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2008 March 27 - 12:00 am

Technology Today: Internet Posts Can Take On a Very Long Life of Their Own

One of the oldest online maxims is “You own your own words.” If only it  were that simple.

This maxim comes from the pre-Internet explosion days when computer  bulletin board systems were how most people communicated online. It was  coined by the founder of the popular service The WELL, Stewart Brand, to  try to place responsibility for what posters posted on them and not on him  in case of libel disputes.

But it has also been interpreted to mean that nobody else but you should  copy and reuse your words online unless they have your permission to do so,  even though Brand himself opposed this copyright interpretation of what he  wrote in his early WELL members agreement.

Fortunately, others have also agreed with this broader interpretation of  what others can do with your words. But not everybody.

When you put up a Web site or blog or participate in Internet discussions,  you may think that your words, whether they’re hasty or wise, will  gradually fade away over time. But Internet archive systems exist that in  all likelihood are preserving them long term.

The best-known Web archive service is the Wayback Machine  (www.archive.org/web/web.php), part of a larger effort called the Internet  Archive (www.archive.org). If you’ve put up a Web site or blog then later  had second thoughts and taken it down, chances are it’s preserved through  the Wayback Machine.

This free service has been taking snapshots of the Web at various points in  time since 1996, with an astonishing 85 billion pages currently archived.  Archiving is all about redundancy, and the content of the Wayback Machine  are mirrored, appropriately enough, at the New Library of Alexandria in  Egypt. The original Library of Alexandria, founded by the Greek rulers of  Egypt around 300 BC, was designed to be the repository of all the world’s  knowledge.

If you don’t want your words preserved for posterity, the Wayback Machine  lets you opt out. The service offers detailed directions on how to remove  previous versions of your site from its archive and prevent it from making  archives in the future (www.archive.org/about/exclude.php).

Another well-known archive service is Google Groups (groups.google.com),  previously called Deja News and before that DejaViews. Google Groups is a  Web interface to Usenet, the worldwide system of hundreds of thousands of  online discussion groups. People can participate in these discussions  through the Web, through their e-mail program, or through a specialized  Usenet program.

The Google Groups Web site is most useful in letting you search for and  join specific discussion groups as well as search for current and old posts  of yours and others about specific subject matter, with archives of posts  going back to 1981. Google Groups provides means to remove your previous  posts from its archive and to prevent it from archiving future posts, but  as with the Wayback Machine you have to take matters into your own hands.

To remove your posts from the Google Groups archive, you have to create a  free account with it, and it’s best to do so using the same e-mail address  you used for the posts you want deleted. You can have it delete posts you  made with an old e-mail address you know longer have, but this is more  cumbersome. For details, read “How do I remove my own posts?”  (groups.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=46493).

Google Groups also lets you prevent it from archiving your posts in the  first place, with instructions at  groups.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=46487.

Your words may also be archived at any Web site discussion groups and Yahoo  Groups e-mail discussion groups you’ve participated in. Some Web site  discussion groups let you remove your posts yourself. But you may need to,  as with Yahoo Groups, ask the webmaster or group moderator to remove any  given post for you.

There are numerous other Web sites that crawl the Web, Usenet, Yahoo  Groups, and similar places and create archives themselves. You can find  some of them through a relevant Google search, typing in as key words any  distinctive phrases you remember from any posts you’ve made. Some of these  sites, however, are pay services, and their archives won’t be accessible to  Google. So there’s no way to ensure that your words are completely within  your control.

Perhaps the best strategy, if you don’t want your words to come back and  haunt you, is to remember your mother’s words: Think before you speak.  Another option is to use a pseudonym or “handle.”

The flip side of Internet archive services is their usefulness in helping  you find what might otherwise have been lost.

 Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight  Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at  reidgold@comcast.net or www.reidgoldsborough.com.

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