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.

Example

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.

Counterexample

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.

53 Comments

  1. Richard, this raises lots of questions, the first of which to my mind is: should a permanent record be made of conversations? If we had a discussion over the garden fence it would be gone with the wind. On the other hand, Twitter conversations may have a large number of lurkers, so that it becomes a public conversation with attendant obligation to preserve.

    Personally I would never delete a thread in which I lost an argument, because to me it is preferable to be able to change my mind rather than to pretend that I’ve never been defeated. In other words I would rather find out the truth than be right all the time. Old fashioned concept perhaps, but still.

    On the other hand, the permanent records of conversations of old offer gold, or dirt, for the offence archaeologists to sift through. You don’t like someone? See if they said anything wrong in 2012 when they were 17.

    The internet generally seems to be suffering from decay. In its first flush you could actually find what you were looking for. Indeed the ratio of signal to noise has done nothing but go down. Search for anything and someone will claim to be able to sell it to you (“dog sick” for example, although I haven’t tried that one). Then there is the stuff you remember but can’t lay your hands on, and the only methods for searching through the sewage to find the nugget you are looking for are hopelessly inadequate to the task, even with advanced queries. I am 99% sure that I once saw a contemporary advert for treatment for the Spanish Flu of a century ago: “Take Boric Acid and Stay Cheerful.” Can I find it now? No. Use that search term and I get Ebay saying “Fantastic Prices on Boric Acid.” I have noticed that Amazon will no longer find what you are looking for either. It will serve you ads for products that might be related to some degree.

    Then there is the deliberate rot with the removal of adverse data (e.g. as I wrote about in Down the Memory Hole).

    We seem to be drowning in information, and an increasing proportion of it is gibberish. Someone needs to invent a search engine that actually works.

    Anyway, thanks for the term, which is just what I needed for a little story I’m working on (set, it hardly needs to be said, in a dystopian future).

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Sadly, I don’t see climate alarmism being subject to Bit Rot any time soon – quite the contrary, it just keeps getting worse. As I observed on Open Mic this morning, the Guardian seems on the quiet (or, at least, without the fanfare that announced the decision to talk about the “climate crisis”) to have upped the ante again. From global warming, to climate change, to climate crisis, it seems it’s now an escalating climate crisis. Regrettably, even though it’s little read these days, it’s read by the movers and shakers and opinion formers, and the BBC is in lockstep on this issue. So, expect to see the BBC talking of an “escalating climate crisis” before long, assuming the Guardian starts using that terminology on a regular basis (as seems likely).

    And Jit, thank you for expressing your frustration with internet search engines – I thought I was the only one who can never find what I’m looking for, instead having to wade through Amazon adverts and sites pushed at me by algorithms which seem to think I want to read about the opposite of the object of my search. Harrumph.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Mark: Just to be clear (if I wasn’t) I hadn’t got as far as thinking about how bit rot might affect climate alarmism. There’s an absence of obvious bit rot in the way YouTube has kept the old CO2Science video with Lindzen and Singer going and I was mildly encouraged by that. Salve for my paranoia, one could say. But we have all heard of shadow banning and other algorithmic means by which Google, Facebook and Twitter might make sure that very few people will ever find such offending specimens. And that’s where your and Jit’s comments about search engines may also come in. The whole thing (the algorithms, the rules, the censorious effects) is very opaque. And I don’t see an easy way to fix that. Open source is a nice idea in that regard but impractical, I feel sure, in at least two ways: people gaming a system they can see the code for and companies not wanting to give away their ‘crown jewels’.

    If we just take Twitter (and I thank Geoff a great deal for raising this in his last thread, in his characteristically witty way) compare what Charles Rotter was saying about Twitter alternative GETTR for WUWT and what Joe Rogan was apparently saying about it – though that was according to a rival, Parler!

    It’s incredibly hard to build up the same network effect that Twitter already has, in any case. (And Facebook much more so, though the youth are reportedly starting to move away from Big F. So perhaps competition still counts, thankfully.)

    Like

  4. Jit Rot. It came to me unbidden as I first read your comment, overlooking a rather stormy Bristol Channel 🙂

    In fact it’s extremely helpful.

    On the other hand, the permanent records of conversations of old offer gold, or dirt, for the offence archaeologists to sift through. You don’t like someone? See if they said anything wrong in 2012 when they were 17.

    I hadn’t been thinking about that aspect and of course it’s dead right. Nevertheless, the integrity of what one party contributes in good faith to a public conversation can be completely kyboshed by deletion of the context, which any Twitter user has the power to do, without limit. That undermines trust in the whole system very deeply.

    Talking of trust, I have to correct one thing I said:

    Twitter shouldn’t allow [such deletions] 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.)

    I have sometimes deleted my tweets when the tweet I have quoted has been removed, making my comment meaningless. But not if people have replied to my tweet. Thou shalt not render anyone else’s tweet meaningless.

    (And the deeper truth that you shouldn’t be a coward about being shown up and having to change your mind, as you rightly say.)

    Like

  5. Mark: Don’t forget “Global Heating”. The Guardian loves that one.

    Like

  6. Richard Drake said: ” It’s incredibly hard to build up the same network effect that Twitter already has, in any case. (And Facebook much more so, though the youth are reportedly starting to move away from Big F. So perhaps competition still counts, thankfully.)”

