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31.08.17

How to Be Better Than Tim Berners-Lee

Posted 31st August 2017

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I’ve written a lot in the past year or so about what I like to call internet archeology. Whether it’s revered web designers destroying communities, podcasts destroying their archives, or simply historically important web tutorials disappearing, there’s one recurring idea: hey, don’t just yank your stuff offline, man.

But you don’t need to take my word for it about how bad this is. A certain Tim Berners-Lee, in his seminal 1998 essay “Cool URIs don’t change”, covers everything you need to know on the subject.

“In theory, the domain name space owner owns the domain name space and therefore all URIs in it. Except insolvency, nothing prevents the domain name owner from keeping the name. And in theory the URI space under your domain name is totally under your control, so you can make it as stable as you like. Pretty much the only good reason for a document to disappear from the Web is that the company which owned the domain name went out of business or can no longer afford to keep the server running.”

But why should I care, Tim?

Why should I care?

When you change a URI on your server, you can never completely tell who will have links to the old URI. They might have made links from regular web pages. They might have bookmarked your page. They might have scrawled the URI in the margin of a letter to a friend.

When someone follows a link and it breaks, they generally lose confidence in the owner of the server. They also are frustrated – emotionally and practically from accomplishing their goal.

Enough people complain all the time about dangling links that I hope the damage is obvious. I hope it also obvious that the reputation damage is to the maintainer of the server whose document vanished.

Yep, makes sense to me. We’re all agreed, yes?

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25.04.17

Wikitribune: The Real Revolution

Posted 25th April 2017

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So, today sees the announcement of Wikitribune, a brand new news site:

Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, is launching a new online publication which will aim to fight fake news by pairing professional journalists with an army of volunteer community contributors.

Wikitribune plans to pay for the reporters by raising money from a crowdfunding campaign.

Wales intends to cover general issues, such as US and UK politics, through to specialist science and technology.

Those who donate will become supporters, who in turn will have a say in which subjects and story threads the site focuses on. And Wales intends that the community of readers will fact-check and subedit published articles.

Describing Wikitribune as ‘news by the people and for the people,’ Wales said: ‘This will be the first time that professional journalists and citizen journalists will work side-by-side as equals writing stories as they happen, editing them live as they develop, and at all times backed by a community checking and rechecking all facts.'”

I shall leave it to others to ponder whether this style of journalism is a good thing, or even if it will actually work in any way whatsoever. (I find the launch video ridiculously simplistic – there was some bad journalism in the old days, and some great journalism now – but maybe a more nuanced take is impossible when you’re launching something like this.) As ever, I want to concentrate on something else.

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13.04.17

The Layer Tennis Archives

Posted 13th April 2017

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“We’ll be playing matches using lots of different applications, from Adobe® Photoshop® to Adobe® Flash®, but the basic idea is the same no matter what tools are in use. Two artists (or two small teams of artists) will swap a file back and forth in real-time, adding to and embellishing the work. Each artist gets fifteen minutes to complete a “volley” and then we post that to the site. A third participant, a writer, provides play-by-play commentary on the action, as it happens. The matches last for ten volleys and when it’s complete, everyone with an opinion sounds off in the Forums and we declare a winner.”

“How The Game Works”, layertennis.com (2009)

One of my favourite things to do on Fridays used to be to sit and watch a game of Layer Tennis. It’s a very difficult thing to describe exactly how much fun watching this was, and I never thought anyone involved with the game quite managed it either. It’s something you really have to experience, moment by moment, to fully get how much fun the game is.

The other day, I was thinking back to one of the game’s most memorable matches. That was between Shaun Inman and Gregory Hubacek; the final of Season 2, back in 2009. This was notable for the huge delay on one of Hubacek’s serves – I distinctly remember the tension in the air as we all waited… and waited… and waited. With all the genuinely brilliant serves from the many talented participants, this being a particular memory is probably massively unfair, but what are you going to do? Memorable sporting moments come from somebody breaking their leg in half as well as genuine sporting achievement.

Full of all these memories, recently I decided to search for the match in the site’s archives. But oddly enough, there was no record of the match there at all. Which is really, really weird, considering it was the final of Season 2. What kind of archive doesn’t include the final match of a whole season of play? And if the archives miss out that match, then what other matches have gone AWOL?

With the help of The Wayback Machine, I’ve done some investigating. There have been four seasons of the game under the name Layer Tennis. (The previous incarnation of the game, Photoshop Tennis, is not examined here.) Of those four seasons, the fourth has every match included in the archive in full. But matches are missing for each of the first three seasons.

Let’s take a look at which ones, shall we?

