The Internet is a Poor Archive
TL;DR: The internet is a fantastic paper-based archival system replacement, but it has yet to perfect individuate data-store location and retrieval.
The internet has garnered a tremendous amount of attention over the past decade as an alternative to the paper-based archival system. It offers a significant number of advantages over the traditional methodology of storing and accessing information- advantages which have caused a large number of organizations to port their existing archival infrastructure over to (CAUTION: here comes a buzz word) ‘the cloud’ or some derivation of digital inter-connectivity.
Within organized data stores, converting paper-based archives into digital archives has lead to an increased accessibility of information, a more (CAUTION: another buzz word coming) agile methodology of adding new information to the data store, and a more efficient means of finding targeted, relevant information from the data store.
Without question, the internet has proved a fantastic alternative to archiving and accessing data within a specific data-store; it has, however, yet to mature with respect to locating and accessing individuate data-stores. In its current iteration, accessing information on the internet is like walking into a used bookstore where books are stacked in unorganized piles as high as the ceiling- where finding a book requires the aid of the shopkeeper (because only the shopkeeper has a general sense of where one’s desired book might be). It goes without saying, though, that this methodology of book-finding is hardly fool-proof; there are many instances in which one might not find the book one is looking for (even in the case that it is right under one’s nose) simply because the sheer number of books the shopkeeper must keep track of overwhelms the likelihood that they will recall the location of your specific book.
Image courtesy of: The Guardian
In the case of the internet, the role of the ‘shopkeeper’ is fulfilled by the search engine which attempts to memorize the location of every data-store (or ‘book’ if we continue to utilize the bookstore metaphor) within the confines of the internet. Of course, this methodology of information retrieval works 95% of the time. It is the remaining 5%, however, that worries me.
How many times have we accessed a web page, then attempted to re-find the same web page months later only to find that our relevant ‘keywords’ are too generalized or are not as exact as the search engine requires to work effectively? There simply has to be a better way of organizing information on the internet.
Some might say that it’s not the fault of the search engines- the burden falls upon each respective data-store; if websites were only to utilize simple SEO strategies, then the search engine would be better at retrieving their site in search results. To me, this seems like a cop out; it would be as absurd as hearing a shopkeeper say: “If only publishing companies were to make their book covers more memorable, I’d have an easier time remembering where I put them”. Were one to overhear this statement in a bookstore in which books were dispersed into random, disorganized piles, one might think it obvious that the shopkeeper need only to organize his/her shop in order to have an easier time locating books.
The burden of data-organization should not be placed upon the end-user, but it should be inherent in the system itself. It seems obvious that there is no need for a shopkeeper to be a gatekeeper for finding product within their store. Why does the same logic not apply to the internet?
The internet lacks a definitive structure, and consequently information retrieval is reduced to an art- not a science (there are literally whole university courses devoted to the topic of ‘power searching’). Already, there exist loose mechanisms for information organization on the internet (like domain suffixes), but they are ill-regulated and rarely used (any .biz users out there?). If the internet is to replace paper-based data-stores, there must be a more rigorous organization set in place.