    I read today on, er, Twitter, that Mark Zuckerberg had threatened to remove Facebook from Europe. I can’t remember why, and I can’t be bothered to try to go back to find out (it’s almost impossible (IME) to (deliberately) find anything a 2nd time on Twitter unless you bookmarked it), but he’s upset about something or other. Just think: all those billions, and he’s just a snowflake at heart.

    And one prepared to commit financial suicide, apparently, although I don’t suppose he’ll run out of the money he’s made so far very soon.

    Like

  7. I expect to flit around in my responses today. Not through flippancy but because of the many questions raised, as Jit put it. So back to Mark:

    As I observed on Open Mic this morning, the Guardian seems on the quiet (or, at least, without the fanfare that announced the decision to talk about the “climate crisis”) to have upped the ante again. From global warming, to climate change, to climate crisis, it seems it’s now an escalating climate crisis … So, expect to see the BBC talking of an “escalating climate crisis” before long, assuming the Guardian starts using that terminology on a regular basis (as seems likely).

    But the repetition and ratcheting up begins to bore and even to unconvert many outside the Guardian/Beeb elite I feel. Time to remember Lewis Carroll and the start of his epic ‘The Hunting of the Snark

    “Just the place for a Snark!” the Bellman cried,
    As he landed his crew with care;
    Supporting each man on the top of the tide
    By a finger entwined in his hair.

    “Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
    That alone should encourage the crew.
    Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
    What I tell you three times is true.”

    Was it really the place for a Snark? Or was the witty mathematician suggesting otherwise? Perhaps at the moment the idea of a crisis, versus something much more mundane, is a bore draw. But the way energy prices are going, surely not for long.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Mike Ellwood:

    Richard Drake said: ” It’s incredibly hard to build up the same network effect that Twitter already has, in any case. (And Facebook much more so, though the youth are reportedly starting to move away from Big F. So perhaps competition still counts, thankfully.)”

    I read today on, er, Twitter, that Mark Zuckerberg had threatened to remove Facebook from Europe. I can’t remember why, and I can’t be bothered to try to go back to find out (it’s almost impossible (IME) to (deliberately) find anything a 2nd time on Twitter unless you bookmarked it), but he’s upset about something or other. Just think: all those billions, and he’s just a snowflake at heart.

    Aha, here’s another counterexample of bit rot and indeed of Jit and Mark’s laments about search engines. I hadn’t heard this story but thought at once “Google must have something on that.” Not Twitter, but Google. Sure enough, from CityAM last night:

    Mark Zuckerberg and team consider shutting down Facebook and Instagram in Europe if Meta can not process Europeans’ data on US servers

    If Meta is not given the option to transfer, store and process data from its European users on US-based servers, Facebook and Instagram may be shut down across Europe, the social media giants’ owner reportedly warned in its annual report.

    The key issue for Meta is transatlantic data transfers, regulated via the so-called Privacy Shield and other model agreements that Meta uses or used to store data from European users on American servers. The current agreements to enable data transfers are currently under heavy scrutiny in the EU.

    In its annual report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Meta warns that if a new framework is not adopted and the company is no longer allowed to use the current model agreements “or alternatives,” the company will “probably” no longer be able to offer many of its “most significant products and services,” including Facebook and Instagram, in the EU, according to various media reports, including in iTWire, The Guardian newspaper and Side Line Magazine.

    Interesting story, thanks Mike. And interesting counterexample.

    I’m using Bit Rot pretty widely. More on that shortly.

    Like

  9. The last quote, from CityAM, introduces the term ‘Instagram’ which has for while been wholly owned as a kind of youth arm by Facebook, now wholly owned by parent company ‘Meta’. TikTok on the other hand is not owned by Meta and it’s where many young people are said to have drifted.

    SATURDAY WILL MARK a year since Donald Trump said he would ban the wildly popular and annoyingly addictive short-video app TikTok from millions of US smartphones, citing threats to users’ privacy and security posed by its Chinese ownership.

    A week later, Trump signed an executive order directing the app’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, to either sell TikTok to an American business within 45 days or see it forcibly removed from app stores and blocked. The deadline was extended several times, and Oracle and Walmart emerged as the putative saviors for TikTok in a deal that was later shelved. At one point, Trump brazenly suggested any sale should include a cut for the US government itself.

    — Wired TikTok a Year After Trump’s Ban: No Change, but New Threats in July 2021

    What do serious debates look like on TikTok? Pass. As I assume most young people do. My interest in Bit Rot is primarily in how debate of all kinds, but especially good debate, is both encouraged and preserved for posterity. But I thought Meta, Instagram and TikTok should at least get a mention. In passing.

    Like

  10. What triggered the rename of Facebook, the company as well as the product, to Meta last year? One aspect might well be competition from TikTok. The other I feel sure is the trouble Zuckerberg was having with Apple. This is also from Wired: How Apple screwed Facebook in May 2021

    Apple’s iOS 14.5 update has triggered an unstoppable collapse in Facebook’s ability to collect user data

    It is not unusual for the bosses of Apple and Facebook to be at loggerheads with each other over privacy. Back in 2018 Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg accused his Apple counterpart Tim Cook of being “extremely glib” for making scathing remarks about Facebook’s involvement in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Weeks later Apple introduced privacy controls that hampered Facebook’s ability to collect user data via Apple devices.

