MySpace lost all music from 2003-2015

A story is doing the rounds about how MySpace, a site that apparently still exists, accidentally lost all music uploaded over the space of more than a decade. It got me thinking: should we preserve the internet forever? How do we choose what parts?

MySpace is an interesting one because it's passed hands a number of times; it was acquired by News Corporation in 2005, then purchased by Time Inc, and eventually passed onto the Meredith Corporation in 2018. When News Corp purchased the site, it paid more than $580 million, but when it passed it on in a dire state in 2011, it got just $35 million for the site.

When sites pass between owners like this, and staff are shed in mass layoffs, it's difficult to retain the knowledge of old systems. The 'old' MySpace was essentially wound down and replaced by a 'new' MySpace in 2010, which was designed to reinvigorate interest, even if it didn't eventuate.

Apparently, somewhere in that mess, and a later server migration, someone forgot how MySpace actually stored its data trove, or how the backups were configured. Initially, music stopped playing on the site but it went unnoticed‚ÄĒwhen a user emailed to ask, the company said they were working on it. Fast-forward a year, and it finally admitted the files are long gone.

That's a¬†ton¬†of music to lose overnight, and quite surprising. Big name artists like Lily Allen, Owl City, Arctic Monkeys, and many others made their name on the service‚ÄĒsurely it was a priority?¬†Apparently not.

Assuming that platforms will last forever is certainly a bad idea (particularly when they're free), but will we ever learn? It's clear from almost every case like this one that users simply assume the data will live on forever, or come back somehow, but repeatedly it's been shown to be a falsehood. 

The Internet Archive does incredible work trying to preserve information like this, such as the case of its work to quickly create copies of Geocities before it was destroyed, but how do you decide what lives and dies on the internet? Music seems obvious, but with the internet being so vast, how do you decide? Could one back up Facebook in case it were to disappear? The Internet Archive is working to back up Google+ because it has enough notice, but even then it's a mad scramble before it's gone.

Modern platforms have changed this paradigm somewhat by allowing users to export their data. When I deleted my Facebook, I completed the 'takeout' and received a nice, packaged up version of all my posts that I ever shared. Perhaps the next step is having services automatically send these to users, so they're absolved of guilt if files are lost.

We all assume the internet is forever, until it forgets, and it's becoming more common. As services we once loved become zombies, they still exist for a while until they fade from our minds, and at some point¬†they suddenly disappear.¬†That's when it gets¬†really¬†difficult to recover anything at all‚ÄĒeven in the case of MySpace it took most of us a year to even notice it lost the music in the first place.

I've started to plan backups of each cloud service I depend on, and back up the ones I can on my own. Google Drive, for example, isn't likely to go away, but the company might accidentally corrupt a few million people's files one day and it would only be a blip. My strategy is to use a network storage device that backs up cloud storage automatically (Synology has great apps for this), but the average person just doesn't stand a chance given the complexity involved.

It's unlikely this will change at all. We view social media as an extension of ourselves and our computers, so by proxy we just assume it will go on forever. At the time, MySpace felt too big to fail, but two decades on I find myself wondering what I even did there. 

This is devastating for music, but what happens in a few years when SoundCloud implodes and disappears overnight? Or what will it mean for us as a society if Spotify disappeared, suddenly out of cash? Where does that leave our digital trails, which we no longer even have control over? The next big wave will be 'data rot' and I'm not sure anyone has a plan.

Events coming up

Tab Dump

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