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Error 404: A Look At Digital Decay

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In 2005, one of the most intriguing advertising stunts of the internet age was hatched.

Alex Tew launched the The Million Dollar Homepage, where anyone could “own a piece of internet history” by purchasing pixels-plots (minimum of 10×10) on a massive digital canvas. At the price of just one dollar per pixel, everyone from individual internet users to well-known companies like Yahoo! raced to claim a space on the giant digital canvas.

Million dollar homepage

Today, The Million Dollar Homepage lives on as a perfect record of that wacky time in internet history – or so it seems. However, the reality is that many of the hyperlinks on the canvas are now redirects that send incoming users to other sites, while over 20% of them are simply dead.

Here are the links that still work on the Million Dollar Homepage today:

million dollar homepage link rot

The revealing graphic above, via John Bowers, raises the question – how do hyperlinks disappear, and what implications does this “digital decay” have?

Digital Decay

The internet is stitched together by an incalculable number of hyperlinks, but much like cells in an organism, the sources and destinations have a finite lifespan. Essentially, links can and do die.

link rot spread

Most “link rot” is the result of website restructuring, or entities going out of business and pulling their website offline.

A high-impact example of this is when Yahoo! pulled the plug on GeoCities, one of the first popular web hosting services. In one fell swoop, roughly 7 million websites (containing a plethora of animated gifs, auto-playing midi files, and traffic counters) went dark forever.

Links can also die because of more deliberate reasons, as well. In 2015, the editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed, Ben Smith, came under fire for deleting thousands of posts from the site (including content that was critical of Buzzfeed advertisers). Journalism has traditionally acted as a public record, so this type of “decay” has serious implications on the credibility of media brands.

Who Cares?

This idea of a public record is at the heart of why digital decay is an issue worth addressing. Once millions of links simply burn out, what will people in the future know about society in the early-ish days of the internet? What record will remain of people’s thoughts and feelings in that era?

I worry that the twenty-first century will become an informational black hole.

– Vint Cerf, Internet pioneer

Perhaps more urgent are public records that live in the digital realm. Supreme Court decisions and academia lean heavily on citations to build their arguments. What happens when those citations simply vanish? A Harvard study found that 49% of the hyperlinks in Supreme Court decisions are now broken.

Even that ubiquitous resource, Wikipedia, has serious issues caused by digital decay. Over 130,000 entries link to dead pages – a troubling development, as linked citations are what lend entries their credibility.

Backing Up The Internet

A handful of people are taking steps to archive the internet.

The most well-known solution is Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, which has archived hundreds of billions webpages over the past 20 years. Even the The Library of Congress – which is well known for archiving digital information such as tweets – contracts Internet Archive to do its web crawling.

The academia-focused Perma is another example of a company looking to create permanent records of the web sources (particularly citations).

Many of the weird and wonderful forums and hand-coded homepages of early internet lore may be gone, but we’re finally taking steps to combat digital decay. As awareness grows, avoiding an “informational black hole” may be possible.

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How Tech Logos Have Evolved Over Time

From complete overhauls to more subtle tweaks, these tech logos have had quite a journey. Featuring: Google, Apple, and more.

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A cropped chart with the evolution of prominent tech companies’ logos over time.

How Tech Logos Have Evolved Over Time

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

One would be hard-pressed to find a company that has never changed its logo. Granted, some brands—like Rolex, IBM, and Coca-Cola—tend to just have more minimalistic updates. But other companies undergo an entire identity change, thus necessitating a full overhaul.

In this graphic, we visualized the evolution of prominent tech companies’ logos over time. All of these brands ranked highly in a Q1 2024 YouGov study of America’s most famous tech brands. The logo changes are sourced from 1000logos.net.

How Many Times Has Google Changed Its Logo?

Google and Facebook share a 98% fame rating according to YouGov. But while Facebook’s rise was captured in The Social Network (2010), Google’s history tends to be a little less lionized in popular culture.

For example, Google was initially called “Backrub” because it analyzed “back links” to understand how important a website was. Since its founding, Google has undergone eight logo changes, finally settling on its current one in 2015.

CompanyNumber of
Logo Changes
Google8
HP8
Amazon6
Microsoft6
Samsung6
Apple5*

Note: *Includes color changes. Source: 1000Logos.net

Another fun origin story is Microsoft, which started off as Traf-O-Data, a traffic counter reading company that generated reports for traffic engineers. By 1975, the company was renamed. But it wasn’t until 2012 that Microsoft put the iconic Windows logo—still the most popular desktop operating system—alongside its name.

And then there’s Samsung, which started as a grocery trading store in 1938. Its pivot to electronics started in the 1970s with black and white television sets. For 55 years, the company kept some form of stars from its first logo, until 1993, when the iconic encircled blue Samsung logo debuted.

Finally, Apple’s first logo in 1976 featured Isaac Newton reading under a tree—moments before an apple fell on his head. Two years later, the iconic bitten apple logo would be designed at Steve Jobs’ behest, and it would take another two decades for it to go monochrome.

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