    Things moved up a notch at the end of last year after Apple revealed that app-tracking transparency would be installed as part of its latest system update. Until iOS 14.5 came along, apps like Facebook could automatically track what people were looking at on their phones and sell targeted ad space accordingly. The update was designed so users were asked their permission for the tracking to happen first.

    Facebook responded to the move by taking out full-page ads in the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal accusing Apple of posing a threat to the “10 million businesses [who] use our advertising tools each month to find new customers, hire employees and engage with their communities”. Cook retaliated by tweeting that users “should have the choice over the data that is being collected about them and how it’s used”.

    It may have looked like little more than a war of words between two rivals, but Facebook – which warned of the “headwind” posed by iOS 14.5 in its 2020 accounts – was right to be concerned. Since the update went live last month iPhone owners have been opting out of data tracking in their droves. According to Flurry Analytics, 85 per cent of worldwide users clicked ‘ask app not to track’ when prompted, with the proportion rising to 94 per cent in the US. Apple did not respond to requests to comment.

    For an organisation like Facebook, whose entire business model is based around collecting, analysing, selling on and profiting from data about its users’ likes and dislikes, such numbers could be devastating.

    Ok, enough background. I find it interesting even if you don’t 🙂

    From here on in I’m going to be considering mainly Twitter (where I started), WordPress.com and other long-form blogging engines and YouTube and other long-form video streaming services. And, within them, the debates we and others try to have and the rules we and others try to adopt to ‘encourage and preserve’ good debate. And thus minimise bit rot.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Richard,

    It IS interesting, even (perhaps especially) to we dinosaurs who just about handle basic IT, who have a simple Facebook page for the sole purpose of accessing Facebook pages of interest, and who don’t use Twitter, TikTok, Instagram et al, and who watch bemused while the rest of the world seems to spend increasing amounts of time on such things.

    IF you can educate me about things I don’t understand, then please feel free.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks Mark. Parts of this – eg youth culture online and where it’s likely to go – are baffling to almost anyone. Other parts you can grok as well as I. (Tech slang being deployed as an encouragement!)

    Yesterday I wrote:

    My interest in Bit Rot is primarily in how debate of all kinds, but especially good debate, is both encouraged and preserved for posterity. But I thought Meta, Instagram and TikTok should at least get a mention. In passing.

    This issue should also get a mention in passing:

    ‘Irreplacable scientific data must be saved’

    New research shows that 80 per cent of scientific data is no longer available 20 years after findings are published, as information is lost in old email addresses and obsolete storage formats

    Researchers at the University of British Columbia chose a random set of of 516 studies published between 1991 and 2001 and found that all data from the two-year-old papers was still available but that the chance of it still existing fell off by 17 per cent for each year of age.

    The paper, published this week in Current Biology, warns that scientists are “poor stewards of their data” and calls for journals to begin uploading information onto public archives so it can be preserved for the future.

    Having access to the raw data of a study is vital in order for other scientists to asses, replicate or build on that work.

    Data was requested from the authors of each of the randomly-chosen studies, but the researchers found that the odds for even finding a working email address declined by seven per cent each year since publication.

    Tim Vines, a visiting scholar at the University of British Columbia and one of the authors of the paper, said: “Publicly funded science generates an extraordinary amount of data each year. Much of these data are unique to a time and place, and is thus irreplaceable, and many other datasets are expensive to regenerate.

    “The current system of leaving data with authors means that almost all of it is lost over time, unavailable for validation of the original results or to use for entirely new purposes.

    “I don’t think anybody expects to easily obtain data from a 50-year-old paper, but to find that almost all the datasets are gone at 20 years was a bit of a surprise.”

    That’s from the Telegraph back in December 2013.

    How relevant is this to climate papers? Steve Mc has been in the thick of finding out since getting embroiled in the Hockey Stick from around 2003. Not all the news is good.

    When such data, and even contact emails, are lost it’s certainly Bit Rot. But good debate is even more my focus here. Though well-preserved data is of course essential to good debate, as John Ridgway and others have been stressing in the case of Covid-19 deaths, as well as climate ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Ok, this is getting hard, not least because of a horrible example of bit rot that I only read about yesterday and felt I had to include forthwith. That has to do with some very vulnerable youngsters. And then there is a parallel tale about two oldies.

    As more background let’s look at some key Web content and discussion sites (or engines) and when the outfits concerned were founded.

    Wikipedia Jan 01
    WordPress May 03
    Facebook Feb 04
    YouTube Feb 05
    Reddit Jun 05
    Twitter Mar 06
    Discord May 15
    Substack Oct 17

    This is my selection. I don’t claim to be exhaustive or even exhausted. But I think it’s more than a random sample as we try to get to grips with the harms, as well as the laughs, of Bit Rot in my expanded sense of the term.

    Reddit is now included because it’s part of the vulnerable youngster story. It is used quite a bit by young people, based on my fairly limited experience of reading it – normally when I have a software problem or query not covered by Stack Overflow. It’s not as big as Facebook but it has some fiercely loyal subreddits on various niche topics. And what’s a subreddit? Here I hand to Jesse Aaron:

    Today, we’re going to uncover the mystery of subreddits; a powerful network of niche communities that collectively define reddit.

    In essence, a subreddit is like a niche forum.

    There are:
    * specific rules
    * moderators
    * voting systems for links, self posts, and comments that depend on the theme
    Each subreddit has a focus and for the most part, effectively maintains that focus.

