Wednesday November 29, 2023

Old news is still news

The way this site was originally built, when you got to the bottom of the front page news, there was a link to a set of monthly archives. It was a straightforward user experience - you got to the end of the news, you wanted more, you clicked thorugh. This worked out pretty well early on - it was a page of links that I manually updated each month, and eventually I kind of automated it, but after a decade or so, it become unwieldy to display, and I was generating links to archive pages where there hadn't actually been any news posted. It was kind of a mess.

I neglected this archive page in favor of a Site Search feature, which certainly helped locate things if you knew what to look for, but the experience of reading things in chronological order was lost. At one point, I reached out to followers on Twitter and asked for suggestions for handling the display of the kind of data I had here, and someone suggested imitating the experience of the Wayback Machine on - which those first two links demonstrate. I loved the idea, but just did not have it in me to come up with the code to pull the appropriate data out of the database, and display it in that format. It's the kind of work that I could probably dictate to an upstart front end developer, and work with them to built out, except it's not simple work, and I don't have the budget to pay what's appropriate for that kind of work.

This is, of course, the part of the post where I talk about ChatGPT. Only a little bit - the details are better left to a personal blog post that I'l never write. Suffice it to say that with a little bit of guidance and some manual tweaking, I have created a more informative, browsable view of the Hotline News archives. I'll tweak the style more later, but even as it currently stands, you can see the slow decline of Front Page stories as we followed the crowds to Twitter. You can see how in 2018, there wasn't a single post on the website - to be fair, the site administration was struggling to run properly, which drove a lot of volunteers off, and the site languished further as a result.

I've got more work to do - I'm parsing some very old, pre-content-management archive pages, so that they'll not only appear in the graphs, but will also be searchable, finally. And as a finishing touch, I was planning on reviving the archives that Greg from ETS had rebuilt and hosted. was the site that convinced me I would never run a NIN news site. Too much work, I thought. Correctly. But when the updates stopped, it left a sizable gap on the internet. SeemsLikeSalvation, by Evan Moore, filled the gap pretty well, but I felt that it went beyond the scope of what I was interested in, and tended to publish rumors and the occasional hoax, which ultimately inspired me to work with folks from #nin99 to start this site. At some point, fell prey to bitrot, as the dynamic elements of the site stopped working - mostly the news archive. One day, I was poking around, and found an exposed folder with the raw data behind the site, which is what we eventually used to re-create the archives that were hosted on ETS. But then that server died!

Having solved a lot of my own archive problems, I wondered if it made sense to revisit the old archive files, when I discovered that is working again, all these years later. It looks like it went back online sometime post-pandemic. It's a wonderful, hermetically sealed pre-Y2K website (the top of the page says "local time: 11 29 123 // 20:52:57") and I'm glad to see it's back.

I was going to wait until I had my own archives in better shape before I made this big post, but honestly, seeing the old site back online had me thinking, just put it out there. I'll have more improvements coming along the way, and keep your eyes peeled for the launch of a fun little project I've been putting off since 2020, involving Halo 5.