Last month saw the sudden end of Yahoo! Messages, a valuable 15-year-old treasure trove of early Internet discussions. Luckily, Archive Team, a group dedicated to saving our digital heritage, was able to preserve the data. But we need to be more vigilant over the erosion of our digital archives (see also Nature 493, 19–21; 2013).
For instance, Yahoo!'s closure of GeoCities in 2009 was described by the Internet Archive as destroying “the most amount of history in the shortest amount of time, certainly on purpose, in known memory”.
Archives of paper documents have been preserved for centuries, and their destruction promotes a strong response (see, for example, go.nature.com/gstbwk). Ditching online archives fails to stimulate similar reactions.
Researchers should publicly question the deletion of digital archives. We can all take part by contributing to the Internet Archive or Archive Team Warrior initiatives, or by learning more through sites such as the digital preservation blog of the US Library of Congress.