    For example, the subreddit /r/buildapc (for questions, feedback, and help regarding building a PC) would delete a post or link about a computer part deal, which belongs in /r/buildapcsales. See how that might be confusing to a new redditor? These are different subreddits, each with their own rules, moderators, and content theme.

    Now there are thousands of these niche forums. Anyone can create a subreddit (free) and make it public or private.

    So, roughly, a subreddit is to Reddit what a Cliscep post is to Cliscep. Except typically the ‘comment stream’ of a subreddit is much more long-lasting than the stream of comments here (more like Open Mic here) and the appointed moderators have more power to shape the whole, potentially over many years, than the author of a post does here.

    Clear? Didn’t think so 😉

    Like

  14. Yes, clear! Before I got to the end, I was thinking “sounds a bit like Cliscep posts on Cliscep, but maybe more aggressively moderated.”

    Like

  15. Mark: Real aficionados of Reddit would know how wrong we are. But it’ll do. The neat thing in a nasty story is that YouTube, Twitter and Reddit all play a part and I think the issues raised are pretty general. First thing tomorrow morning it’ll be now though.

    Like

  16. I’ve remembered a related incident in the last 15 days with Bit Rot implications. I’ll start with a chronological presentation of the three, as experienced by me, roughly speaking, followed by some analysis.

    On 27th January (which happens to be Holocaust Memorial Day) Barry Cryer dies, aged 86. (Not really part of my Bit Rot story but the Jewish Chronicle’s article Funny how he wasn’t Jewish… farewell to beloved Barry Cryer on 3rd February is worth a read, not least for the man’s mastery of the Jewish mother joke.) Later on 27th Richard Herring releases on YouTube the recording of his long conversation with Cryer from around October 2021 (note to self: worth making that date more precise). Without a transcript (and that’s important for my theme here). And sensitive Cliscep reader warning: the language is strong right from the start.

    On 28th January I notice that Joani Walsh’s old Twitter profile now reads (again, strong language warning):

    Mentally ill disgraced Journalist, serial police complainant & sex offender with a drink & drug problem. Looks like a bloke but don’t have a cock, I swear.

    ‘Joani’ only has one follower as of 28 Jan so I make that two followers and text her. She is in the middle of Covid isolation. My timing is as always first-rate! She says “I must sort that out, I closed my Twitter account way back” and thanks me. We both assume it’s identity theft and the vindictiveness of transgender activists, still mad about her work as a freelance journalist for the Daily Mail and others during the early stages, around 2018, of (mostly women) questioning and taking action on what the UK trans lobby had already been up to. (The stunt where a group of women sported moustaches and claimed to be identifying as men, demanding unquestioned access to the Hampstead men’s pond, was written up for the Mail by Joani and really had impact.) What I’d call the breakthrough period for that particular issue. But the debate – and activism – is by no means over.

    Last weekend I notice the aforementioned Richard Herring video and watch it all. Amongst all the expected jocularity Cryer does something quite out of the ordinary for Herring’s podcasts at 48m25s: he talks about Germaine Greer and the attempts to ‘no platform’ her due to her critical stance on trans activism. Was this the reason Herring had delayed the release of the video, in the context of many more ‘woke’ (and censorious, and woolly-minded) comics in his audiences than Barry? I later note that Greer was just three years younger than Cryer. Faithful friend. My respect for the non-Jewish gagmeister goes up tremendously.

    (Now, I’m clearly taking a position on this debate. But Barry Cryer is careful not to say that he agrees with Greer on this (or any) issue. Just that he totally disagrees with her being no-platformed. Debate it openly! Clever as well as funny man.)

    I’m in hospital for tests for the second time on Wednesday. (It looks like quite a benign diagnosis the doctor tells me last night. But that’s seriously off-topic here!) The point being I’m having a late breakfast having had the iodine poured through my system for the software imagery to work and I turn to Kindle on my iPhone, first time for a while. I’m in the middle of Helen Joyce’s brilliant Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality from July last year. (My second reading choice during my own Covid lockdown.) Here are just two of the rave reviews that interested me:

    ‘A frighteningly necessary book: well-written, thoroughly-researched, passionate and very brave.’

    — Richard Dawkins

    ‘I’m off the fence…This rigorous and brave book nails the absurd idea that sex is just a “social construct”’

    — David Aaronovitch, The Times

    Dawkins only just managed to write that, in the teeth of furious opposition, apparently! But in terms of Changing Minds I liked the Aaronovitch. Like many he had been on the fence for too long. Admitting this is a good part of the process.

    Helen Joyce has a PhD in Mathematics by the way. She stood out on Twitter when I was really there. Anyway, this is the place I had got to:

    All this happens in a suffocating silence. Mainstream media outlets focus on the heart-warming narrative of children discovering their true identities, and supportive parents who accept that revelation. Parents who do not feel this way mostly do not want to go public, even if they can find a forum, in case it harms their relationship with their child.

    The stories of detransitioners, which are the most dangerous for the gender-identity narrative, are also silenced. They find each other online: on Twitter, where they use the lizard emoji to signal their detrans status, or on the detrans subreddit (though as I write transactivists have taken it over by claiming that it was a hate forum). Seen from within gender-identity ideology, they are apostates. Some of the abuse I have seen heaped on them is truly shocking.

