archive online be seriously conceived? As media scholar Geert Lovink asks, will the elites establish safeguarded ‘islands in the Net’ where essential knowledge is stored, leaving the wired billions floating in their own data trash?” With the rapid development of web technologies, requiring constant upgrades for content management systems, and constant refreshing of content to keep social systems vibrant, and formats valid, how do networks themselves age in the living archive? Is the web archive, at least in part, also an archive if its fissures, a trail of broken links and faulty links and 404 errors, reveal the network’s ‘wear and tear’? Finally, as a large unsorted store, is the online archive, without assessment of its content, communities, and cultures of use, allegorical to the dumpster?

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Pulled in part from:

Hogan, Mél (2012) Crashing the Archive: A Research-Creation Intervention into the SAW Video Mediatheque. Research-Creation Doctorate. Concordia University.