As Wikipedia has it, or at least had it. (I’m so witty. Please see the original manuscript.)
Software rot, also known as bit rot, code rot, software erosion, software decay, or software entropy is either a slow deterioration of software quality over time or its diminishing responsiveness that will eventually lead to software becoming faulty, unusable, or in need of upgrade. This is not a physical phenomenon: the software does not actually decay, but rather suffers from a lack of being responsive and updated with respect to the changing environment in which it resides.
The Jargon File, a compendium of hacker lore, defines “bit rot” as a jocular explanation for the degradation of a software program over time even if “nothing has changed”; the idea behind this is almost as if the bits that make up the program were subject to radioactive decay.
I’m firmly in the “jocular explanation” camp here. Like many deliberate but concise inaccuracies I believe the term can be a useful peg on which to hang some important thoughts.
I’m using bit rot as shorthand for any degradation, of any discourse, in digital form. For example, here’s me aboard my acknowledged hobby-horse in August 2019:
That was in response to something critical said to me by “Amil Husain” (though that title can itself easily be changed) including the word ‘could’. And @amilh (for it is he) is still tweeting:
But all you can see now, from August 2019, if you were to try to follow the debate we were having, is a series of messages from Twitter itself:
This Tweet was deleted by the Tweet author. Learn more
That applies to all Amil’s tweets from that thread. And I call that bit rot. Twitter shouldn’t allow it but it’s become a major pattern of interaction there, when things seem to go badly for one of the protagonists. (Though I have never once deleted a tweet for that or any other reason.)
Despite the deletions I continue to like this part of what I said:
Sorry to be the bearer of good news.
Maybe it was on seeing the good news that Amil felt forced to delete. Too much already.
My general issue is that, because of the weaknesses of various systems we use and have got used to, we have become far too tolerant of bit rot.
But we are also fearful of it. In January 2020 Jaime Jessop expressed concern about Cliscep’s hosting service, WordPress.com, being overcome by ‘woke’ young techies (or something of the sort) who would succeed in shutting us down. As the lead system admin for the site I took that threat seriously – and I still do. I began to take measures designed to protect us. One or two other regulars know about them but I don’t wish for them to identify themselves. This is to illustrate the principle. It isn’t merely a theoretical concern.
If climate sceptics were really under the kind of attack we sometimes think we are, how come such a clear presentation of one crucial aspect of the debate has been hosted on YouTube, uninterrupted, since December 2009?
Genuine question. And yet …
Jump to 128 seconds in. Fred Singer appears for the first time with his prediction that within ten years (i.e. December 2019) or certainly within twenty years (you do the math) the world will have realised that climate alarmism is crazy. But in fact Fred Singer himself is no more, a fact I was alerted to by Geoff Chambers in April 2020.
I happened to come across this old video while I was looking for something else this morning. One half of Fred Singer’s prediction (the ten-year bit) was surely wrong. More bit rot.
But was that true of the whole? I hope at least the video is still there to check with again in 2029. The other parts don’t depend on Singer’s predictions in any case. But the combination got me thinking.