    That hit me in the gut. It has profound implications for how we see Bit Rot but goes deeper than that. Anyone laughing about what has been done to these detransitioners, who’d thought they’d found a safe place in which to discuss their often heart-rending experiences, on Reddit, (and some would be laughing, make no mistake) … such people are suffering from heart rot.

    I want to go back to some analysis of these ‘incidents’. Joani, though a hero in my eyes, caused a lot of bit rot by deleting her twitter account in the way she did. Those who’ve taken over her account have just made it worse. And so on. But that stuff will have to wait for another comment.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Erratum: Barry Cryer died on 25th January but it was only announced, it seems, on 27th. (I trust Wikipedia. On this point. Not on everything.)

    Anyway, after that somewhat emotionally gruelling account of my last 15 days, before doing ‘analysis’ just of these transactivist-related examples of Bit Rot, I’m going to take a wider look at things, and bring some other examples to mind.

    First, John Ridgway was spot on yesterday to christen as ‘bit rot’ his inability to locate an earlier comment about his brother’s experience, as a surveyor, shedding light on the challenges of insulation, given the UK housing stock as it is, not as greens and ministers imagine it to be:

    I recently posted a comment on Cliscep providing more detail but, due to a combination of bit rot and brain rot, I can’t remember where. 😦

    Spot on in that this was part of my definition from the beginning. If you can’t find that digital info then it’s rotted for you, however easy it might be for someone else, at Google or WordPress, say, to find it. And with that example we’re squarely back with climate and energy. We sceptics have real challenges with Bit Rot in our field of interest, I aver, not least because the debate, such as it has been, has been so long-lasting. From 1988 for goodness sake (1979 if you start counting from Charney). So much water under the bridge, some of it before the World Wide Web even existed, inevitably taking so many helpless bits and their context with it.

    Here’s another example, in a different field and with a different cause, but a very common cause. When I wrote:

    Like many deliberate but concise inaccuracies I believe the term can be a useful peg on which to hang some important thoughts

    in my first section I considered using that wonderful quote from HH Munro aka Saki:

    A little inaccuracy sometimes saves a ton of explanation.

    In the original Saki actually wrote “A little inaccuracy sometimes saves tons of explanation” but I think the version I first read and have used since is better! That tiny detail doesn’t rise to pre-digital bit rot though. In another twist, the short story ‘Clovis’ that includes this line was published in 1924 though Munro had been killed in World War I in 1916. (If only that German sniper had been inaccurate – and Munro himself had been in his concerns about a fellow soldier’s lit cigarette. A little prudence and concern about accuracy might have saved a precious life.)

    But once Clovis was put into digital text form, very kindly, by persons unknown, around 2013, a familiar problem arose: the web page in question became extinct, between my noting the URL and wanting to use the quote and give context. But the Wayback Machine, as so often, came to my rescue in this case. There again, faffing with it slowed down the transfer from thought to bits to my prose (in new bits) and back to thought again. I call that kind of delay bit rot as well.

    One more example. On chatting to Bill Bedford recently about anti-capitalism I remembered Matt Ridley calling himself a “free market anti-capitalist” – a phrase I very much liked. I seemed to remember that I’d heard Matt say that in a lengthy podcast recently – where he was being interviewed by someone else. Anyway I went searching with Google and came up with those very words in the transcript for a lengthy podcast. The excellent EconTalk series.

    But most podcast episodes don’t have transcripts and this impacts the findability of such a phrase. Causing Bit Rot, as for John above. The Barry Cryer podcast episode included. But with that I listened right through and made a note right away of the place he mentioned Germaine Greer, because I was so struck by that (very short) moment. So no Bit Rot ensued.

    Easy, isn’t it. Not. But my hunch is it’s going to be very important in our digital age to get people thinking much more seriously about such issues.

    Like

  18. Richard, thank you for your musings. By the way, how do we access/use the Wayback Machine?

    Like

  19. I should add that it’s not guaranteed that WMa (as I call it) will have anything for a given URL. The whys and wherefores on that are opaque, like much else in this area. If not, you’re probably stuck.

    Like

  20. Mark, as Alan Kay said: “Simple things should be simple, complex things should be possible.” Sadly we’re not talking about a world based on software of the kind Kay advocated. And that’s a long story.

    Many complex things lead to needless dead-ends. But Wayback Machine, as it stands, and without knowing about its future funding (really key point), does in 2022 make finding many disappeared web pages pretty easy.

    Like

  21. Let me jump out of the detail and provide a pseudo-taxonomy of Bit Rot as I’ve been using it.

    In my latest long comment I was talking about Bit Rot of content, not debate.

    So that’s the top level divide. But I’m really interested in Bit Rot of debate.

    Which I divide into Deliberate, Accidental, Mistakenness and Benevolent.

    Benevolent bit rot is what Jit talked about in the first comment.

    The New Testament says “love covers a multitude of sins”.

    That’s what benevolent bit rot is all about. But that could play into less charitable motives that others have.

    Deliberate bit rot I divide into Malign and Reckless (or careless, or heedless).

    Joani Walsh did what so many others have done after getting fed up with Twitter: deleting her whole account, including all her past tweets. But that was reckless. It rendered some conversations of importance impossible for anyone to understand again, as it always does. This is a profound cultural issue: that people don’t realise how wrong this is. Including Twitter themselves.

