Is the Web Decaying?

SAN FRANCISCO — The real-time Web is hot. Companies that mine the latest content from Twitter and other social networks are sprouting up like weeds, while a bevy of alert and aggregation services feed users near-instant updates of news developments on the Web.

But what’s new is not the only value to be found on the Web, argues Darrell Silver, founder of Silver describes the site, launched Tuesday at the TechCrunch50 conference, as a private, permanent and easy archive of any Web content you want to preserve.

“Billions and billions of Web pages disappear every year,” said Silver. “We’re so focused on the real-time Web, we don’t realize that. We all assume we’ll be able to find anything, but Web content is decaying and getting lost forever.”

Pages “disappear” as content is overwritten when revisions are made. Perpetually claims that between 5 percent and 8 percent of bookmarked content disappears from the Web as pages are modified. Silver argued this could become a big problem for lawyers, corporations and advocates of transparency in how business is conducted and organizations work.

“It’s only a matter of time before full content retrieval becomes a requirement for companies, just as it is now for e-mail,” said Silver.

In a demo, Silver showed how an early user, the Wall Street Journal, was able to recover pages of a story as it went from breaking news to a lead article on the front page.

Why should the Journal want such a tool? “Changes often occur visually, like when new photos are added or a new spokesperson in a story,” said Silver. Using Perpetually’s service, the newspaper is able to see how changes to the page affected traffic to the site.

Perpetually also has a visual browsing tool, similar to Apple’s Time Machine backup software, that lets you skip ahead or back to view changes to the page — or as Silver put it, go back and forth in time.

An alert feature also lets you know when a page has been changed. “This could be a great thing for competitors to find out when a company updates their page, changes staff or product prices,” Silver said.

Pluses and minuses

Other services, notably the Internet Archive, aren’t able to track every change to every site. Perpetually’s own archive is similarly limited because it can’t access password-protected content.

A panel of tech experts critiquing presentations at the conference said they thought Perpetually looked like a useful service, but some suggested Silver offer a mix of free and fee-based services. The company currently plans to charge for the service.

“I recommend some kind of freemium model,” said Reid Hoffman, chairman and co-founder of LinkedIn. Hoffman suggested Silver consider offering users a limited free trial. “You want people to at least try it, otherwise I fear your success will be moderate at best.”

Sean Parker, a co-founder of Napster who currently serves as managing partner of the early-stage venture capital firm The Founders Fund, agreed. “Otherwise, you will end up building an enterprise software company you have to scale up,” he said. “You’re going to need the benefits of a freemium model.”

Silver said he’d consider that advice, though it didn’t sound like his plans were to push for wider consumer acceptance.

“I don’t fear enterprise sales,” he said.

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