Currybetdotnet archive restored

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 9 January 2006

One of the pieces of work I have been doing in Doha is finally restoring all of the currybetdotnet pages that were lost when I had server issues last year. Yesterday I published the final 150 pages, which take the site from April 2004 right back to the very first post in December 2002, complaining about Google not coping very well with seasonal searches for "turkey".

Whilst the actual restoration task itself has been dull, involving lots of cut/paste of content to get it into new templates (because back in 2002 I wouldn't have known semantic XHTML mark-up from a kick in the teeth), it has been interesting to read back through virtually everything I have written for the web in the last three years. And also reassuring to see that as I went back in time the posts (on the whole) got less interesting and less well written.

With the way the blog format nags at you to keep posting regularly you don't often don't get a reason to go back through your old material, and the time-based navigational structure doesn't encourage much exploration of the archives. A lot of the posts I've restored, mind you, are frankly of very little value, and I expect my cursory proof-reading glance will be the only view they ever get. However even some 8-or-so months after the first big currybetdotnet server crash, around 15% of the requests on the site still return 404 errors, mostly after people are directed by search engines to pages that haven't existed for those 8 months. Which goes to show that although the major players may boast about the size of their indexes, it might be the freshness of those indexes that needs a bit more attention. So, not only have I republished all of the content that I salvaged, but I've finally put re-directs on the majority of the old URLs, and mostly fixed my broken little corner of the web.

One of the nicest things about going through all this old material is being reminded about some of the fun things that having the site have caused to happen over the last three years. Like old friends unexpectedly turning up in the comments, whether it was to poke fun at my past haircuts, or clarify whether they had really seen me on television a couple of nights previously.

Or the times when my writing about MSN Chat, David Blaine, or Two Pints of Lager and A Packet Of Crisps Please caused my comments to be flooded by teenagers happily trading their personal details with strangers and leaving posts like:

this site is crap any 1 who comes on r a bunch of bitches(ex me) all ways criing about some thing u all need to get a life r have sex or something (thats wots rong with all of u, u downt have sex)
You don't see us all judging england as a bunch of snaggle toothed ugle deformed people
ITS MY FAV PROGRAMME AND JOHNY SHOULD NOT DIE< KEEP HIM ALIVE PLEASE< NO WAY SHOULD HE DIE< IKNOW ILL STOP WATCHING IF HE DOES< I JUST SAW THE EPISODE AND WHAT ARE THE WRITERS THINKING EVEN CONSIDERING IT AT ALL< IM WATCHING JANET AND JOHNNY SING "THE DAMPNESS OF THE PANTS IS HOW WE KNOW " TOO FUNNY< KEEP JOHNNY ALIVE

Or reading back through my one man crusade against the London Evening Standard's coverage of the introduction of the Congestion Charge in London. Not a subject I'll be returning to much, I guess, once we reach Crete.

The first post that really got this blog any attention elsewhere on the web was "Sea Lions and Dolphins Trained for War", which ended up being one of the internet's primary resources for the story about the U.S. Army training up animals to serve in the Gulf in preparation for the war on Iraq.

However it was the publication in March 2003 of my 'A Day in the Life of BBCi Search' article, followed by May's 'How search can help you understand your audience' that really set the site up as one where I would seriously write about my work. One thing that amazed me going through the old content was simply how much 'stuff' I was personally churning out about search in the first six months of publishing currybetdotnet, compared to the more sedate pace of "here's a major service launch/change that I vaguely supervised" once every couple of months by the time I'd finished at the BBC.

And of course, it was funny to read through posts where I turned out to be utterly wrong - of these I think my favourite was "Nostalgia for Saturday night television". Taking as a starting point an article by Peter Bazalgette arguing that "No programme will again attract a regular audience of 12 million on Saturdays" I happily agreed with him and argued that anyone who judged current programmes by viewing figures from the past on the BBC's message boards was being unrealistic in the present day media environment. Ironically, as a massive fan, one of the programmes to prove me wrong in 2005 was the success of Doctor Who as family, and the combined viewing figures of Strictly Come Dancing and The X-Factor in the run-up to Christmas blew Peter Bazalgette's assertion out of the water.

If I had to pick one favourite post from those I've restored though, it would be "Popular Links in print" which not only reprinted from The Guardian a story about finding out via BBCi Search that an anagram for Princess Anne is Penis Scanner, but also gave me the excuse to trot out again the search-related "Max Gadney is a c**t" story The Guardian's Media Monkey had published about one of my search products.

The post I think I would least like to have had to write was "My boss has resigned" in the aftermath of the Hutton report:

I think it is a very sad day indeed when not being able to produce evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, or being ultimately responsible for armed forces having inadequate equipment during combat are not resigning matters, but making an inaccurate broadcast is.

And my favourite user comment? One on the 'debate' about MSN closing their chat rooms:

I have lost all faith in humanity after reading these comments. Whatever Microsoft's motives are (money or market share, obviously), if it stops you fuckwits from jabbering to each other like monkeys over MSN's half-assed chatrooms then I'm all for it.

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