When Google VP Vint Cerf warned that increased dependence on technology could lead to a ‘digital dark age’, he merely echoed the concern of everyone involved in the preservation of information in a digital world. While it is expedient to dismiss his claim as sensationalist and/or paranoid, Google’s announcement yesterday that they are closing down the Google Code source code repositories provides an unfortunate echo to his cries.
When I received Google’s email detailing the repositories I have ownership over, I found a number of University projects, some python sample code, an entry to a video game competition, my now-venerable python user interface library, and one more item which I had forgotten about: a collaboration some years back to build a video game.
Like most such ventures, the collaboration fell apart after a few short weeks, the project creator and I went our separate ways, and I never heard from him again. But now, with the code scheduled to be consigned to oblivion within a year, it seemed like a good time to reach out and formally put the repository to rest.
It was then that I realised just how easy it is to lose information forever. I have an email address for the project’s creator, but it turned out to be a long-defunct hotmail account, in the name of the project, not the user. The handful of of emails we exchanged don’t list a real name, and mining various websites I was only able to find a possible first name, as well as a location of Christmas Island – a place so obscure I doubt he actually lived there. Team collaboration was largely accomplished through a private forum, but the project’s website is long gone, the contents of the forum with it. The domain is still registered, but through a registrar in China, which doesn’t list an owner in their whois records.
Long story short, unless he happens to read this blog post, I’ll probably never hear from ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ again. And in the greater scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter: the game was never made, what small quantity of code made it to the repository will never be reused, and I doubt there is clear ownership of the code and assets regardless. The principle of it all still rankles, though.
For however short a time, a group of individuals came together to build something ambitious. That endeavour is over, the fleeting sense of camaraderie long gone. All that remains is an untouched repository and the half-remembrance of an anonymous typist behind a presumably-distant keyboard.
Who knows? Perhaps the other team members have stayed in touch. All that I know is that it’s all too easy to lose track of people and things in a world based entirely on ones and zeroes…