[Foundation-l] Long-term archiving of Wikimedia content

Thomas Dalton thomas.dalton at gmail.com
Tue May 5 14:32:02 UTC 2009

2009/5/5 Aryeh Gregor <Simetrical+wikilist at gmail.com>:
> On Tue, May 5, 2009 at 10:12 AM, Thomas Dalton <thomas.dalton at gmail.com> wrote:
>> I disagree. The short term utility is obviously zero, but the long
>> term utility could be massive. The contents of Wikimedia projects
>> could play a vital role in rebuilding civilisation - I call that
>> useful.
> Assuming civilization collapses to begin with.  And assuming the
> collapse is so complete that there are literally no computers left,
> even in the hands of the most powerful (who would likely lead
> rebuilding efforts).  And assuming that civilization doesn't recover
> in a short enough period of time that most records will be intact
> anyway.  And assuming that people can actually find the handful of
> disks or whatever that are probably locked up in a vault somewhere.
> And assuming they still have microscopes, but not computers.  And
> assuming they bother to actually look at the disks in a microscope,
> instead of melting them down as scrap metal or using them as doorstops
> or just dumping them in a landfill.  And assuming that vast quantities
> of trivia interspersed with incomplete scraps of poorly-explained
> science would in fact be useful for rebuilding civilization.  (Have
> you ever tried to learn anything practical from Wikipedia?  Textbooks
> would at least be useful.)
> Yeah, I'd say virtually zero utility.  But if some weirdos want to
> waste money on it, that's their business.  They can also prepare for
> the end of the world in 2012 as predicted by the Mayans, if they like.

I haven't proposed any archive method that would require a microscope
and I don't recommend one. Civilisations have a tendency to collapse,
it has happened numerous times before and it is far from unheard of
for a dark age to follow in which a lot of knowledge is lost.

But rebuilding civilisation is probably not the most likely use such
archives would be put to (it's just the most exciting, so the one I
mentioned). The historical and cultural value 1000 years from now of
knowing what people 1000 years ago knew and thought would be immense.
While useful, functional knowledge would probably have been preserved,
the presentation of that knowledge and all the non-functional
knowledge (our pop culture articles would probably be of most
interest) would probably be lost. Think of the archive as more of a
time capsule than a how-to guide for rebuilding civilisation - the
latter is more fun (and of greater utility if it happens), but the
former is the far more likely utility.

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