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16.03.17

Silent but Deadly

Posted 16th March 2017

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Daring Fireball, 15th March 2017:

Jon Rubinstein Named Co-CEO of World’s Biggest Hedge Fund, Fired 10 Months Later

Mary Childs, reporting for The Financial Times 10 months ago:

Bridgewater has chosen former Apple executive Jon Rubinstein as the new co-chief executive of the world’s biggest hedge fund, replacing Greg Jensen as part of a 10-year handover from founder Ray Dalio.

Mr Rubinstein, who also sits on the boards of Amazon.com and Qualcomm, is expected to join Bridgewater in May and to share the co-CEO role with Eileen Murray.

Now:

Bridgewater Associates co-CEO Jon Rubinstein is stepping down and transitioning to an external advisory role in April after 10 months on the job, the firm told clients in a note Wednesday.

“While over the last ten months Jon has helped build a plan to re-design our core technology platform and has brought in a group of extremely talented executives to build out our technology leadership, we mutually agree that he is not a cultural fit for Bridgewater,” Bridgewater founder, chairman, and co-CIO Ray Dalio wrote in the note.

Except that this isn’t how this piece was written when it was first published. It originally went as follows:

Jon Rubinstein Named Co-CEO of World’s Biggest Hedge Fund

Mary Childs, reporting for The Financial Times:

Bridgewater has chosen former Apple executive Jon Rubinstein as the new co-chief executive of the world’s biggest hedge fund, replacing Greg Jensen as part of a 10-year handover from founder Ray Dalio.

Mr Rubinstein, who also sits on the boards of Amazon.com and Qualcomm, is expected to join Bridgewater in May and to share the co-CEO role with Eileen Murray.

Not where I expected Rubinstein to wind up.

Screengrab here, taken from Google’s cache.1

What’s happened is pretty clear. John Gruber originally saw the FT article about Jon Rubinstein, didn’t clock that it was from ten months ago, and published in haste. Once he saw that the news was out of date, and Rubinstein was actually stepping down, he edited the article to correct the error… but didn’t mention his correction anywhere.

Not exactly fake news of the century, of course. Still, I thought it was worth pointing out, if only because Gruber is one of the good guys. And as the good guys, we should all be as transparent as possible about what we write. If we fuck up, even on a small piece such as this, we need to admit it. Otherwise, who knows what other mysterious edits happen with Daring Fireball after the fact? The issue is one of trust, and it only takes a small breach of that trust to make you doubt an entire site.

I could happily go back through Dirty Feed’s archives and do some nifty editing to ensure I’ve always been right about everything first time. But it’d be a pretty dishonest way to write.


  1. No idea why the spacing is incorrect on the navigation bar there, but I thought editing to make it correct wouldn’t be in the spirit of this article. 

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05.03.17

On Linkrot, Part #3928452

Posted 5th March 2017

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Recently, I wrote a little piece over on Ganymede & Titan which was ostensibly about the popular science fiction comedy series Red Dwarf. In fact, it was bugger all to do with Red Dwarf. It was actually about the transient nature of the web – a bit of a recurring theme of mine these days.

To summarise, then: I went back and looked at a random day of G&T’s output from ten years ago – and the result surprised even me. Every single external link used in those news stories from 10 years ago no longer works correctly. I expected some – perhaps even most – to be dead. But every single one to succumb to linkrot? That’s completely ridiculous.

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12.02.17

What You Leave Behind

Posted 12th February 2017

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It’s a normal day, and as usual, an innocuous tweet sends me into a spiral of links.

Alyssa Milano? Tweetie 2? What’s all that about?

One quick Google search later leads us to this Business Insider article, from 2009:

“B-list bombshell Alyssa Milano, a self-professed Twitter addict, is also apparently a cheapskate. And it has the iPhone nerds very amused.

Yesterday, after finding out that Tweetie 2, a major update to the popular iPhone Twitter app, would cost $2.99, she tweeted: “Boooooo!!!”

This triggered a bit of an uproar from the iPhone developer community, half-amused and half-angered that a celebrity would be such a cheapskate to complain about paying $3 for a software app she could end up using for hours a week. (And that an independent programmer just spent months working on.)”

Ah.

“Responding to someone else’s complaint about the upgrade price, Daring Fireball blogger John Gruber made two solid points:

  • If you don’t think it’s worth $3, don’t buy it.
  • Keep in mind we’re talking about $3 for an app that only runs on handheld devices that cost at least $200, most of which come with a $70/month service.

Both valid. And, seriously… it’s just $3!”

Oooh, what’s that, a Daring Fireball link? What else did John Gruber have to say about the subject?1

“Jeff LaMarche has a sharp response to this goofy rant by Patrick Jordan complaining that the upcoming Tweetie 2, which costs just $3, is not a free upgrade for existing users.”

