The Archivist

Paul Boutin in Slate:

Thanks to the ruthless hippies who run local politics, the Presidio’s former Army barracks are filled by nonprofits rather than condos. Search-engine wiz and dot-com multimillionaire Brewster Kahle founded the archive here in 1996 with a dream as big as the bridge: He wanted to back up the Internet. There were only 50 million or so URLs back then, so the idea only seemed half-crazy. As the Web ballooned to more than 10 billion pages, the archive’s main server farm—hidden across town in a data center beneath the city’s other big bridge—grew to hold a half-million gigabytes of compressed and indexed pages.

Kahle is less the Internet’s crazy aunt—the tycoon who can’t stand to throw anything away—than its evangelical librarian. “The history of digital materials in companies’ hands is one of … loss,” he tells me in a rushed meeting. Like it or not, the Web is the world’s library now, and Kahle doesn’t trust the guys who shelve the books. They’re obsessed with posting new pages, not preserving old ones. Every day, Kahle laments, mounds of data get purged from the Web: government documents, personal sites, corporate communications, message boards, news reports that weren’t printed on paper. For most surfers, once a page disappears from Google’s cache it no longer exists.

More here.