07 March 2023

Public record

Three projects that archive and preserve internet history

How to celebrate seminal online cultural works

The preservation, celebration, and archival of important online works is a growing issue for creators and communities. In every corner of the internet, there are impactful releases that contributed to shaping culture in significant and subtle ways: art, memes, ideas, and more. However, for every platform that ends, or link that breaks,  the long term hosting and upkeep of these works become more precarious.  

Given the abundance of influential information, ideas, and media distributed for free, it can be difficult to archive and celebrate the impact of canonical pieces of internet history. However, there are several creative projects that have successfully archived works as pieces of internet history. Here are some examples:

Quadratic Funding Collection by Gitcoin

The Quadratic Funding Collection by Gitcoin

In 2018, alongside Zoe Hitzig and Glen Weyl, Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin published “Liberal Radicalism”, a whitepaper that proposed a radical idea and mathematical foundation for directing resources towards projects in a way that benefits the greatest number of people rather than those with the greatest influence, called quadratic funding. Gitcoin and other organizations have applied quadratic funding to direct over $70 million to public goods and open source projects to date.

Together with Metalabel and the original authors, Gitcoin released The Quadratic Funding Collection, which reissued the text as an onchain record permanently archiving and preserving it onchain, allowed people to collect and support the influential document, and drive funding to Gitcoin’s grant program, which implements quadratic funding.

ArtBase by Rhizome

Biarritzzz, 314rritzzz, 2016—Present.

ArtBase is an initiative of Rhizome, an arts organization focused on digital culture, that began in 1999 as an archive of born-digital art. The archive, which has grown to include thousands of works, is “part of a larger effort to develop better tools for accessing and understanding legacy digital culture.” The archive of digital art and media is made to be free and accessible to the public.

In 2021, the archive relaunched with a new infrastructure and metadata for digital preservation. The new system is built on Wikibase, an open-source platform which is part of the Wikimedia ecosystem.

“…archives are interdependent—resources and responsibilities to be shared.”

Earlier this year, Rhizome added 22 artist-made Tumblrs to its ArtBase, with the goal of making seminal digital works to be permanent and resilient against platform risk.

“Our hope is that these archived works will be complemented by additional writing, interviews, and other kinds of contextualization in the future,” Rhizome said.

Cyberfeminism Index by Mindy Seu

Cyberfeminism Index by Mindy Seu

Commissioned by Rhizome, artist Mindy Seu’s Cyberfeminism Index is a catalogued collection of projects that are techno-critical from a feminist lens. Spanning three decades from the 1990s to today, the project indexes everything from texts, art, and organizations, to people that are related to cyberfeminist practice.

“Cyberfeminism cannot be reduced to women and technology,” says Mindy Seu. “Nor is it about the diffusion of feminism through technology. Combining cyber and feminism was meant as an oxymoron or provocation, a critique of the cyberbabes and fembots that stocked the sci-fi landscapes of the 1980s. The term is self-reflexive: technology is not only the subject of cyberfeminism, but its means of transmission. It’s all about feedback.”

The collection of material, compiled into a 600-page book and archived online, is described as “incomplete” and “always in progress,” with an open invitation to submit additional entries on its website.

Onchain preservation

There are other active practices to preserve seminal online works. Most notable is the amazing  nonprofit initiative of the Internet Archive.

Other efforts are centered around an onchain permaweb. This includes projects like Arweave and IPFS (Interplanetary File System), two blockchain-enabled decentralized storage systems that aim to be permanent and resilient.

There are other examples such as Jack Dorsey minting the first Tweet as an NFT. Computer scientist Tim Berners Lee, credited as the creator of the World Wide Web, also released an NFT that represented the original source code for the web.

All of these projects address the need for preserving and celebrating important digital works. How can we honor the historical value of digital art, websites, or internet-native ideas? As more information and media arrives digitally native first, without analog counterparts, this area of exploration, and questions on how to value influential digital content, should continue to grow in importance.

Stay tuned


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