Split Screen Spring Clean & Bit Rot

Finding Joy

My wife and I Marie Kondo’d our clothes the other week. That means we collected all our clothes into one room and attacked them with the organisational ferocity of a tiny Japanese superwoman. The end result of the gentle fury was a tidy cupboard of clothes we actually enjoy wearing and five bags of clothes set aside for charity.

I have a list of things that make me happy when stressed. “Tidy Up” is an easy win.

So over the past two days while I’ve been off work sick because of my Ulcerative Colitis I dove into the back end of the SplitScreen website to tidy things up. The full Kondo treatment was not required but we were overdue for a spring cleaning.

With the sounds of Donkey Kong in a thunderstorm playing softly in the background, I set to work. I threw all the podcasts, articles and videos into a single pile and went through each item one by one and asked, “Does this spark joy?”. After reflecting and looking at over ten years(!) of content, carried across three website theme changes and two CMS migrations, I found everything we’ve made sparks joy. There was just a lot of dusting needed to make them nice and presentable.

Here are the patch notes:

  • Fixed over 250 broken URLs and links (either redirected to web archive or live site);
  • Added a tag cloud to the sidebar on article pages on desktop view and in the side menu on mobile view;
  • Added Categories to Uncategorised posts (there were a dozen or so posts hidden from view);

Bit Rot

No, it’s not my Bit Socket tribute band but rather it’s the name given to the slow loss of data integrity on storage media. Going through those broken links were returning 404s (page not found) in many cases because the website in question had rearranged their content, deleted content or in some cases, like Nightmare Mode or SquareGo or Kill Screen, are no longer in existence.

I’ve worked in digital preservation and the main public misconception I see is thinking that digital will last forever. Yes, you should treat anything you write/tweet/post online with a seriousness that it will last forever, and if you are a Hollywood director like James Gunn or Kevin Hart, may be resurfaced and weaponised to cause maximum damage.

But the reality is that online data will only survive if people make explicit effort to keep it alive. Web archiving is offered by many national collecting authorities and not just the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. In fact, it is through a broken links plugin for this site that many of the links to now dead websites like Nightmare Mode have been fixed to redirect you into Wayback Machine’s archived version.

However the Internet Archive is (honourably) trying to sweep across all websites and so offer no quality control on how deep an archiving crawl and result they achieve. So it’s really hit or miss with whether or not they have crawled your site and then hit and miss once more with how successful they have been. National collecting authorities often operate their web archiving service with a select pool of websites and then take them through a quality control process to ensure that what is passed onto the future is as complete and meaningful as technology and resources permit.

In effect, this spring clean is my attempt to do a little housekeeping to ensure our words of value continue to exist into the future. Some articles like my collection of quotes of different games writers using the phrase “Killing Nazis never gets old” has the URLs but some could not be retrieved or found in a web archive. Had I taken a screenshot, that would have sufficed for me, but were I searching for more important information then a screenshot holds no authority regarding authenticity or objectivity that a fully fledged web archive can offer.

Alan has done remarkable work in maintaining the site over the years, so I don’t want my few hours of effort to misled you. I mean I don’t have screenshots of Alan doing the work so, who know, what’s really provable is up for deb— no, seriously, he’s kept this website alive. Having rediscovered how much I enjoy writing, without the expectations of finding an audience, I’m really happy and proud that SplitScreen exists.

If you are reading this, thank you. Please enjoy this Scribblenauts Movie Charades game from 2011.