    Malign bit rot I divide into cynical and ideological. Amil Husain in the main post was being cynical. The attackers of the detransitioners on Reddit were being ideological, which meant, as it so often does, that they were, inter alia, being extremely cruel.

    I call this my pseudo-taxonomy. Not ready for prime time but worth putting out there, just for the clarity that often emerges through an attempt to express oneself.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. One last comment tonight, to balance the picture up just a little. Why does one bother with Twitter (or WordPress.com for that matter!) Here is the short tweetstream from which I learned of Richard Dawkins’s difficulty in saying positive things in public about Helen Joyce’s book:

    I like the way that went. A short debate but a thoughtful and thought-provoking one. And still there in February 2022!

    Like

  23. Mark, if you look immediately below the Wayback Machine you can search the wider archive which has many digitised books. It would be very hard to consult some of these old tomes in the flesh. So this is a case where the internet is countering what you might call “analog rot.”

    Among them are many things that we have forgotten: of particular interest to me is the scale of animal culls “before we became a little civilised.” In Denierland I mentioned the culls of some birds for the fashion industry. Just now I searched for “walrus” and found a little book that says, among other things:

    In 1604, an English sailor saw six hundred walrus killed in less than six hours. Other sailors reported large kills in the waters north of Norway and Russia.

    And:

    Between 1905 and 1909, for example, hunters from Scotland took three thousand hides. In addition, thousands of wounded animals escaped, only to die at sea. The Scots said that the herds seemed to be getting smaller every year.

    Did they really? Do tell. And all this slaughter took place before there were film crews and instant global media? But climate change.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Jit: Analog rot is the story of history! Talking of which, I was surprised to find an article by Thomas Sowell from 1979 as I was googling for a particular phrase this weekend. That would have been analog once as well, I assume – but has since been digitised and made presentable on the web. The vast pre-digital tracts preserved under archive.org are amazing, thanks for pointing us to that. We live in truly remarkable times. We just have to guard against certain downsides.

    Parting is such sweet sorrow, Shakespeare said, but it wasn’t that way for me and Twitter. I miss the humour of various gender-critical women I follow especially:

    (Note the use of archive.md in what follows. But let’s stick with the humour for now.)

    So I went to look at ripx4nutmeg’s profile, for old time’s sake. Her pinned tweet leads to a highly unimpressive series of quotes from the Labour Party about women. And one retweet from Friday led to a much more gruelling series:

    By not being plugged into Twitter in the way I used to be I know I miss some really important news/testimony. It’s a tradeoff. But improving debate is at the heart of this.

    Like

  25. David Heinemeier Hansson starting his thought for the day (with no comments allowed!)

    I’m slowly regaining my faith in debates again. You know, the ancient practice of listening, presenting arguments, accepting counterarguments, and progressing towards a deeper shared understanding. Even when the topics are hot. Even when the counterpart is a stranger. And it’s giving me vintage internet vibes!

    Take this Canadian trucker protest, for example…

    He blames Twitter for wrecking decent debate and I’m not inclined to argue. Before I’m done here I will spell out what I see as the impact of the negatives in my pseudo-taxonomy, which are potentially wider than Big T.

    Like

  26. Another cause of bit rot: War.

    I’ve experimented a bit with Twitter to see how it’s changed since 2016 and to push certain memes. The experiment is over for a while at least.

    Twitter is great for tracking news in some fields. In some Twitter communities there are intelligent, insightful, good-faith discussions. It’s appalling for politics and intolerable during a war. Westminster is addicted to it. The addiction adds to the worst dynamics of the old media organisations: constant hysteria, distortion, the collapse of standards for judging ‘facts’, a desperate search for clicks, no explanations of (or even interest in) the real wiring of power deep in the system, international relations and war reduced to stories much more simplistic than the classic fairy tales we read to children.

    Much more ‘news’ is invented than people realise. It was clearly worse in summer 2019 than 2016. It got worse in 2020. And it’s always worse in a war. Many front page stories are pure inventions.

    Dominic Cummings in his excellent blog post yesterday on the Ukraine Crisis, including in the comments:

    Ill post tomorrow on this but in nutshell… Im not signed up to Mearsheimer but it’s a historical fact that many of the old Cold Warriors, e.g Richard Pipes, said in 90s that expanding NATO to east especially UKR = ‘historic error’, as it was put in the group letter.

    Many think that it has been foolish to encourage the idea of UKR joining NATO.

    I think this too.

    One can think –

    a/ Putin is mafia, his government is mafia government,

    and

    b/ His invasion is appalling, sympathy for the civilians caught in the war

    and

    c/ Western policy for 25 years has contributed to causing the war

    Though of course the media likes only stories fit for young children – they are the evil ones, we are the good ones…

    I didn’t know that about Richard Pipes. But I agree.

    Like

  27. Cummings on changing minds and actions on energy policy and doing it fast:

    Even if we avoid general war the effects of recent events on energy, food markets and so on will be profound. Sharp sudden price rises for food have often sparked revolutions, e.g 1848. Huge economic disruption is colliding with a) deluded energy policies in the west for 20 years, b) over a decade of roughly zero/negative real interest rates (unprecedented in centuries), and c) supply chains already reeling from covid and changes in China.

    It’s inconceivable that our governments will handle all this well. Even if they suddenly started thinking better, the bureaucracies for things like energy infrastructure are so dominated by extreme friction they could not act fast.

