Internet Archive is looking for help to build a collection of amateur radio

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A bunch of old computer, radio and telephone technology.

The Internet Archive’s latest project promises to expand its ability to catalog old amateur radio communications, as well as podcasts, videos and other communications from the early days of the Internet.
Photo: Pavel Kubarkov (Shutterstock)

As much as some companies like Google are willing to leave their cloud-based gaming services like Stadia perish on the vine, groups working to preserve digital information are only getting more sophisticated. On Monday, the nonprofit Internet Archive said it was working with a grant to create a monster library of amateur audio broadcasts and early digital publications.

In association blog post announcing the initiative, The Internet Archive said that this digital library of amateur radio and communications, although its name is a mouthful and is centered on the early history of amateur radio, will also contain digitized print copies as well as early populated digital material on the early Internets. This will include old digital photos, websites, videos, podcasts, etc., depending on the announcement.

Kay Savetz, a technology historian and head of the new Archive project, told Gizmodo in a phone interview that he had the ability to include virtually all digital communication from the early days of computing in the 1960s. 1970s through to the 90s. This may include old videos posted on YouTube or digital newsletters that are no longer available. He said early podcasts that were once available but have since been lost to defunct servers or hosts are of particular interest to the archive project.

The Archivist said that in terms of the Internet, people create code for their servers and clients, but as often happens, old websites get forgotten or become obsolete. Their focus is on preservation, and he said they even have the ability to play some old defunct Flash animations using the emulator called Ruffle to find some of the old content lost from the days of Newgrounds and other early content hosting sites.

“With things like video games, businesses, in particular, their job is to create content as quickly as possible, get it out there,” Savetz said. “They don’t think about preservation, and they don’t really care if it disappears from the App Store in 10 years.”

The project is funded by the Amateur Radio Digital Communication foundation, and Savetz said he wants to try to preserve material from early amateur radio operators, pirate radio operators, and more. He is particularly interested in the content of early initiatives led by women, people of color, or other marginalized groups. The campaign also includes efforts to preserve broadcasts from the wider amateur radio community, and project leaders mention that they want to conduct oral history interviews with “key members” of the amateur radio scene.

“I want the obscure stuff, the locally produced ham radio bulletins or the little magazines, that kind of stuff,” the archivist said.

The Internet Archive already stores a massive amount of modern and past Internet on its servers. In an interview with the FinancialTimes published on Monday, Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle said all of their platforms contain more than 100 petabytes of data, or the equivalent of 100,000 terabytes. Much of it is stored in an old church located in San Francisco.

Regarding preservation, Savetz said anyone can upload anything to the Internet Archive, and most content comes “within reason.” He said he has a lot of room for what’s going on in this new project, especially if it involves amateur radio, whether new or historic.

Internet Archive services like the Wayback Machine, which contains billions of archived web pages, have proven to be important tools for researchers, journalists, or regular Internet sleuths. IA’s OpenLibrary platform also offers users free access to e-book lending, although some of the biggest publishing companies like Hachette Book Group and Penguin Random House have for follow-up the platform, arguing that it hurts their income. Last week, hundreds of authors, including figures such as The sand man writer Neil Gaiman signed an open letter arguing that the “big five” publishers need to update their services to allow libraries to lend out more ebooks.

If you want to help with this project, you can find more information about the process here.

Further reading:

Let’s make the World Wide Web a national monument

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