A tale of two Cairos

Microsoft's 2003 Professional Developers Conference (PDC) reminded some observers of the same event in 1993, when the hot topics were the Win32 APIs, a rough draft of Windows 95 code-named Chicago, and a preview of a futuristic object-file-system-based NT successor code-named Cairo. The hot topics this year were the WinFX managed APIs, a rough draft of a future version of NT code-named Longhorn, and ... Cairo. Now called WinFS, this vision of metadata-enriched storage and query-driven retrieval was, and is, compelling. Making it real wasn't then, and isn't now, simply a matter of engineering the right data structures and APIs. [Full story at InfoWorld.com]

Coincidentally Diego Doval recently posted a meditation on past and future Cairos. It's especially poignant for me because he illustrates his point with quotes from the BYTE.com archives -- including a couple of my articles.

As Dan Bricklin noted the other day, digital continuity is fragile:

I just got a heads up from Larry Magid, who noticed on News.com that Microsoft demonstrated Longhorn's "backward compatibility...running VisiCalc, the 20-year-old spreadsheet program." That's really nice that they are continuing the tradition of compatibility and showing it with VisiCalc. Software compatibility is something I have discussed about an older version of Windows back in 2000 in my "The Evolving Personal Computer" essay. Of course, as I pointed out in "Copy Protection Robs The Future", the only reason I have a copy that can still work is that someone kept a "bootleg" uncopyprotected copy around. The original disks may not have worked on a Longhorn machine. Just copying the files from the original 5 1/4" floppy to a 3 1/2" one that would fit in today's machines certainly would result in a non-working copy, because of copy protection. We will regret "Digital Restriction/Rights Management" in the future. [Dan Bricklin Log]

Now that my BYTE days are long past, I guess I can admit that a similar act of subversive stewardship preserved the BYTE.com archives. I created them lovingly, and when CMP bought BYTE magazine from McGraw-Hill in 1998, I begged to be allowed to help CMP rework the content -- which existed as neutral markup that I poured through a script-driven template -- for the CMP site. Nobody was willing. Instead, somebody spidered BYTE.com the week before we got shut down, and what appeared on TechWeb was a mangled version of the content.

It was broken for years. Then, finally, somebody asked what could be done to fix it. I wasn't supposed to have a clean copy of the original content, but I did, and was delighted to contribute it.

This column from 2001 was inspired by the Wayback Machine, part of Brewster Kahle's Internet Archive project. Ironically the only linkable version is posted on my personal site -- as, thankfully, my contract permitted me to do -- because the original vanished behind a for-pay firewall. I was angry about that at the time, but the damage seems to have been routed around. Diego Doval, for example, cited one of those rehosted columns in his posting. More importantly, though, the original 1994-1998 BYTE.com archives are (for now) intact and accessible. For that I'm grateful.

doc searls quizzes len apgar about nytimes archive policy When it comes to digital archiving, of course, there are bigger fish to fry than BYTE.com. Here's Doc Searls at BloggerCon, making the case for keeping the New York Times web archive accessible. Jay Rosen commented afterward:

There was one almost poignant moment during the question and answer period. Someone stood up and asked will the New York Times open its archive to free linking? (The original url's expire after seven days for most articles, then you have to pay.) This appeared to catch Apcar off guard. Perhaps he had not fully understood the ethical universe he had traveled to, the Open Source Society, where naturally you link to everyone who enriches your account, building the social capital of the Web a tiny bit at a time. You take pains to make yourself linkable, too-- that's just good citizenship.

What the crowd was really saying, however, cut deeper: Don't you understand? We want to link to you, mighty New York Times, and give everything you publish more and more Web life. For this, the Rule of Links, is the way of our tribe, said conference host Dave Winer, who wrote the rule. But because of your foolish and short-sighted archive policy, our efforts die after a week. Why, why are you causing all this needless link death?

This wasn't entirely fair to Apcar, who isn't a corporate head. He seemed puzzled by it.

[PressThink: Times Web Editor Goes to Harvard in Search of Something]

A final thought for the weekend, prompted by Mark Jones' excursion into videoblogging. Sometimes a digital videocam will be a tool of the blogger's trade. But increasingly, there will quotable video content already online. If it's published in a linkable form (i.e., as a stream not a file), you can "simply" link into it. As I've noted before, though, that isn't as simple as it ought to be -- even with a Real stream that explicitly supports URLs with start/stop parameters.

I'm now exploring the Real, QuickTime, and Windows Media technologies -- both clients and streaming servers. I really want to understand how we might make it easier both to publish and to link into (i.e., quote from) audio and video.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2003/11/22.html#a852