Excellent, a goofy rant to laugh at:

“My thought is that this is a very,very,very Bad Call. I just can ‘t find a way to think of this as anything less than spitting in the face of existing Tweetie users.”

Your article is bad and you should feel bad.

Enough of that nonsense. Let’s read Jeff LaMarche’s rebuttal post:

“Blog has been removed

Sorry, the blog at iphonedevelopment.blogspot.com has been removed. This address is not available for new blogs.”

For fuck’s sake.

OK, OK, so you can read Jeff’s post via the Wayback Machine. And seeing as that post is called “A Sense of Entitlement”, I guess I have to be really careful about what I say next.

So I’ll just say this: it’s really, really annoying when a badly-written piece of tosh manages to stay online, and a thorough and well-reasoned argument ends up being deleted. God knows the world needs more well-argued pieces, and less goofy rants. For the crap piece to survive and the good piece to fall offline just feels fundamentally wrong.

Think about what you leave behind. At first glance this looks like a silly story… but it touches on issues of real importance about paying developers for their work. That’s a topic which is well worth looking back on, and very little has changed today. Don’t delete your part of the story.

Otherwise, you risk leaving the public record to just be a series of goofy rants.


  1. Placement of link adjusted for readability. 

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10.02.17

Goodbye, “TV Comedy Resources”

Posted 10th February 2017

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Over the years, I’ve used many sites as a research tool for writing about comedy. Hey, I’m sure a lot of you know this one, run by a certain Philip Hill. I used to reference his episode guides constantly – in fact, for many years, it was the very first place I looked to for TX dates.

Screengrab of the final incarnation of phill.co.uk

What you may not know about the site: it’s now gone. Disappeared offline. The last version the Wayback Machine has archived is from June 2016. And the WHOIS indicates the domain phill.co.uk has a brand new owner from January this year.

It’s perhaps worth noting that while the site remained online until 2016, it stopped updating long before that. The listing for Citizen Khan only details the show’s first series; before the site fell offline there had been four complete series broadcast. A quick check in the Wayback Machine indicates the site had indeed been dormant since 2012.

As far as I can tell, there is no indication anywhere of what happened to the site. Perhaps Philip got bored with his hobby. Perhaps personal circumstances took precedence. Perhaps he gazed over at Wikipedia, and thought there was little point in carrying on with episode guides. We’ll probably never know.

So I will shed a small tear for a site which was tirelessly updated for years, was an endlessly useful and widely-referenced resource… and has ended up disappearing into the digital ether. Whether it was ever going to be updated again or not, the site deserved better than to just fall offline, with no warning or goodbye.

As ever, let’s try to remember this stuff.

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09.02.17

#DancePonyDance

Posted 9th February 2017

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Welcome to a secret post. I mean, as secret as any post can get which is blatantly published on the front page of this site. But I won’t be linking to this on Twitter, and that’s where the majority of my hits come from these days. I want this to fly at least a little under the radar.

Back in 2013, mobile company Three produced a very silly advert. An advert which by all accounts should have irritated the hell out of me. A CGI moonwalking Shetland pony, painfully asking to go viral, with the slogan “Keep on internetting”? And yet… man, something about the ad just made me love it regardless. Maybe the choice of song, maybe the quality of the animation… or maybe the other slogan: “Silly stuff. It matters.” I almost want to nick that slogan for Dirty Feed.

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10.01.17

The Saga of ofla.info

Posted 10th January 2017

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As I work on the upcoming redesign for Dirty Feed, my thoughts idly turn to the old blog I used to run on ofla.info, back in the mid-2000s. Let’s take a brief look, shall we? I’m sure there’s some great stuff on there.

5th April 2004, “óflå.info Launches!”:

“Make sure you explore all corners of the site; I wouldn’t want you to miss any of the fascinating treats on offer.”

Sadly, all is gone by 18th July 2004. In its place, “Site under renovation”:

“Piss off.”

Never mind. On 9th August 2004, “For Fucks Sake”:

“I’ve had this domain nearly two years, and the only thing I’ve got out of it is a decent e-mail address and some hangers on.

Let’s try and do something useful with it, eh?”

Excellent… oh, wait, deleted by September 2004.

Don’t worry! On 26th October 2004, we get, erm, ““óflå.info” “launches””:

Ah, it’s not as good as this one. But it’ll do. Let me know if there’s any problems with the design of the site – I know it’s a bit SHIT here and there.

Stuff to come: ill-informed rants on web design, revoltingly geeky TV stuff (The Sitcom Boom Mike Apperances List, anyone?), and various other shite. And news on the progression of the content management system I’m writing. Current status: Learning Perl, page 1.”

