A Lost Decade of Beer Writing?

Adapted from '404 - common sense not found' by Kim Bach, from Flickr, under a Creative Commons License.

An article published this week by The Atlantic rings an alarm over the impermanence of online-only content.

In ‘Raiders of the Lost Web’ Adri­enne LaFrance uses as a case study an ear­ly ven­ture in turn­ing a piece of nar­ra­tive jour­nal­ism into a mul­ti­me­dia ‘web expe­ri­ence’:

[Kevin] Vaugh­an spent the bet­ter part of a year report­ing the sto­ry. And in that time, a team of web design­ers, pho­tog­ra­phers, video­g­ra­phers, and engi­neers worked with him to build a web expe­ri­ence around the series—the first time the [Rocky Moun­tain News] had built some­thing dig­i­tal of this scope… It was worth the effort… In 2008, Vaugh­an was named a final­ist for the Pulitzer Prize in fea­ture writ­ing for the series. The next year, the Rocky fold­ed. And in the months that fol­lowed, the web­site slow­ly broke apart. One day, with­out warn­ing, “The Cross­ing” evap­o­rat­ed from the Inter­net.

In the (less impor­tant) world of beer much of val­ue has also been lost, in part or in full, or lingers on only in frag­ile form via the Way­back Machine web archiv­ing project.

The late John White’s web­site White Beer Trav­els limped on for a while after his death in 2007 but the domain has now been hijacked by some­one sell­ing sail­ing hol­i­days. Most of the con­tent is avail­able with a bit of search­ing via Way­back Machine, like, for exam­ple, this 2005 piece which cap­tures first-hand the ear­ly days of Thorn­bridge Brew­ery.

Evan Rail’s bril­liant 2011 piece decon­struct­ing myths around the found­ing of the Burgher’s Brew­ery in Pilsen no longer shows up in Google search­es because his blog has expired, though it thank­ful­ly lingers on in the WBM archive if you know to look for it, or fol­low the trail from oth­er blogs.

Anoth­er web­site we used a lot when we were just learn­ing about beer, and referred to in the ear­ly stages of research for Brew Bri­tan­nia, was the Oxford Bot­tled Beer Data­base. Like an ear­ly, more home­ly ver­sion of Rate­beer or Beer Advo­cate, it com­prised a com­pre­hen­sive list of beers avail­able in the UK with mul­ti­ple user reviews and tast­ing notes. It was use­ful for answer­ing all sort of ques­tions: Has this beer changed over time? When did it first become avail­able in the UK? How did peo­ple react to it in 1998? And so on.

Sad­ly, though, the site is cur­rent­ly inac­tive though, again, with effort, rem­nants can be browsed via the WBM.

Tom Fry­er found­ed the site with two uni­ver­si­ty friends turned col­leagues in 1996 as a way to record their own tast­ing notes, and to show off their web and data­base design skills. He told us why it has dis­ap­peared in recent years:

We were always rather ide­al­is­tic and com­mer­cial­ly naïve as far as the OBBD was con­cerned, per­haps because it was so per­son­al to us. For exam­ple, we delib­er­ate­ly avoid­ed paid adver­tise­ments for a long time, because we want­ed the site to be seen as inde­pen­dent of any influ­ence from brew­eries. As a result, it nev­er looked like gen­er­at­ing any mon­ey, so ‘real’ work had to come first. It also required colos­sal amounts of time to keep the OBBD up to date, to weed out spam reviews, to main­tain the sub­scriber newslet­ter, to deal with cor­re­spon­dence and to mod­er­ate the dis­cus­sion forums, mean­ing that we could bare­ly keep up. Then we began to have major serv­er prob­lems – a com­bi­na­tion of high traf­fic, del­uges of spam and peo­ple try­ing to hack the data­base. First of all we were forced into reluc­tant­ly shut­ting down the forums, but after one par­tic­u­lar­ly bad hack we had to dis­able the sub­mis­sion forms for a while too. We decid­ed to use this down­time for a com­plete site over­haul, to make it both more secure and more per­son­alised to our users. In the end, though, our plans proved too ambi­tious for our avail­able time and, part­ly due to the recent serv­er prob­lems and part­ly because we were also restruc­tur­ing our own busi­ness at the time, our hearts weren’t quite in it any more. The OBBD nev­er recov­ered.

Tom still has all the raw data and has giv­en some thought to mak­ing the archive avail­able again but, for now, doesn’t have the time to do it in a way which is secure and use­ful.

There are no doubt many oth­er per­son­al web­sites, e-books, blogs and online arti­cles which have come and gone.  Many oth­ers that remain active and acces­si­ble now may not be in ten years time.

Main image adapt­ed from ‘404 – com­mon sense not found’ by Kim Bach, from Flickr, under a Cre­ative Com­mons License.

2 thoughts on “A Lost Decade of Beer Writing?”

  1. Cur­rent­ly doing some work with the entire­ty of The Ses­sions. Quite a few of those have already gone miss­ing. So far I’ve found pret­ty much every­thing in The Way­back Machine, though.

    1. Oh, yes – good point. We noticed a cou­ple of dead links from our own ses­sion round-ups when we checked a while back.

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