Internet Historians Mourn Loss Of Cultural Record As Yahoo Prepares To Delete Groups | WYPR

Internet Historians Mourn Loss Of Cultural Record As Yahoo Prepares To Delete Groups

Dec 9, 2019
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Yahoo Groups was once a place where people turned to find out what was happening in their communities. Then Facebook, Tumblr and other sites came along, making Yahoo Groups obsolete. So earlier this fall, Verizon, which now owns Yahoo, announced it will delete the archives of every Yahoo Group. That was supposed to happen this coming Saturday, but Verizon just announced it will extend the deadline until next month. NPR's Neda Ulaby reports Internet historians and activists are scrambling.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Stephanie Godden sees these archives as an irreplaceable repository of human connection at a time when vast numbers of people first formed groups online.

STEPHANIE GODDEN: Craft groups, groups organized around disabilities, activist groups of various kinds, classroom and education groups, amateur astronomers.

ULABY: And fan fiction writers like Godden. Now she's volunteering with a digital culture nonprofit, the Organization for Transformative Works. Their goal is preserving the archives of Yahoo Groups that give a window into the early days of the Internet. Yahoo started its Groups features in 2001, and by decade's end, there were 10 million groups and more than a hundred million users.

Anirvan Chatterjee has spent all his spare time frantically backing stuff up.

ANIRVAN CHATTERJEE: For me, it was really shocking. It felt like somebody was going into my life, into my history, into my community histories and just hitting the delete button.

ULABY: Chatterjee works in the tech industry in the San Francisco Bay Area, and he cares about immigrant history. He says he's identified thousands of Yahoo Groups that tell stories about South Asian Americans throughout the early 2000s.

CHATTERJEE: People who were, like, trying to construct a Hindu temple, Muslim community members who are talking about, oh, my gosh, what happened right after 9/11? And how are we going to respond? How are we going to pull together as a community? How do we do interfaith work?

ULABY: And what about the groups no one cares about today, Chatterjee wonders, but could be historically significant later? Amateur archivists like Chatterjee and Godden have a litany of complaints, but Verizon says maintaining the archives strains its resources. In a statement to NPR, the company says it will extend the deadline, but it's focusing now on premium content, such as Yahoo Finance.

SHELLY PALMER: This seems shortsighted in the extreme.

ULABY: That's technology consultant Shelly Palmer. He compares the vanishing of Yahoo Groups archives with the burning of the library in Alexandria.

PALMER: There's so many things that will be lost. And I don't think that any one story matters, but it's the bulk of it all that matters.

ULABY: A reminder, Palmer says, to think about who we trust with the stories, conversations and images that document our lives.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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