Controlling the Lifespan of Your Words
by Reid Goldsborough
When you put up a Web site or blog or participate in Internet discussions, you may think that your words, whether they’re hasty or wise, will gradually fade away over time. But Internet archive systems exist that, in all likelihood, are preserving them long term.
The best-known Web archive service is the Wayback Machine (archive.org/web/web.php), part of a larger effort called the Internet Archive (archive.org). If you’ve put up a Web site or blog and later had second thoughts and taken it down, chances are it’s preserved through the Wayback Machine.
This free service has been taking snapshots of the Web at various points in time since 1996, with an astonishing 85 billion pages currently archived. Archiving is all about redundancy, and the contents of the Wayback Machine are mirrored, appropriately enough, at the New Library of Alexandria in Egypt, where the original Library of Alexandria, founded by the Greek rulers of Egypt around 300 BC, was designed to be the repository of all the world’s knowledge.
Opting Out of Archives
If you don’t want your words preserved for posterity, the Wayback Machine lets you opt out. The service offers detailed directions for removing previous versions of your site from its archive and for preventing it from making archives in the future (archive.org/about/exclude.php).
Another well-known archive service is Google Groups (groups.google.com), previously called Deja News and before that DejaViews. Google Groups is a Web interface to Usenet, the worldwide system of hundreds of thousands of online discussion groups. People can participate in these discussions on the Web, through their email program, or via a specialized Usenet program called a newsreader.
The Google Groups Web site is most useful in letting you search for and join specific discussion groups, as well as search for current and old posts of yours and from others about specific subject matter, with archives of posts going back to 1981.
Like the Wayback Machine, Google Groups provides the means to remove your previous posts from its archive and to prevent it from archiving future posts, but, as with the Wayback Machine, you have to take matters into your own hands.
To remove your posts from the Google Groups archive, you need to create a free Google Groups account, and it’s best to do so using the same email address you used for the posts you want deleted. You can have it delete posts you made with an email address you no longer have, but this is more cumbersome. For details, read “How do I remove my own posts?” (groups.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=46493).
Google Groups lets you prevent it from archiving your posts in the first place, with instructions at groups.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=46487.
Where Else Your Words May Be
Your words may also be archived at any Web-site discussion groups, as well as any Yahoo Groups or other email discussion groups you’ve participated in. Some Web-site discussion groups let you remove your posts yourself. But, as with Yahoo Groups, you may need to ask the webmaster or group moderator to remove any given post for you. Blogs that allow reader comments usually archive these as well.
Numerous other Web sites crawl the Web, Usenet, Yahoo Groups, and similar places and create archives. You can find some of them through a relevant Google search, typing in as keywords any distinctive phrases you remember from any posts you’ve made. Some of these sites, however, are pay services, and their archives won’t be accessible to Google. So there’s no way to ensure that your words are completely within your control.
Perhaps the best strategy, if you don’t want your words to come back and haunt you, is to remember your mother’s words: Think before you speak. Another option is to use a pseudonym or “handle.”
The flip side of Internet archive services is their usefulness in helping
you find what might otherwise have been lost.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.reidgoldsborough.com.