This one actually lasted right up until the end of 2005. Then suddenly, on the 3rd January 2006, all is wiped clean. In its place, we get “Errr… óflå.info, erm, “launches””:

“Hello! It’s yet another relaunch of my personal site! Hoo-fucking-ray. Forgive the odd rough edge; I’ll be smoothing it all out in the next few days.

So why? Well, I did get bored of the old design – but it also reflects a change of DIRECTION. All my web/media guff is going on Noise To Signal (due a relaunch in the next couple of weeks, hence the lack of life around there at the moment).

The old content will be stuck back on here at some point (and some of it also incorprated into NTS); till then, use the Wayback Machine. I apologise for breaking all my links in the meantime; the only consolation is that there was nothing worth much on here.

So, what’s going to go on here, then? Well, my personal blog probably – I think it’s a waste of time personally, which is why I didn’t update for ages before, but so many people have requested I carry on with it that it would be rude not to. It also functions as a nice gateway to all the other sites I’m involved with. Beyond that, there are a few things I have planned – but, learning from past experience, I won’t be announcing those until I have something to show for it. I’ll try and update round here most days, though.

Oh: wank shit cunt.”

Surely, this is it? Surely? Nope. Not only was all the old stuff never put back online, but this entire version of the blog was all gone by June.

Since then, my writing has been rather more consistent. Once my personal blog disappeared from ofla.info for good, I wrote for years over on group site Noise to Signal. And once that closed at the end of 2009, I started writing here on Dirty Feed. Sure, this place was originally called Transistorised for some stupid reason, but from 2010 onwards all my writing is intact, and in the same place.

Still, there’s something to be learnt from the above. The reason I kept launching and relaunching back then was simple: some idiotic quest for perfection. “No, no, that article/design/word isn’t exactly perfect – best wipe clean and start again.” Idiotic is definitely the word… but that part of me still pops up every so often. It’s good to have a look back and remember the road perfectionism can take you if you’re not careful. Hey, write something shit? Or does something just not read that brilliantly with a year or two’s hindsight? Never mind, let it stand as a historical piece, and write something better next time. If you want everything you’ve written online to be perfect, never publish anything at all.

The single best thing for me about Dirty Feed is that I finally stuck at something. No wasting time, no constant relaunches. Just a body of work which built up, year after year, and now stands as something I’m proud of – not deleted off the web, never to be seen again unless someone bothers to throw themselves into the Wayback Machine. I see some people constantly launching new sites for the same old thing today, and I’m glad I finally managed to learn that lesson all those years ago.

If there’s one thing which can be said about Dirty Feed this year, it’s this: a lack of perfection is absolutely guaranteed.

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31.12.16

“Free and Open Access to Information, Forever”

Posted 31st December 2016

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I don’t ask for any money for writing Dirty Feed. I don’t have a Patreon. I haven’t run any kind of Kickstarter. I don’t have a tip jar. I don’t have Amazon referrals, or an Amazon wish list. Call it keeping the site pure, or call it not wanting to have any kind of obligations around here. Either way, if you’ve enjoyed anything on here over the past 12 months, you’ve enjoyed it for free.

This year, I’ve written quite a lot about the history of the web. (And I’m currently in the middle of a new piece to publish at the start of next year.) Those pieces include:

Not forgetting this piece I wrote over on Ganymede & Titan, about Red Dwarf fandom mid-2004.

Some of these articles might not be your favourite things I’ve written this year. I generally get a lot more positive feedback for stuff I write about the telly, and my internet archeology pieces go rather unnoticed. But that’s fine. I write Dirty Feed for myself as much as for anyone else, and the important thing for me is to have a mix of different kinds of stuff here. (Though, of course, there are plenty of parallels with the kind of internet archeology above, and the kind of thing I do with old sitcoms.)

Still, the important thing about all the above articles: they all relied on the Wayback Machine in order to research the web of the past. And perhaps it’s easy to get blasé about its existence, now it’s been around for so long. But if you step back and just think about it: typing in a URL, and being able to visit (most) websites at (nearly) any point in their existence, is absolutely damn incredible. And is vital to maintaining a record of the history of the web. My silly articles are nothing compared to how important the Wayback Machine is for everyone – and, indeed, the Internet Archive as a whole.

So, here’s my request. The Internet Archive is currently fundraising, and is well short of their goal. If you’ve enjoyed anything I’ve written over here over the past year, and can comfortably afford it – and that latter part is crucial – please consider giving them a small donation. It would mean a lot to me, and is the most relevant support you could give this site.

Thank you. Serious message ends. I’ll be back tomorrow with a round-up of all my nonsense over here from the past year. I didn’t half write some shite.

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