    I hope he’s wrong. But can Net Zero and all that goes with it be turned around fast?

    (Sorry to the OP that this comment has strayed O/T. But then I’m the OP!)

    Like

  28. (Just in case: On internet forums and message boards, OP is short for original poster, or the person who started the thread that users comment on. — Dictionary.com)

    Like

  29. Richard, I think Cummings has it right, sadly. I fear a re-run of the 70s. The great sadness is that it will be, at least in part, self-inflicted by the idiots in charge.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Here’s another example of bit rot. But it’s not about climate, covid or even Ukraine. It does though give someone’s story born in the midst of the Blitz in 1942, so no doubt there are some parallels with what people are going through out East. Which is sobering.

    I made a note of this because it was an amazing story of self-discovery, albeit a very sad one. And today I found it has been vanished. (The original no doubt had more than one paragraph.)

    I was born at Shardeloes on 14th February 1942, however I was not aware of this until 1989 when I obtained a copy of my original birth certificate. I knew that I had been adopted but had no knowledge of my natural family. My birth certificate revealed that I was born at Shardeloes and that my Mother’s name was Catherine Inwood. After my birth my Mother convalesced a short time at Corner Cottage on Hervines Road, Amersham before she and I returned to London. My Mother then obtained employment with the LLC to work at a Childrens’ home named “Little Mariners” at Crockham Hill, Kent, and she and I went to live there. Little Mariners was a beautiful manor house situated very close to Sir Winston Churchill’s home Chartwell. After living there only a short time Little Mariners was bombed by incendiaries and destroyed. Fortunately on that occasion there was no loss of life as all the occupants were sheltering in air-raid shelters. The children were then moved a short distance away to another large manor house named “Weald House”. Just a couple of months later in the early hours of 30th June 1944 Weald House was hit by a doodlebug causing the deaths of twenty-one children all under three years of age, along with eight female staff, my Mother included. I believe I am one of only two or three children to survive. A year later, I was adopted and taken to the North of England. Initially when I became aware that I had been born at the stately home Shardeloes, I believe I had illusions of grandeur, but nothing could have prepared me for the sad story which was slowly revealed. — Peter J

    Originally at http://www.amersham.org.uk/forum/ipb/index.php?s=78bbb28c9a00065bbfbf84597940ff51&showtopic=147&st=-10

    There’s a Drake family connection with Shardeloes, that’s the other thing, as can be confirmed by googling.

    But it was this loss that bothered me much more than any of that.

    We are far too trusting given an edit box online. Or maybe just telling this story to others born in the same place during WWII was enough for this man.

    Like

  31. Richard,

    The internet can be a wonderful thing (as well as a dreadful thing). The volume of information on it since its inception exceeds, I imagine, many times over, the information available in books (or on tablets etc) since humankind started writing things down. And yet it seems whole swathes of it can simply be disappeared. That is indeed a matter of concern, especially given the presence of “bad actors” (in whatever context).

    What is odd, though, is why that touching little story should have been disappeared in the way that it was. Curious, and bothersome.

    Like

  32. Twitter is full of porn and hateyness
    Yet Twitter finds ways of banning none-wokes like Trump
    This is a form of ethnic cleansing.

    PS it is good that PolitOops monitors tweets that politicians delete
    but it should be extended to all blue-tick accounts.

    I think people should be able add a quarantine update to their own bad tweet, rather than be allowed to delete it.
    eg “Sorry I sent that tweet, after drinking, I didn’t really mean it ” etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Sorry, I’m in late having done my previous comment then having other stuff to do. Let me take the three comments in reverse.

    Stew: Very good idea on a ‘quarantine update to their own bad tweet’ I think. Plus one would need a forgiving culture once someone does that.

    Jit: Is that a quote from the guy that (I believe) started the site and has run it for many years? I interacted with him today, by email, about something else. He’s left the Amersham area which is bound to change things.

    Mark: There was no malice involved at all, from what I can tell. It just is a sad loss, as things stand right now.

    I want to do a bit of investigating by email before writing any more publicly.

    Like

  34. Richard, it is a quote from Wayback – I clicked on a random capture, got to the forum index, clicked on “Wartime Shardeloes” or similar, and got that message. Was hoping that perhaps the entire comment was preserved.

    Looking at it again this morning it could well be a previous instance of bit rot, because the capture is dated 2005. I think I picked an early time to try to find an intact example. Will look again in a mo.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Looks like it was back in action later on, but no archives were saved. It looks as if each page has to be snapped, rather than a nested tree of pages as I had hoped.

    Like

  36. Jit: Thanks. I didn’t look at Wayback for this URL because my experience is that this part

    ?s=78bbb28c9a00065bbfbf84597940ff51&showtopic=147&st=-10

    makes the original text impossible to find. It would be great to be proved wrong on that though.

    Like

  37. Article about journos deleting tweets
    https://www.cjr.org/tow_center/journalists-deleting-old-tweet.php

    Journalists who regularly delete their tweets—more than half of the journalists we spoke to—often use automatic services such as Tweetdelete, Twitwipe, Tweeteraser, and Tweetdeleter. These services can be set up to erase all historical tweets, and can also schedule periodic deletions. With these services, heavy deleters create a blank Twitter feed every year, or even every week.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Whatever Twitter has been this might just spell changes:

    Twitter employees will have the opportunity to hear from Elon Musk about his vision for the platform in a staff question-and-answer session.

