Pet Peeve #2 – Vanishing Pages

I know, before this one’s even to the tip of my tongue, I can hear the admonitions to lay out the bucks for the books and the journals and the CDs and the rest. OK, but I do. And even then, you’ll frequently then find me enjoying time transcribing favorite selections into private files on my own computer for my own personal use. For but one reason among many, because having electronic access offers me many additional privileges to my reading and memorization and other activities these poems go through here. Finding any poem online has never dissuaded me from an offline purchase (far the contrary, many an online poem has encouraged a purchase), while conversely finding a poem offline frequently sends me online to locate an electronic copy, if available.

So one of my pet peeves is how it’s not really all that rare for a poem that once appeared online to eventually vanish. Used to be, surfers would speak of the web endowing content with a certain immortality, that “nothing ever dies on the Internet.” And I do know from dark personal experience that some old Internet files seem as impossible to destroy as old bathtub stain. Unfortunately, such immortality never blesses some things we’d like to see hang on.

Perhaps in the early days of its run, Poetry Daily may have set its one-year horizon to conserve its server space and load. If so, someone there needs to hitch a ride into the current Internet world, where neither present a problem any longer. I regularly save what I can of their traffic from a year ago so I’ll still have it after it disappears, but I’ve lost a lot of what I once saved to my own computer crashes over the years (having failed to back up every single file along the way), and there were long stretches I missed before realizing PD’s takeback policy.

Many poetry journals with online content – today I’m reading in Tin House Magazine – will offer sample content of a current issue online, but then remove that content when a new issue is published, replacing the old with a new sample. Like with Poetry Daily, I save what I can, but it still makes electronic reading lists difficult to maintain. In the lists I keep here, some of the links will eventually go dead. If I notice, I might take a slice of time away from my reading and more productive reading management chores to annotate the broken link; but I’d prefer that once electronic content has been made available, it remain so.

The one that has annoyed me the most is the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive. Isn’t the core premise of an Internet archive the preservation of web content? Alas, I only recently discovered that large chunks of content that had been stored at the Internet Archive have been thrown overboard. I first noticed this after finalizing my organization of the decade’s worth of online content that had been kept intact at The Writer’s Almanac – standing applause to them for that fantastic record of retention! A worthy model to all other poetry servers! (Like, why even the likes of the Poetry Foundation find it necessary to delete poetry from their site befuddles me.) However, when I then turn to the Internet Archive to fill in content from The Writer’s Almanac that pre-dated TWA’s own retention, I find that huge piles of poems that had been available several months ago are now gone. So what is this, do we need an Internet archive of the Internet Archive itself? (And no, Google’s cache function isn’t even worth a laugh for filling in that service.)

So my little local snapshots will do what they can as semi-permanent electronic echoes of the paper copies I do still buy and collect and read (at least, until my next computer crash). But that won’t stop me from grousing every time I encounter yet another poetry pothole in the Internet superhighway. Which I seem to hit almost daily, sorry to have to say.

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