    It follows Musk’s purchase of 9.2% of the social media company – for $3.7bn – and his appointment to the board.

    In an email on Thursday, staff were invited to quiz the Tesla founder and billionaire over his intentions.

    There has been speculation over what changes Musk would like to see made to the social network.

    The company-wide meeting, known as a town hall or ‘all hands’, are typically run by the chief executive or a senior member of the executive.

    Shareholders, such as Musk, are not usually invited to such events, let alone asked to host an open session with staff, the Washington Post reported.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-61042412

    Various people are hopeful. Ian Woolley commented in the pub last night that Bret Weinstein had gone rather quiet on Twitter itself. I said I’d heard him mention Musk (who he’d know through his brother Eric) as someone who could have a positive impact on the social media quagmire. Having become so polarising himself has Weinstein opted to keep a low profile as a new and fairer culture is born and/or negotiated?

    Also worth thinking back to Michael Kelly’s positive comments on Musk, whom he has dealt with personally, here on Cliscep.

    Like

  39. Would the edit button come with full history preserved, as with Wikipedia? That’s a defining question. But it’s only the start. As you imply it could easily just get wilder.

    Like

  40. Bret Weinstein last night on Musk and two other tech giants who are younger than many of us (and that’s relevant) who are getting thoroughly fed up:

    It could lead to positive change. I’m not a convinced cynic. Yet.

    Like

  41. Change of logotype?

    I do like this ending to the BBC report on the ‘hostile’ takeover attempt.

    Mr Musk also asked his 81 million followers on Twitter whether the company is “dying” and if its headquarters should be turned into a homeless shelter.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-61104231

    There are certainly ironies for the sceptic of EV policies here.

    Like

  42. Tucker Carlson speaks up for those who have been censored by Twitter so far:

    Donald Trump included. But not just Donald Trump.

    There are lots of clips of Musk critics, albeit as a butt of Carlson’s mockery.

    Including Robert Reich in (surprise surprise) the Guardian:

    Elon Musk’s vision for the internet is dangerous nonsense

    The fiduciary aspects are extremely interesting.

    Who knows what can be achieved for free speech globally.

    Like

  43. The BBC is now reporting “Twitter shares rise as reports say Elon Musk deal close“. Here’s one aspect of what he aims to achieve:

    Those who’ve followed me on Bishop Hill since November 2009 (and Climategate) will know that idea means a lot. Even though it may be hard to achieve. And this, from 14th April, is also highly radical:

    “I don’t care about the economics at all,” said Musk, with regard to whether the deal made business sense. He also continued to promote the idea of opening the platform to its community of users. “The [Twitter] code should be on GitHub,” said Musk.

    Taking the whole Twitter code base and making it open source that means.

    Please note I didn’t bother Cliscep with these details until the Musk takeover looked close to completion.

    Back to the blessings of bumblebees 😉

    Like

  44. A couple of heartwarming and/or amusing tweets from today:

    And a very pointed response from Musk on 14th to one Saudi shareholder critic:

    Liked by 1 person

  45. Pro but first con, from a familiar friend.

    I don’t think people have grasped how radical the open sourcing of the code may be.

    Like

  46. The problem with our friend George’s view is, who gets to decide what’s the truth and what’s a lie? Often there are shades of grey. Where do we draw the line between an expression of opinion and an assertion that something is a fact? Often the two elide gently. There have been examples over the last couple of years of allegations been banned or at least ridiculed, which subsequently turned out to have more than the whiff of truth about them. And let’s face it, the Guardian doesn’t exactly live up to George’s world view as to what should be allowed and banned – it can be pretty hateful when its journalists get themselves worked up. Indeed, I notice 7 or 8 anti-Musk articles there in a single 24 hour period in the aftermath of his announcement that he was taking over Twitter, and they didn’t pull any punches. And how does advocating persuasion (as “the primary determinant of human action”) sit easily with banning things? Banning things drives them underground, persuades those whose views are banned that there IS a conspiracy and they must be right if the other lot are so keen on banning what they have to say. Banning speech, and ideas is dangerous. I suppose sometimes something is so patently dishonest or repugnant that it should be banned, but I incline towards allowing speech rather than banning it. I remain in the camp that believes that although I disagree fundamentally with what you say, I defend your right to say it.

    By the way, Richard, can you explain to us IT illiterates how radical the open sourcing of the code may be, please? You’re right that I haven’t grasped its significance (not that I am “on” Twitter, anyway).

    Liked by 2 people

  47. Mark:

    Very well said on the deep flaws – and lack of self-awareness and indeed Grauniad-awareness – in the Monbiot approach.

    Richard, can you explain to us IT illiterates how radical the open sourcing of the code may be, please? You’re right that I haven’t grasped its significance (not that I am “on” Twitter, anyway).

    It’s a conventional politeness to say “I’m glad you asked that” but in this case it isn’t strictly true 🙂 I saw the question soon after you wrote it last night and groaned. Happily though I had to rush off to meet Ian Woolley to enjoy some traditional Somerset beverages in the pub. And Ian told me this hilarious fact: many Twitter users with non-establishment views are reporting that their numbers of followers have rocketed back to what they felt were ‘true’ levels in the last few days or hours.

    What’s the connection with your question? Well, exactly.

    Liked by 1 person

  48. Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.